Another year, another fabulous Chicago Gourmet. In the past I've come at this recap in a number of ways; giving you my best of, giving helpful tips of how to navigate the festival, demonstrating food trends based on the dishes being served, etc. This year, I figured I'd try something a little different and give you as much of a behind the scenes peek into what my day covering the biggest food festival of the year is really like. So, got your walking shoes on? Good, because it's pretty darn damp out here from all the rain. Let's go!
12:00 pm- The festival is officially open! While everyone else gets their barrings/heads for the Supreme Lobster tent, I spot the return of an old friend: the Four Corner's tent. In years past, they've been my go-to first stop because they are always ready and raring to go while other tents are still plating. This year they were featuring Carnitas Tacos and customizable mini margaritas from Federales.
12:15 pm- After wandering around for a bit and taking some atmosphere shots, I spotted Christina from Chritiques and we sauntered over to the Mariano's Tasting Pavilion to get our first loaded plates of the day. Best of the Tent: Brian Jupiter's (Ina Mae/Frontier) Smoked Boar Tacos and Michael Galen (Dusek's/Punch House) Spice Roasted Cauliflower with lemon tahini, walnut and pomegranate. This tent also showcased two odd, but fun brand features. Murray's Cheese handed out tiny curated cheese plates with tasting cards, while Fanny May had some of their signature chocolates. At least Fanny May's goodies I could shove in my bag for later, but I'm not gonna lie... the tiny cheese plate was an odd choice for an event like this.
12:30 pm- The decision was made between Christina and I to hit up the Keeping Up with the Konfections dessert tent while the line was short. Eli's Cheesecake really surprised me with their feature of a new product: tiny goat's milk cheese cake bites, called Cubies (because they're tiny cubes!) drizzled with honey. I would have eaten the entire bag if I hadn't been pacing myself!
12:45 pm- The US Foods tent was in full swing by this point, so we joined the growing line. The standout here was Giancarlo Valera's (Tanta) shrimp cebiche, a dish I'd actually had the opportunity to learn how to make a few weeks ago. Funnily enough, raw seafood dishes used to be an overwhelmingly common sight at Chicago Gourmet, but this was the only one I encountered this year!
1:00 pm- Christina and I bid our farewells as she headed off to meet some friends, and I popped over to the Thai Select tent. Wipavadee Iamsakul from Kinnaree Thai Kitchen served my favorite dish here: some skewered pork with a fresh salad on the side. The gals at Siam Rice Thai Cuisine were NOT kidding around when they said their Thai Basil Chicken was a LITTLE spicy, so I immediately headed off to some of the smaller tents in search of liquid refreshment.
1:15 pm- Fever Tree bottled mixers had some lovely, refreshing cocktails at their table. Absolute Vodka was featuring their new line, Absolute Juice, mixed with sparkling water. Sparkling cocktails seemed to be all over the place. I'm sure it had nothing to do with the country's obsession with White Claw this past summer...
1:30 pm Quick stop at Tao's tend to sample their Peking Duck Rolls was totally worth it. Then I headed over to the Gardens of the Galaxy Veggie tent, because the amount of heavy meat dishes I'd been given to far was already starting to wear me down. Sandy Chen (Koi/Le Sud/Club 77) had some adorable veggie sushi rolls with the different colored wrappings denoting different flavors.
1:45 pm- Started to hit a wall, so I grabbed cold brew from La Colombe's tent and headed to the Gordon Food Service tent for last round from the heavy hitters. God bless the volunteer working this tent who briefed everyone waiting in line on what dishes were inside with the detail of a fine dining server. After skirt steak, octopus, beef cheek, and smoked salmon mousse, It was the Jackfruit and Papaya Noodle Salad from Jonathan Meyer at Flora and Fauna that I found most delicious, if only because it wasn't meat or bread.
2:00 pm- Time to stop into the Choose Chicago media tent for a quick break. Unfortunately for me, the media tent had a table full of delicious looking food! I was in such a daze at that point (from all I'd eaten and drunk, but also because the humidity had drastically risen), so I don't seem to have made a note about what the food was or who made it... but I did take pictures. Because that's just muscle memory for me at this point. See pretty food, take pictures of it. Done.
2:30 pm- This is always the time I head to the mainstage to take in a few demos while the tasting tents change over for the afternoon session. Sarah Grueneberg and Fabio Viviani made for a delighful pair of pasta making Top Chefs, and it was a total thrill to get to see Masaharu Morimoto expertly butcher a 130 pound tuna like it was something he does every day. Actually, he probably does do that every day.
3:30 pm- Time to get back to eating! First stop was the hidden gem S Rosen's Sandwich tent, where Julius Russell (A Tale of Two Chefs) had the fanciest grilled cheese sandwich I've ever seen, packed with slow roasted short rib, truffle oil, and caramelized shallots.
3:45 pm- Back over to the Mariano's tent. This time, it was the Duck Fat Hot Dogs from Kevin Hickey (The Duck Inn) that caught my attention. Also catching my attention was my good friend Mihaela from Chicago Loves Panini, who tagged along with me for the final rounds of the festival.
4:00 pm- Another trip to the US Foods tent. Two things here had people talking; Brian Jupiter's Gator Sausage sandwich, which initiated many Chance the Snapper comments, and Carlos Gaytan's Chicken Mole Tacos. This was the first taste many of us had had of Carlos's food from his new restaurant Tzuco, a tribute to the cuisine of his home town.
4:15 pm- Last big tent of the day; a return to the Gordon Food Service pavillion, where the amazing volunteer lady was still giving detailed menu spiels to the waiting crowd. Though I was full, I was so happy to get a taste of the Pork Belly and pork shoulder with arugula slaw and grape must from Louie Alexakis at Avli Tavern, because he has always brought such stellar dishes in previous years.
4:30 pm- A few more walk abouts before the whole festival started to shut down resulted in an adorable souvenir mug from the Iichiko Sochu tent, a bite of a stellar Japanese egg salad sandwich topped with caviar from Guy Meikle at Heritage Restaurant and Caviar Bar, and some much needed Resilient juice from Natalie's Cold Pressed Juices.
And thus ended another stellar, ridiculous, glutinous, entertaining, and exhausting year at Chicago Gourmet! Check out my Facebook page for all the photographic proof of my hunger. Until next year!