If you've been with us for a few years, you'll know Brandy's all time favorite food event of the year is definitely the Chicago Gourmet Festival, which took place this past weekend in Millenium Park. "Chicago Gourmet represents everything I love about the Chicago food scene," Brandy says, "Food, wine, cocktails, celebrity chefs, diversity, cocktails, and wine. Did I mention the food?" And this year, there were even more of the things Brandy loves with several new tasting experiences, hundreds of wineries, dozens of spirit vendors, and over 150 local, national, and international chefs.
Brandy started the day feeling positively out of place amongst the media elite as they toasted in the start of the festival. Some of the days' top celebrity chefs were present, like Graham Elliot, Sarah Moulton, Hugh Acheson, and Hubert Keller as well as the big wigs at Bon Appetite Magazine like editor and chief Adam Rapoport and select representatives of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office. "I go to a lot of food and wine festivals, as you can all imagine," Adam Rapoport extolled, "And I can say that Chicago Gourmet is the most smoothly run, diverse, and enjoyable festival I attend all year." "Here here!" Brandy cheered, downing her champagne and having to ask for another for the official toast.
There were many stand outs among the chef tasting pavilions this year. Right off the bat, Brandy fell in love with offerings from The Refinery, which boasted a juicy bite of Wagyu Beef Short Rib and a light Sticky Toffee Pudding. Jellyfish brought a delightful bite of succulent sushi topped with crispy sweet potato and a sweet soy sauce that was perfect for such a warm fall day. Gibson's Restaurant Group brought a bounty of choices to their tent, the best of which was an incredibly tender Prime Rib Slider and Level 2 at the Hyatt brought a Sweet Potato Polenta with Pulled Pork that tasted like a mouthful of autumn.
New to the festivals this year were the Dessert Tasting Pavillion and the La Femme du Chef Pavillion, both of which specialized in showcasing two previously under represented groups: pastry chefs and female chefs. Black Dog Gelato brought a bold dish to the Dessert Pavillion: a Red Pepper Gelato Tart. Not being a huge fan of pepper flavor in general (Brandy nearly threw a cocktail in the face of a bar tender after sipping what she thought was a fruit punch only to find it spiked with red pepper juice) Brandy still had to admire their adventurous spirit. Sixteen from the Trump Hotel presented three impressive variations of a rootbeer float, one of which was an airy liquorice scented cake. Over at the La Femme tent, Brandy's perennial favorite Amanda Downing from Rockit Bar and Grill brought a Brie Burger with caramelized onions, but the true standout was Megan Neubeck from Terzo Piano at the Art Institute of Chicago with a mind boggling Sweet Corn Panna Cotta with Peach, Ginger, and Mint.
As always, there were plenty of cocktails and wines for the tasting. Brandy took special note of the Absolut Vodka Tent, which was previewing an upcoming limited edition bottle that paid tribute to the colorful Chicago skyline. Another favorite beverage came from the Palmer House Hilton, which had a Lavender Lemonade so refreshing that Brandy had to go back for a second cup.
Brandy also noticed a trend towards giving people something to take with them, an incredibly smart move as the amount of food at the festival can sometimes be overwhelming, to say the least. Zed 451 handed out packets of their signature spice mix, The Coffeecake Connection had pre-packed their signature and cinnamon gluten free cakes in to-go bags, and CS Magazine had bags of crunchy caramel popcorn for the taking while the Bon Appetite tent had goodies from Werther's Originals.
After her gullet was thoroughly stuffed, Brandy settled in for a couple of cooking demos. First up was Brandy's old friend, Chef Takashi Yagihashi, and fresh off the plane from Japan Chef Hideaki Matsuo, who teamed up for an enlightening demonstration of traditional Japanese cooking techniques. Takashi was his usual witty self, getting the crowd to giggle by just flashing them an excellently timed grin, while Chef Matsuo flashed his amazing knife skills, like making one continuous ribbon from a chunk of cucumber. After that, Sarah Moulton and Gale Gand took the stage to talk about what they learned from the great Julia Child. "What she always told me was, 'Eat everything in moderation,'" Chef Gand explained, causing Chef Moulton to counter, "But what she meant was eat everything in moderation!" If there is a better motto for the Chicago Gourmet festival than that, we'd like to hear it!
Don't forget to visit Bunny and Brandy's Facebook page for lots more pictures from Chicago Gourmet!