Hi Food Friends: Well, I’m back from Chicago Gourmet 2012 and I am full! (Okay, maybe also the teensiest bit tipsy, on which I will blame any snarky remarks in this post). I ate 23 things and tasted 18 wines and I’m here to share my faves. In case you’re not familiar, Chicago Gourmet is a two-day food and drink extravaganza that takes places in Chicago’s gorgeous Millennium Park, in the shadow of the Pritzker Pavilion. It’s sponsored by Bon Appetit magazine, the Illinois Restaurant Association and Southern Wine & Spirits, a trifecta of food and drink powerhouses. More than 160 chefs participate and God knows how many wineries, brewers and distillers. The event was sold-out both days and today was super-crowdy, probs because it was an absolutely gorgeous day. (The fact that tickets are more than $150 a pop says something for Chicago’s avid foodie population!)
So the first thing I encountered was a really interesting Buick booth. As not only a food freak, but a PR and marketing person, I am fascinated by Buick’s invasion of the foodie community. This was about the fourth or fifth time I’ve encountered them at a food event, and they’re smart – they’ve changed up their gimmick, and this one was COOL. They had all these ingredients – different chocolates, nuts, bacon, cinnamon, etc. — and you could create your own chocolate bar! And then they send the bar to you in the mail in two weeks! How cool is that?
I chose milk chocolate, bacon, buttered, roasted peanuts and cinnamon. I can’t wait to get it and see how it tastes! I don’t know if I’ll buy a Buick anytime soon, but they’re creating some interesting buzz in an interesting target audience. OK, onward.
So, as I did last year, I set out to find the BEST savory item and the most TANTALIZING sweet item. Now, I certainly didn’t taste everything on offer (seriously? the line for the Supreme Lobster & Seafood Tasting Pavilion was, like, two days long – I couldn’t deal with that), but I tasted a fair amount and my very favorite was: Chef John Des Rosiers’ (Inovasi restaurant, in Lake Bluff) Pork and Chanterelles Rillettes with Aromatics and his own gin.
Shut up. This dish had so much flavor and everything worked. You could taste all the ingredients and nothing was overwhelming. Served chilled, it had amazing, meaty texture and the herbal tang of the gin and the aromatics was just perfect. Dear Chef Des Rosiers: we might have to establish a dealer-junkie relationship over this dish, because I adore it and want more! Bravo!
Okay, I’ll share a few photos of other things that were also really, really good.
Clockwise, from top left: Glazed Pork Belly from Roka Akor, a Grilled Kale Salad on a Potato Cracker from Terzo Piano, a Lump Crab with Truffle situation atop Brioche, a Barbacoa (brisket) taco from Cantina Laredo and an amazing gazpacho with lump crab meat and avocado from Grill on the Alley. Yum to all!
Then I took a short eating break and watched Chef Art Smith and Chef Takashi Yagihashi do a “Top Chef Masters – Chicago” demo, hosted by Bon Appetit editor Adam Rapoport (who is pretty dang hot, if you ask me. Oops, the wine might be talking a little now.) That was fun, to see them in person. That Takashi – he’s a very funny guy!
On to dessert! My friend Leigh Omilinsky, head pastry chef at Cafe des Architectes at the Sofitel Hotel nailed it! She did a pear bavarois (a custard sort of thing) with a delicious paper-thin wafer of fresh pear and a perfect cube of butter cake. And some tapioca pearls for fun flavor and texture.
As for the drinking: I’m not so much a spirits girl, so I stuck to wine (and a Leffe Blond ale; I like that stuff and I had to take a break from all the wine). Want to see what I tried? I will tell you: the Terlato Family Vineyards Episode and Terlato Family Vineyards Galaxy are amazing (full disclosure: I work at Terlato Wines now and this was my first tasting of these two and they are EXQUISITE red blends).
And there you have it: four hours of eating and drinking on a gorgeous fall day and one big, fat blog post. Hope you are inspired to try some of the restaurants I loved from the day and some of the wines, too. And if you were at chicago Gourmet, tell me what you loved! (Shout out, too, to Isabelli Media Relations, for making my visit possible.) Until next time!