Masaharu Morimoto and so many others were all present for demos, book signings, and tastings. "The difference between this and a music festival is the simple fact that people can interact with their favorite stars here in a more personal and direct way," Brandy observed, "These chefs are here to give their food, like a gift, to the masses, not show off. Perhaps that's why there seem to be no egos among even the most accomplished chefs. Everyone is happy to shake hands, sign autographs, and talk food no matter how many James Beard Awards they have under their belts!"
As always seems to happen, Brandy found favorites right away. Jared Van Camp brought Leghorn's famous Hot Chicken Sandwich, which was a pretty substantial portion of fried chicken breast on a soft house made bun with shaved vegetable slaw and just a touch of hot sauce. Paul Fehribach from Big Jones showcased an end of summer bisque made of eggplant and pecans, served chilled with poached shrimp and wax beans, which made for a nice change from the usual fall flavored squash soups others were serving, though Jon Keeley of Gemini Bistro and Rustic House had a pretty tasty butternut squash soup with pumpkin seeds and bacon lardons. Jimmy Bannos Sr. of Heaven on Seven and The Purple Pig had a Creole chicken and cheesy grits that Brandy would have happily eaten a full sized plate of, and in the same pavilion, Stetson's Modern Steak and Sushi had an amazing cup of fall vegetables with mandarin orange, roasted fig, goat cheese, spiced pear puree. There was an over abundance of seafood dishes, but Brandy's favorite among the crowd was the lobster mango roll from Jellyfish, which was not only tasty, but one of the prettiest dishes there.
Dessert seemed to have a particular emphasis this year, as Brandy was very pleased to see. Donuts were at the forefront, with Glazed and Infused bringing a goat cheese and red wine glazed cake donut, Firecakes giving attendees the choice between a vanilla, chocolate, and "almond joy" flavored, custard filled yeast donuts, and Stan's Donuts stealing the spotlight with their Chicago Mix donut, which was topped with caramel corn and filled with a cheddar cream. "Not sure how I feel about this one," Brandy said, studying the neon orange interior of the pastry, "But it certainly is unique!" Other sweet favorites included Bistronomic's version of a Kit Kat bar, composed of feuilletine, chocolate hazelnut ganache, and served with orange Grand Marnier sauce and The Langham's pistachio and cherry tart, which was a such an intricate dessert that the station displayed one of the desserts cut in half to show all of the layers inside. Another major crowd favorite was surprisingly from Francesca's Restaurants, which brought a sweet corn butterscotch bread pudding with blueberries, caramel corn, and vanilla ice cream.
Even though the amount of wine in the main festival was overwhelming as always, Brandy made a major effort to visit the Grand Cru this year, the showcase for international wineries that often invites the best chefs at the festival to create small dishes that pair perfectly with the wine. While Brandy may not be the most sophisticated wine drinker (she pretty much just worked her way through the lines, holding out her wine glass for a pour, and then moving on) she was pleased to see chefs like Stephanie Izard and Andrew Zimmerman were hurriedly feeding the crowds themselves at the back of the space. Brandy's favorite among the group were Tony Mantuano and Chris Marchino from Spiaggia, who served pickled black mission figs with Castelmagno cheese, ‘nduja sausage and fennel.
Next, Brandy jumped over the Bon Appetite Mainstage to take in a chef demo or two. She caught the very end of Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto's demo, in which he showed off his knife skills by breaking down a gigantic fish (as well as singing) in front of the crowd. After that, Carla Hall (from Top Chef and The Chew) made a cheddar cheese and apple pie, proving to be just as quirky and lovable live as she is on television. After that came Jeff Mauro, otherwise known as The Sandwich King, whose comedy training came out while he prepared rustic Italian favorites, even inviting his son to come up and help with the dish's prep.
As per usual, Brandy had to be practically torn away from the gates as the fesitval closed down for the night. "And now the worst time of the year," Brandy whimpered as she waddled her way to the bus, "The longest possible wait until next's year's Chicago Gourmet Festival." Brandy may have even started to weep from despair if it wasn't for the fact that she fell into a deep slumber the moment she sat down on the bus, only awaking just in time for her stop when her knitting needles fell from her hands.
Remember to check Bunny and Brandy's Facebook page for even more delectable pictures, and check out this piece from Time Out Chicago, where the writers behind Bunny and Brandy talk about their favorite fall flavors from this year's festival.
The writers of this blog were invited to attend this festival at no charge in exchange for an honest recap of the events.