After years of hearing about Chicago Gourmet, I finally got to attend for the first time on Sunday. If you are not familiar with Chicago Gourmet, this is an event in Millennium Park that is organized by Bon Appetit magazine. The actual event lasts 2 days, but there are evening events leading up to the kick-off. Each day there are live cooking demos featuring chefs from many top Chicago restaurants, as well as from other cities in the Midwest. There are also seminars, tastings and book signings. I was very excited about this year’s addition- a this year’s event included a tent with a “Street Food” theme. Attendees are also able to purchase tickets to “Grand Cru,” an additional area featuring foods from some of Chicago’s top restaurants, as well as exceptional wines to taste.
Sunday was beautiful in Chicago – 80° and sunny. My sister and I got in line about half an hour before the event started and waited in the lengthy line. This wasn’t a problem because Chicago Gourmet workers were checking everyone in while we waited- and, better yet, offering passed appetizers. Once the gates were opened, the line moved quickly. We were immediately handed swag bags with a plate and wine glass that we would use throughout the event.
And now it gets tricky. The venue is packed with booths offering beautiful foods, cocktails, and wine. There are also events scheduled throughout the day, so the challenge is to decide on a plan of attack. I knew what demos I was interested in attending, so we decided to eat and drink our way to our first event. The first stop? Chicken Tikka and rice from Gaylord (one of my favorite restaurants in the city,) and wine from Kim Crawford. Because what is better than chicken tikka and wine on a sunny Sunday afternoon?
The demo I was most excited about was Cooking with Kids, with Chef Jonathan Sawyer of Cleveland’s Trentina, emceed by Chandra Ram from Plate Magazine. I am always looking for ways to include Z while cooking, so I was excited to find some new ideas. Chef Sawyer began with his philosophy on feeding children, which is really the same as mine: introduce them to foods in their best, most natural form, instead of “kid food,” and they will learn to love food. He walked us through making ricotta from scratch, using an artichoke and lemon juice instead of rennet. From there, he made potato gnocchi and a simple marinara sauce. The idea was that children are more likely to eat food that they have helped prepare, although he really didn’t provide ideas on how to include them, which was really disappointing. However, his adorable kids served up samples and they were delicious! There was a Q&A session, and a pitch for his “Noodle Kids” book that is coming out in January. Chandra Ram was a great emcee, and translated some of the chef-speak into something a bit more relatable.
We followed the demo with an afternoon of excess: lots of amazing food and drinks. I think we should have paced ourselves better and gone to more demos and seminars- but there was too much to try! Each of the pavilions had a schedule with a rotating menu, so you could through the lines multiple times and try something new each time. Every booth has food that was beautifully plated (and on renewable bamboo!) and all chefs and servers were friendly. One of the highlights for me was a roasted butternut squash and habanero soup from Antique Tacos. It was amazing because you could taste the habanero, and not just the heat, and I hadn’t encountered that before. It is several days later and I am still thinking about that soup…
We also had tickets to Grand Cru, a tent featuring high-end wines and foods. Our first stop was a piece of waygu beef and potato “puff” that actually melted in my mouth. My sister can’t stop talking about the “magic meat.” Mind blowing- and the other stations were equally impressive. I am not a sophisticated wine drinker, so most of the options were unfamiliar, and I didn’t fully appreciate them. I think this is a terrific option for those who love wine, but I was happier sipping the Chandon rose champagne from the main event.
Our final stop was the Street Food tent. I was excited about this area, but we didn’t find it until the end of the afternoon due to its location near an exit. The tent was not well lit, and Lagunitas had already started running out of beer by the time we arrived. I think I would have been more impressed if we can arrived at the beginning of the afternoon, but everything seemed picked over by the end of the event. Another upside- a reminder of the incredible deliciousness of sausages from Paulina Market!
Extensive variety of amazing food and drinks
Demos, tasting and seminars featuring top chefs
Lines were not terribly long, and there were passed appetizers while you were in line
No lines for the bathrooms
Grand Cru was really unnecessary for me. Unless you know wine, you may not find it worth the expense.
It seemed like many of Chicago’s top names were only there on Saturday, not Sunday
Some of the demos ran out of seating, although there was usually standing room in the back
Some the demos were not completed in the allocated time – the chefs probably should have rehearsed
Tips for Chicago Gourmet
Pace yourself! You cannot try everything in one day, so make sure to pause for events so that you can rest your stomach.
Prepare for the weather – bring sunglasses, hats, sunscreen or an umbrella. The event is rain or shine so be prepared!
Do not plan to drive home. I don’t think anyone at Chicago Gourmet was in any condition to drive at the end, with the possible exception of the pregnant ladies we saw.
Bring baby wipes – getting to the restrooms was too much effort for small clean-up jobs.