Friday, October 12, 2018

Follow Me Around Chicago Gourmet 2018

I attended Chicago Gourmet free of charge as a member of the media. All opinions are my own.

So... Chicago Gourmet happened and I'm already sad that it's over. This year's theme was "Rock the Fork," which is kind of ironic, considering most of the dishes served there aren't meant to be eaten with forks (spoonables and finger foods are far more common and less complicated), but the addition of some random musical elements to the festival did help spice things up. The lines this year, though, were an ordeal, with most tents boasting more than a 20 minute wait for food. I'm not sure if this was due to more tickets being sold, or too many overly ambitious chefs taking too long to plate complicated dishes, but either way, it definitely effected the pace of the day and my stamina.

I am very specific about how I go through Chicago Gourmet, so I thought it might be fun to walk you through my usual strategies. A few general notes before I begin:
1) I ate far less this year then I normally do and left far earlier, due to my hubristic decision to attend a second large food festival later that evening
2) I drank far less then I usually do for that same reason, but my normal MO is to stick to ready to drink cocktails and steer clear of the wine tents
3) I attended the festival on Sunday only
4) I didn't eat a damn thing for 16 hours before the festival and nearly a whole day afterwards
5) The weather was far cooler and more comfortable this year than it was last year, but a rain shower in the middle of the day did threaten to ruin a few dishes, moods, and expensive shoes.
6) No, I did not hit the Supreme Lobster tent. I avoid it like the plague because the wait is usually twice as long as all the other tents, and when you're trying to cram tons of food into a few short hours, time is precious.

For the last few, years, my first stop has been to the Four Corners Tavern Group tent, mostly because they usually have several fun presentations ready to go and I can get pictures of them before they are swarmed with people. This year, I discovered their usual spot was now occupied by the Godfrey Hotel, who were serving a spiced berry cocktail, avocado toast, herbed hummus, and chicken satay, along side branded freebies like sunglasses and mints. They also had a large plastic igloo, furnished as a private seating area/selfie station. Later in the day, they even brought in a snow machine, apparently.

Next, I headed for the Mariano's Tasting Pavilion. The tent's namesake had brought along a London Broil sandwich from their catering division, which was good, but seemed out of place next to it's gourmet neighbors. There was quite a bit of seafood at this tent: Cameron Grant from Osteria Langhe presented a shrimp and octopus stuffed pasta with puttanesca sauce, Chris Pandel with Swift and Sons brought along a chilled corn soup with king crab, and Ian Davis from Band of Bohemia had a smoked sturgeon caviar crepe. Weirdly, the thing I had to force myself not to finish (because I needed to save room) was the pork gyro from Jimmy Bannos Jr.'s newest venture, Piggy Smalls. I've never enjoyed a gyro more, but then again, I was still pretty hungry at that point in the day.


I then made the controversial decision to hit the Dessert Pavilion. I like to do this early in the day, because most people tend to hit up the sweets later, causing all kinds of traffic jams and long wait times. Samantha Gonzales from Blue Agave Tequila Bar was serving large chunks of tres leches cake, while Greg Reich from Terry's Toffee had four different flavors of of their signature sweets, chopped into tiny tasting pieces. Evan Sheridan from Free Rein had two very interesting desserts, but was sadly not behind the table when I came through, so I have no idea what they were. My notes say, "Some sort of flaky donut hole with candied orange, and a spiced pudding-like thing with sesame seeds." They were pretty tasty, in any case.


Back to savory things with the Hungry Like the Wolf tent (side note: only a few of the tents had these silly musical pun names, while other had sponsor names. I wish they all had the musical names). Here, Guy Meikle from Heritage Restaurant and Caviar Bar made his fellow tent occupants a little testy by holding up the front of the line with his expertly plated cauliflower and apple soup, garnished with a white fish roe and chicharon. Italian Village Restaurants handed out their chicken wings while they were still hot to those of us waiting. Blu57 Seafood started doing the same with their fried chicken salad. My standout from this tent was Sam Burman and MCA Catering with their pork rib with fennel pollen and lime. Louie Alexakis gave the attendees something sweet with a Greek dessert that consisted of crispy filo dough, spiced cheese, and pickled grapes. "Just mash up everything together," he told me with a wink.


After wandering around the lawn for a while, I ended up at one of the international tents, where chefs from foreign restaurants were presenting their hometown favorites. At the Mexico Tasting Pavilion, I got to sample a corn tostada with smoked crab, avocado mousse, and a paste made from 32 different peppers, which was made by Tomas Zertuche Diaz from Anita Li, a Nogalas style beef tartar with chili from Darren Walsh at Casa De Piedra, and a golden passion fruit tart from Fernanda Covarrubias with La Posteria, all restaurants in Guadalajara.


My last stop of the morning session was the US Foods tent. John Gatsos from Tavern on the Rush had a nice little short rib slider. Brian Jupiter from Frontier had brought along a crawfish elotes (which is actually a feature dish from his other restaurant, Ina Mae). Rick Gresh presented a pair of small bites from Ace Bouce: a mushroom and goat cheese dumpling and a mini barbacoa taco. Lastly, Juan Carlos Ascencio from Mercadito put forth a pork carnitas taco.


By now, I was hitting my midday lull, so I grabbed a couple of cocktails from the Three Olives tent and headed for the Bon App├ętit main stage to recoup with some cooking demos. I got there just as Stephanie Izard was finishing up a raucous musical number with Graham Elliot, a live band, and an entire choir. I have no idea what she cooked, but the crowd seemed excited about it. She was followed by the subdued duo of Andrew Zimmerman (Sepia/Proxi) and Erling Wu-Bower, who walked everyone through making some easy crudos. After that, Graham Elliot returned with his pal, Matthias Merges (or as I like to call him, Chef Wolverine) to make some sort of fish dish together. I skipped out for the afternoon tasting sessions just as Matthias handed Graham the head of the fish and told him to figure something out. Hopefully it ended well.




On my way out of the demos, I stopped into the seemingly forgotten Porter Road tent and grabbed a lamb bacon and curried corn dish from Devon Quinn at Eden and a Korean short rib with fermented turnip, pickled radish, puffed sushi rice, and bone marrow butterscotch from the evil genius that is Brian Fisher (representing Entente).


Another trip to the dessert pavilion resulted in possibly the longest wait of the day (I told you, hit this tent early in the day!). I managed to snag a panna cotta sugar cookie sandwich from Michael Meranda with Gelato D'oro, a tasty but soggy pumpkin spice waffle with bourbon caramel sauce from David Rodriguez at Whisk, and a bread pudding with peach and raspberry coulee from Martial Noguier at Bistronomic.


By this point, I only had time and room for one last stop. I picked the US Foods Pavilion once more, since it was the closest tent to the exit. I got an apple and chive spatzel with chicken, pork, and pickled mustard seeds from Eric Mansavge at Farmhouse. Michael Armstrong from TAO had a pretty standard chicken pad thai. Giancarlo Valera from Tanta presented a shrimp ceviche with green plantain chips, Caribbean pepper and Peruvian corn. Marcos Flores from Latinicity had a braised mole shortrib. And then there was a mystery entrant (which my notes say was Rick Gresh and Ace Bounce again, but I'm not sure that was the case) with a lobster and shrimp dumpling in a shiitake and ginger broth. See? Told ya there was no need to wait at the lobster tent!


And there you have it! Just about everything I ate at Chicago Gourmet 2018! Let me know if you went and if I majorly missed out on anything. Until 2019!

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