September 20, 2012
The fifth annual Chicago Gourmet (full name: Bon Appetit Presents Chicago Gourmet) will take place Sept. 29 and 30 in Millennium Park. Hundreds of Chicagoans and visitors will be there; here are five reasons to be one of them.
It's worth the splurge: Yes, general-admission tickets are $159 for one day and $265 for both. But that compares favorably to the cost of attending food and wine festivals in other parts of the country, and Chicago Gourmet serves more food than any of them. There will be 10 dining pavilions (up from nine last year), including one devoted exclusively to gluten-free dishes. And that's not including the edible giveaways at the exhibitor booths (including Paramount Catering's pig roast, overseen and executed by Jimmy Bannos Jr. of The Purple Pig), and the roaming folks passing out samples from 5411 Empanadas, West Town Bakery and SuckerPunch Gourmet.
Even the Grand Cru tasting, the daily sampling of world-class wines that costs an additional $175, has added a couple of food stations, in addition to upping its wine offerings by 20 percent.
With just regular admission, there will be more wine, beer and cocktails available than you can (or should) comfortably sample. And don't overlook the intimate wine-tasting seminars (also included with admission), such as Serafin Alvarado's Vino Latino! tasting (4 p.m. Saturday) and Fred Dame's white Burgundy seminar (1:30 p.m. Sunday).
All this is taking place on and about the park's Great Lawn, with its gorgeous views of the downtown skyline, surely one of the most picturesque patches of grass in the country.
You're supporting your local stars: Apart from a few out-of-town guest stars (including John Besh, and don't miss his culinary demonstration at 1 p.m. Saturday), nearly all the chefs whose moves you'll watch and whose food you'll eat are local heroes: Rodelio Aglibot, Jimmy Bannos, Rick Bayless, Homaro Cantu, Paul Fehribach, Dirk Flanigan, Carlos Gaytan, Mark Grosz, Kevin Hickey, John Hogan, Michael Kornick, Ryan LaRoche, Shawn McClain, Martial Noguier, Ryan Poli, Tony Priolo, Arun Sampanthavivat, Michael and Patrick Sheerin, Jared Van Camp, Jared Wentworth, Andrew Zimmerman, Randy Zweiban.
Just as much fun, in my view, is discovering the excellent work of lesser-known chefs, such as Josh Adams (June, in Peoria), Greg Biggers (Cafe des Architectes) Niall Campbell (Firefly Grill, in Effingham), Chris Macchia (The Florentine), Mario Santiago (May Street Cafe), Zoe Schor (Ada Street) and Scott Walton (Markethouse Restaurant and Bar).
No wine? No problem: Even if vino doesn't do it for you, plenty of spirits producers will be on hand with samples and cocktails. Vodka from Absolut, Belvedere, Chopin, Purity and Svedka; rum from Blackbird, Cruzan, Don Q and Pyrat; Cognac from Courvoisier, Ferrand and Hennesey; bourbon from Elijah Craig, Evan Williams, Four Roses and Maker's Mark. And beer from Blue Moon, Negra Modelo, Peroni, Singha and Stella Artois.
There also will be mixology seminars, headed by "A Hard Day's Night," featuring five top mixologists (including Charles Joly of Aviary) from 12:30-1:30 p.m. Saturday; "This Old Bar," by Hearty owners Steve McDonagh and Dan Smith, 5:30-6 p.m. Saturday; and "Rock Your Whiskey" from 12:15-1 p.m. Sunday. Scotch lovers should not miss the Glenmorangie seminar, 2:45-3:30 p.m. Sunday.
Time's a-wastin': All 1,000 tickets for the Hamburger Hop, the Sept. 28 kickoff event in which more than 30 top chefs compete to make gourmet hamburgers (all available for tasting), have sold out. Tickets for the Grand Cru Tasting on Sept. 29 also are gone. Last year, single-day Saturday admissions sold out, and probably will this year.
You can still get in free (sorta): There's still time to get in on the Chicago Gourmet Dine Around, which rewards you with a free one-day admission if you eat at five participating restaurants (there are more than 70 to choose among) in the next week. Collect five receipts ($35 minimum) in the special receipt holder (all participating restaurants have them) and bring them to the registration tent by the main entrance (just east of the Bean).
Buy tickets, check schedules and get a list of participating Dine Around restaurants at chicagogourmet.org.
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