Yesterday, we launched the Off-Air season with Chicago Chef Battle 2011 at the Goose Island Brewery Dock. The weather held out and the music (spun by Radio M's Tony Sarabia) was festive, the Goose Island beer and root beer was flowing, the Intelligentsia coffee was piping hot, and the food (OH! the FOOD!) was absolutely delicious. We packed the place with WBEZ listeners and their friends and it was a gas.
But what you don't know is all the moving parts - all the ingredients that come into play to make that simple, delectable plate of pork belly taco or braised goat with your cup of Matilda - are not simple at all.
Recipe for the Chicago Chef Battle 2011
An Artistic Director for the Event
It starts with the idea - repeating a highly successful event from the past two years and making it better. We brought back our artistic director from the first and second WBEZ Battles (the tireless Christina Fox) to wrangle and arrange and connect with and communicate with the chefs. Chefs are prickly creatures, what with trying to run restaurants and sleeping two hours a night and, pretty much living or dying by the quality of the food they create. They're hard to get a hold of and getting them to commit to cooking, off-site, food for 600 people, for no money, is a challenge.
Yet Fox beat the pavement and, once again, got us five remarkable chefs to agree to the challenge. Heather Terhune, it was announced just days before the event, was even named as one of the new Top Chef contestants.
The five chefs were next paired with a Goose Island Beer, the stalwart (and highly pregnant) Jessica McCloud delivered sample beers for them to experiment with and the chefs then decided what groceries they needed (donated by Whole Foods Market).
Things like 10 pounds of pork belly, a case of apples, a bag full of garlic, 30 pounds of shrimp. Keep in mind, they each were responsible for 600 "tasting portions" which amounts to a small plate of food.
The venue (the Goose Island Brewery Loading Dock) then has to be arranged (they moved a LOT of beer to open up the space - you know, with forklifts) and I arrange for cocktail tables and banquet tables for the chef stations. And a sound system for the DJ. And who is bringing plates and who is bringing napkins and putting together the thank you gifts for all the chefs and the prize for the winner.
Given that Chicago Chef Battle is the kick-off for the entire Off-Air Event Series, we turn to Jane Verwys, the Creative Director of WBEZ and one of the most talented Graphic Designers I've worked with in my twenty-five years to assist with our promotional materials - Breeze (the Executive Producer of the series) hired Angee Lennard of Spudnik Press to create a poster and then Jane worked the entire thing into an amazing marketing piece that serves as a lovely reminder of all ten events. Too much fun!
Jessica and I then deliver the food. Yes - while not an "official" part of our job descriptions, loading up our cars with tons of fresh produce, meat and fish falls under the Whatever It Takes category of working for public radio. A loyal WBEZ volunteer (Tom Senior) also loaded up his vehicle and we hit the roads. I took the fish. It smelled like...well...fish. And in delivering it, I got to go to Blue 13. Blue 13 is open from 5PM - 2AM, so a 9AM delivery is a challenge. After sitting across the street, my car filled with the pungent scent of fresh fish, for 90 minutes, the owner Dan, responding to a Tweet I sent, arrived and received the fish. He did not, however, take with him the leftover stank in my back seat...
And then the day arrives - 600 people have bought tickets, the weather while damp, is cooperative, the chefs show up late, Fox gets a bit nervous, the sound system is glitchy, Jessica has the flu but Breeze believes it will all come together, and WBEZ has some of the best, most On Top of Things Volunteer Staff Anywhere, and the doors open...
....wait for it...
Success! 600 people eat delicious food, drink beer and Intelligentsia coffee and listen to Sarabia create a crazy cool musical backdrop to the afternoon. Breeze is the expediter, I am the maitre de and the winning chef made "Harvest Ale brined goat, fall squash cider puree, verjus pickled apples & smoked pecans."
One down, nine to go.
Now I just have to figure out how to fully air out my car...