Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Taste of the Nation 2015 Recap

Indulgent food events are all well and good, but those that come with a message are Brandy's true passion.  "Its easy to forget, especially in a place like Chicago where good food is so abundant, but there are so many people in this world who can't afford a good meal every day or don't even know what good food looks like," as Brandy explains, "The best thing is to start with the children; get them fed and the rest will fall into place."

This is perhaps why Brandy so admires the work of No Kid Hungry, a nationwide organization that strives towards ensuring that no child in America goes without food.  They have not only provided over 345 million meals, they help to educate families on making more nutritious choices while living on a budget. With 1 in 5 children in the US facing hunger every day, the programs set up by No Kid Hungry are more than essential.

Taste of the Nation, a yearly gathering of Chicago's top chefs, mixologists, and somaliers, hosts not only adults but families at the Grand Ballroom at Navy Pier for a night of delicious food, cocktails (even some non alcoholic ones for the kiddies), and fun, all benefiting No Kid Hungry and their work.  This year, the night featured winner of Next Food Network Star and Sandwich King Jeff Mauro leading the way for over 50 Chicago area restaurants, all showing their wears and having a grand old time for a good cause.

The top floor of the ballroom hosted the majority of the cocktails and their creators.  Brandy sampled drinks from the likes of Rural Society's Bryson Ryan with his Hypnotize (vodka, passion fruit, Hypnotiq liquor, tonic, and blueberries), Femme du Coupe's Lisa Selman with her Lavender Lady (gin, lemon, raspberries, and flavored syrup), and The Brixton's Rudy Matic with Cold Spell Joy (mint whiskey, cranberry, orange juice, and pomegranate liquor).  Downstairs in the main floor, the non alcoholic beverages were on display, like Owen + Engine with three of their signature juices (activated charcoal lemonade, apple lemon ginger cayenne, and blueberry lime mint sea salt), coffee drinks from Sparrow Roastery, and a tasty punch from Daniel DeOliveira made with kiwi, lemon, cucumber, and mint.

The main event, though, was of course the food.  Fall flavors dominated the offerings, such as a roasted chestnut soup from Acadia, smoked knockwurst with butternut squash and sour corn from The Radler, and cheddar cheese straws with apple butter and country ham from Vie.  The chefs at this particular event also seemed to be stretching their creativity with dishes like the matsutaki soup with apple, chestnut, and duck streusel from Longman and Eagle or an Asian inspired pork boa sandwich from Pork and Mindy's and of course some beef heart tartar with pistachios from The Publican.  The big restaurant groups were out in full force with Gibson's serving Angus strip steak with truffled fingerling potatoes and crab bearnaise and almost every eatery in the DineAmic group line up represented with Bar Siena's mini burgers (with braised onions, American cheese, and herbed mayo), Prime and Provisions serving mini blue crab cakes paired with thick cut bacon, and Siena Tavern bringing mini tortellaccis with roasted carrot, crispy sage, and a creamy Parmesan sauce.  Probably the most stunning dish of the evening was what Brandy called "The Egg Bowl," from El Ideas, which consisted of several types of fish eggs, uni, and was topped off with aerated scrambled eggs to make for a salty and surprising treat.

The desserts weren't lacking either at Taste of the Nation.  State and Lake delighted with their root beer float pops while Scott Green from Travelle (a consistent favorite of Brandy's from his presentations at Chicago Gourmet) had divinely rich slices of devil's food cake topped with German chocolate icing and chocolate ganache.  Pastry chef for The Gage and Acanto, Kymberli Delost, presented gorgeous little Dutch apple pies and RM Champagne Salon brought a decadent hazelnut praline parfait and the spiced pumpkin and chevre tarts from Bar Pastoral were just the thing for a blustery fall evening.

As the night wound to a close, Brandy found herself taking a seat on a bench out on the pier and smiling to herself as she watched a few families delighting their children with the giant Jenga sets that had been set up at the Life is Good clothing tent.  "Its nights like this, people like this, that give me hope for the future," she sighed, "Just think, one of these wee little ones could be inspired to become a great chef by what they've experienced here tonight, or better yet, they might grow up to be the person who stops world hunger for good.  One never knows the impact a simple little plate of food can make."

For more information on No Kid Hungry, please visit their website and consider making a donation.  Also, make sure to check out Bunny and Brandy's Facebook page for lots of pictures from the event!

The writers of this blog were invited to attend this event free of charge in order to facilitate the writing of this post.

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