Dining Amongst Celebrities and Strangers

Ted Allen at Chicago Gourmet

Ted Allen at Chicago Gourmet

Everyone has something to say about food. Unlike religion or politics, it’s a universal topic.

Simply mention where you’ve eaten recently, or a new recipe you’ve tried, and you’ll spark a pleasant and spirited conversation in practically any social situation — amongst friends, strangers, or even celebrities.

That’s why when Tammy and I sat down to dinner last night with the Food Network’s Ted Allen, our conversation flowed as freely as the wine.

We found ourselves seated right next to Allen for dinner at Moto because Tammy has mad Internet surfing skills and an inquisitive mind – she submitted a question about how to teach beginners to pair wine with food and was one of the lucky questioners selected to dine with Allen. I was the lucky friend who got to tag along!

So, after spending the day at Chicago Gourmet, there we were, sharing an amazing meal with four other excited contest winners, their guests, a number of wine distributors, and one celebrity foodie.

We sat at a long, elegant table in a private room in the basement at Moto (which apparently will soon be transformed into to a TV studio for a new cooking show) and had a ten-course meal with Robert Mondavi Private Selection wine pairings.

It could have been an awkward situation – a group of strangers in a fancy place eating very fancy food. But it wasn’t because we had a shared love for food and wine.

By the third course, we were fast friends – oohing and ahhing over the dishes, comparing notes, and telling stories.

The third course: house-made pequin capon.

The third course: house-made pequin capon.

“Good food is of the moment,” Trade Marketing Manager for Constellation Wines Elmer Pilcher explained to me, as we chatted about our shared passion for dining. “Even when I cook at home I cook what I feel, so it’s hard to recreate exactly the same thing twice.”

Allen worked his way through the group’s questions throughout the evening, casually chatting about everything from how to select a wine from a large list to the benefits of eating organic. He set a comfortable tone, aiming to make wine approachable for everyone. And he succeeded by being approachable himself.

“You should drink what you like,” he explained. “It may not be the perfect pairing, but who cares? It’s your palate, your wine, your money.”

The convivial atmosphere was complemented in every way by the food itself. Chef Homaro Cantu’s creativity and love for flavor never fails to impress me and last night’s standouts included Gruyere and onions – a fancy French onion soup – a Cuban cigar – pork wrapped in cabbage served on sesame seed “ashes” in an ashtray—Ruben lasagna – a variation on a Ruben sandwich—and a chocolate bomb—essentially a s’more truffle set aflame.

Food really is of the moment… and last night I shared several I won’t soon forget.

Dessert at Moto.

Dessert at Moto.

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