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Prepare to sip, swirl and swallow at gourmet fest

Chicago Gourmet returns next week. Here's what you need to know.

Phil Vettel

September 15, 2011

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A few things you should know about the fourth annual Chicago Gourmet, which returns to Millennium Park:

Times, dates: Noon to 6 p.m. Sept. 24; noon to 5 p.m. Sept. 25

What you'll pay: One-day admission is $150; two days, $250. Saturday has already sold out. You can also earn a free one-day admission by dining out five times at participating Bon Appetit Chicago Gourmet Dine Around restaurants (there are 50-plus from which to choose), spending at least $35 at each (which is now the only way ticketless fans can gain admission Saturday). Details at chicagogourmet.org.

What you'll find: More than 150 chefs, nearly all of them local, providing food tastings. More wine and beverage samples than you can count. Plus cooking demonstrations, cookbook signings, wine and spirits seminars, and a gourmet retail tent.

What's new: A second entrance, located on Millennium Park's South Promenade, should ease the crush of guests who, understandably, want to be on the Great Lawn at the stroke of 12. There will be 10 Food Pavilions this year (up from six last year), each featuring multiple chefs; when you reach the front of each line you'll be able to grab tastings from all three chefs, instead of getting in a separate line for each. How to handle three food samples at once? By placing them on the plastic tray (with wine-glass holder) included in the Bon Appetit bag you'll be handed at the entrance.

There also will be several food carts, one-man stations scattered about the Great Lawn.

What not to overlook: With all those wine and beverage tents right in front of you, it's easy to forget about the small-group, sit-down wine seminars going on upstairs from the Bon Appetit Main Stage and Culinary Stage. At one seminar last year I sipped my way through Penfolds' top wines, including Grange, with commentary by master sommelier Fred Dame, and there were empty seats. Seminars are included in the price of admission.

What to do Friday night: Spend $89 to get into the Hamburger Hop, a kickoff event from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday at the Harris Theater Rooftop in Millennium Park. There, 15 top chefs will engage in a friendly burger competition (using Allen Brothers beef). Try them all, along with beverages from sponsors Blue Moon and Trinchero Family Estates, and vote for the People's Choice Award (which Kevin Hickey of Seasons won last year). This is a separate ticketed event.

What to give your favorite wine snob, especially if he/she is you: Drop $175 for admission to the Grand Cru Tasting, from 2 to 4 p.m. both days (a half-hour longer than in years past) on the Harris Theater Rooftop, where dozens of very expensive, premium wines will be available (among them Dom Perignon '02, Dolce, Insignia, Rubicon and Solo). The $175 fee is in addition to the cost of an admission pass, which is required.

Should I try for discount tickets online? Probably not. Ticket sales have been robust, and word is that there will be no third-party ticket offers this year.

pvettel@tribune.com

Twitter @PhilVettel