Chicago Gourmet, round 3

September 24, 2010

This weekend, city officials and the Illinois Restaurant Association are welcoming dozens of food luminaries from around the country to Millennium Park, for what they hope will be a new-and-improved "Chicago Gourmet." ‚ I've been asked by more than a few people over the past week if it's worth it. ‚ If it's just waiting in line to graze on an amuse-sized nibble from our city's top chefs - and then sample amazing wines all day - I would say probably not. ‚ However, each year organizers manage to raise the stakes a bit, adding more features and making this festival-in-progress slightly more attractive. This year, they've brought in the big guns, so to speak, by partnering with Bon Appƒ©tit Magazine (which just announced this week that they're moving their headquarters from L.A. to New York, so it's probably the last time you'll see Editor-in-Chief Barbara Fairchild at the helm). ‚ This partnership means a slew of new features for attendees.

For one thing, "Iron Chef" Cat Cora will be on hand for demonstrations, since she is also Bon App's Celeb Chef-in-Residence. ‚ Editor Andrew Knowlton will talk about demystifying beef; a representative from the Shedd will talk about sustainable seafood, and all of the city's top wine brass will be on hand for a wide range of educational seminars for oenophiles. ‚ Nearly every chef of note in Chicago - and many more from beyond (Jacques Torres, Marcus Samuelsson, etc.) will be there offering samples of their food and schmoozing with the foodie congnoscenti.

There's also going to be a new addition this year, in the form of a cool Friday night kick-off event. Two years ago, the IRA assembled an extremely lame grazing, compliments of Washburne Culinary School and their exchange students from other countries. ‚ It was a good thought. ‚ But the steep ticket price and the small portions (they ran out of food) didn't set the proper tone for the weekend ahead. ‚ This time around, the first ever Burger Hop will pit some of the city's best chefs against each other in a heavy-duty burger throwdown, reminiscent of the Burger Bash held at the South Beach Food & Wine Festival each year in Miami. ‚ Tickets are still available to this event, for $75.

On a personal note, I'll be hosting a few cooking demos on the main stage on Sunday, talking with Cat Cora and Marcus Samuelsson at 12:30 p.m., then with Takashi Yagihashi (Takashi) and Jackie Shen (Red Light) at 1:30 p.m. ‚ If you happen to be there, stop by to say hello.‚  : )