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.‚ : )