Is Chicago Gourmet the New Taste of Chicago? It is for the serious foodie, yes.
Not that there is anything wrong with the turkey legs and Connie’s Pizza you’ll find at the Taste. No, not at all. In fact, I love the Taste and make a a special trip each year just for a Rainbow Cone! It’s just that Chicago Gourmet is more representative of the diverse and vibrant culinary scene you find in the city today — it’s a Taste for the sophisticated palate if you will — and it better showcases the talent Chicago chefs bring to the national stage. Chicago Gourmet also illustrates a shift in the professional food industry in general…to a time when being a chef is not only a recognized profession and art form, but also a potential doorway to celebrity.
This year, Chicago Gourmet brings on title sponsor Bon Appetit, adding even more heft to its claim of “gourmet,” and it’s been thrown in the national spotlight like never before. It’s drawing more big names and has been more widely advertised. The end result? A sellout crowd for the first time (a fact that every chef I talked to Saturday was sure to point out with a big grin)!
As pleased as I was to hear the event was sold out, I was concerned about lines, space, and the amount of food available. Would the lines be too long? Would it be an uncomfortable body-crushing mass of humanity? Would there be a disturbing lack of food?
Nope. No worries. Sure, there were lines, but they moved, and there were interesting people to talk to in them. The number of tickets was capped on both days to avoid overcrowding, and I saw many places to sit and mingle. And there was plenty of food. In fact, the amount of food was increased by 25 percent over last year — averaging out to roughly 16 tasting portions per person. A pig roast was added to the food mix, along with passed appetizers from a variety of restaurants and mini cupcakes from More.
Everything I tried in the food pavilions was fantastic — the chefs were really putting their best foot forward — and a particular shout out for the lamb from Mercat a la Planxa and the beef dish from Mexique. Wow! The wine mixology tents were fun too, often offering passed starters and nice drink recipe give aways.
New to Chicago Gourmet this year is the Foodspring.com specialty food pavilion, where you can buy foodstuffs. I plan to spend more time there today to look for goodies to bring home.
Other highlights of the day included some truly spectacular ports and cabs at the grand cru tasting, which in my humble opinion is worth every penny, and a gleeful time watching people talk to, take pictures with, and basically fawn over celebrity chefs. Too funny!
All in all, I think Chicago Gourmet is well on its way to becoming one of the best culinary events in the country. That’s because it has up-and-coming Chicago chefs and a built-in set of enthusiastic foodies at it’s disposal. How can a place like Aspen even hope to compare? The combo we have here in Chicago…I think that’s as good as it gets.
As media, we attended this event free-of-charge.