1:24 PM CDT, September 30, 2012
So much food and wine, so little time.
The fifth annual Chicago Gourmet, which took place Saturday and Sunday in Millennium Park, was marked by beautiful weather, capacity crowds and a surfeit of premium wines and remarkable dishes.
"It's like this here every day," mayor Rahm Emanuel claimed jokingly at the opening ceremonies, noting the sunny skies and mid-70s temperatures. Certainly the veterans of last year's soggy and somewhat chilly festival seemed grateful for the perfect weather.
Though Saturday's event was sold out, food lines were manageable and there was plenty of room to sit and/or maneuver. John Besh, the acclaimed New Orleans chef making his first Chicago Gourmet appearance, sounded impressed.
"I'm very jealous," he said. "The whole thing is really well-planned. And it's user friendly; you can interact with the chefs, instead of just seeing them up on a stage."
Indeed, nearly all the chefs (more than 150 participated) were front-and-center at their respective food stations, passing out food samples and offering detailed descriptions.
Dirk Flanigan, of The Gage and Henri restaurants, passed out fork-tender cubes of braised goat with fresh kraut and honey-truffle glaze. Paul Fehribach of Big Jones offered a housemade benne cracker topped with housemade andouille sausage, shrimp and spicy piccalilli. Steve McDonagh and Dan Smith of Hearty fashioned bone-marrow brioche topped with oxtail, and John Gatsos of Tavern on Rush reached into his Greek heritage for tzatziki-drizzled grape leaves stuffed with salmon and basmati rice.
And that was just the food. Serafin Alvardo, master sommelier with Southern Wine & Spirits of Illinois, estimated attendees at one seminar (included with admission) would have to spend more than $400 to buy the wines they were sampling. Yet, the real usefulness of Chicago Gourmet's wine seminars lay in listening to the pros talk about wine, and how to taste it and pair it with food.
Jay Fletcher, a master sommelier with Southern Wine & Spirits of Colorado, offered several such moments during his panel, "Rich, Bold and Beautiful: A Comparative Tasting of Full Bodied Wines." His most useful advice, perhaps, was to steer clear of tannic wines when serving peppery foods; pairing tannins and pepper, he said, was akin to "throwing gasoline on a fire." Alvarado, in his "Vino Latino!" seminar, suggested food matches to Chilean, Argentinian and even Uraguayan wines. And sommelier Peter Marks, leading guests through Robert Mondavi's Te Kolon Vineyard wines, took time to demonstrate proper toasting etiquette, quoting Magrit Mondavi (widow of Robert) in saying that a poor toast means "seven years of bad sex."
Cocktails were represented in such seminars as "A Hard Day's Night," which used Beatles music and imagery while presenting (presumably fab) four cocktails to get one through the day, from morning to night cap.
Debbi Peek of Southern Wine & Spirits of Illinois taught the 55 or so seminar attendees how to make an a.m. pick-me-up called the "Loretto Jam," featuring blueberry jam, purple sage leaves and lemon sour mix with Maker's Mark bourbon and ice. Charles Joly of The Aviary offered his take on a classic cocktail, a Fog Cutter, adding a Harvey's Bristol Cream sherry float on top.
At the Hamburger Hop, Friday night's kickoff event pitting 15 chefs in a friendly gourmet-hamburger contest, Yoshi Katsumura, chef/owner of Yoshi's Cafe, won the judges' competition with his American wagyu burger topped with Asian pear jam, panko-crusted fried green tomato and smoky Asian barbecue sauce. Matt Troost, chef of Three Aces, was the people's choice winner with a 50-50 mix of prime chuck and sirloin, topped with bacon jam, aged Wisconsin white cheddar and a sprinkling of marrow-infused salt on a pretzel bun.
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