Chicago Gourmet Rides Again

Gorgeous day for eating, drinking and learning on the Great Lawn

Organizers couldn’t have dialed up a better weekend for Chicago Gourmet. With crisp, slightly warm weather and clear skies, the city never looked better, as more and more VIPs made their way here for two days of classes, tastings and seminars with some of the city’s top food talent. The festivities kicked off Friday night, on the roof of the Harris Theater, for the Hamburger Hop.

LuxBar’s burger with cracklin’s embedded on the bun

There had to have been well over a thousand people beneath the tent that night, tasting samples of burgers from the likes of Mity Nice, The Gage, Allium at the Four Seasons and Gibson’s. I saw XRT’s Lin Brehmer up on the judging stage, along with New Orleans chef John Besh, and thought to myself, thank God I’m not doing that. I mean, I love burgers, but the thought of tasting and processing the dozen or so they had to plow through didn’t seem that appealing.

 

On Saturday, a crystal clear afternoon was the backdrop for a sold out day – somewhere around 5,300 people I was told by Illinois Restaurant Assoc. officials – which featured some top-notch cooking demos on the main stage, inside the Pritzker Pavilion. I played host to Tony Mantuano (Spiaggia) and John Hogan (Keefer’s), each making some delicious shrimp dishes, then later in the day, watching former Chicago chef Rick Tramonto (Tru, Trio, Brasserie T, Osteria di Tramonto) team up with Louisiana legend John Folse (Lafitte’s Landing) to show the appreciative crowd how to make turtle soup, like they do in their NOLA restaurant, R’evolution:

 

Tramonto & Folse in action during their demo

Tramonto plating his turtle soup, a la R’evolution

In between these two seminars, I learned a boat load about brewing hops and techniques from John Legnard, the Brewmaster for Blue Moon in Denver. Talk about a lively crowd: I didn’t see a spit bucket anywhere, so all six (or was it seven) of the beers he had brought – including a pumpkin, a peanut and a chardonnay beer – had to be swallowed; I don’t think anyone was complaining.

 

Blue Moon’s John Legnard talking hops and barley

 

Throughout the day, there were lines, as there always are at this event, but they moved pretty swiftly, and there didn’t seem to be anyone running out of food like in years past. The fact there were dozens of wine, sake, tequila, bourbon and rum samples on hand didn’t hurt. Everyone was in a pretty festive mood. There was also a giant Stella Artois tent, with even more food vendors, and I didn’t hear anyone complaining about a lack of food, like I had in the first two years. There was definitely more of a Bon Appétit presence, since the magazine is a premier sponsor of the event, but in terms of drinks, it’s a Southern Wine & Spirits deal the whole way. One attendee told me the event was essentially a “Taste of Chicago” for the 1%. Maybe, but it sure was a delicious way to spend a Saturday in one of the most beautiful cities in the country.

 

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