Many have heard the famous quote attributed (albeit loosely) to Chicago’s master planner Daniel Burnham, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.” But there is another lesser known quote that I find perfectly Burnham, “It was Chicago with its World’s Fair which vivified the national desire for civic beauty.”
Then there is this one, by one of my favorite local architects, Frank Lloyd Wright, “Eventually, I think Chicago will be the most beautiful city left in the world.”
Now certainly, these men are slightly biased, but Chicago has always been an interesting architectural city. Take the striking Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry for example. The centerpiece of the beautiful, lakefront park, the Pavilion frames the performance venue with a trellis of brushed, stainless steel ribbons. This was the backdrop for the eighth annual Bon Appetit presents Chicago Gourmet.
Chicago Gourmet is billed as a celebration of food and wine, showcasing more than 190 of Chicago’s finest restaurants and chefs. Guests are treated to cooking demonstrations, seminars, tastings and book signings. The event itself runs $170 for a one-day pass or $275 for a weekend pass. You can also purchase tickets to Grand Cru tastings and special programs. Mike and I were fortunate enough to receive a pair of tickets and attend the Sunday afternoon events.
Knowing the venue and that Bon Appetit was presenting the festivities made us optimistic, but having recently attended the Windy City Wine Festival, I had reservations. Fortunately upon entering the gates, I immediately knew we were in for something very special, and very unlike the last event. For starters, we were each handed a tasting glass – not a plastic cup – and plate designed to be held in one hand with your glass. Genius.
The quality of this event was immediately clear. This was going to be an afternoon of some serious food and wine tasting. Eleven “tasting pavilions” were scattered throughout the park and each hosted three to four different chefs and restaurants for the first half of the afternoon, and three to four new chefs and restaurants for the second half of the afternoon. Wine, beer and spirit tastings were also available in four tent areas each featuring between 10-20 vendors. Mike and I had no idea where to start, so decided to just go for it. We grabbed a splash of red wine and jumped in line for our first tasting.
I could easily gush about the tastings we enjoyed, as we didn’t have a bad one in the bunch, but for sake of brevity, I’ll highlight our favorites. As for the food (which also unlike the last event was included in the cost of the ticket), a few items stood out as absolutely outstanding, 4-spooners. Not surprising given the high-profile chefs and restaurants involved, but are you ready for this? One of our favorite dishes actually featured beets! I’m not joking. I ate beets. And I loved them. (For those of you new to the blog, as a family we generally detest beets. They are absolutely gag-inducing and have always garnered 0 spoons from us.)
This time, these roasted beets with whipped goat cheese, arugula, candied walnuts, olive oil and balsamic glaze from Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants were an absolute delight on the palate. Now if you’re thinking, perhaps we had already tasted too much wine and this is the remembrance of someone in a happily, buzzed state, you’d be wrong. This was our first stop of the day! Perhaps it’s that try something 21 times before dismissing it trick, but more than likely it was the absolute skill with which they were prepared, the quality of the food and the combination of complementary ingredients. Whatever the case, they were unbelievable and have me almost inspired enough to try them at home…we’ll see. (Incidentally, Miss A and I also ate and enjoyed beets at the Farmy – again I’m thinking quality of ingredients and skillful preparation.)
Another 4-spoon treat was a kimchi dumpling prepared by Chef Stephen Dunne of the Paramount Room. The dumpling was light and crunchy and the kimchi was perfectly fermented. Then there were the short ribs cooked in the Big Green Egg by Park Grill at Millennium Park. You wanna talk fall-off-the-bone-finger-licking-juicy-goodness? This was it. Fantastic! 4-spoons all around!
While the food was amazing, the wine poured was equally so. We mostly tasted reds, which we tend to prefer, but our favorites ended up being across the board. A few tastings won a 4-cork rating from each of us with the runaway winner being a Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley 2010 Merlot. Again this was surprising as neither Mike nor I typically enjoy Merlot. It has to be something really special to get our attention and this one certainly did. A big fruit-forward wine with savory notes, a velvety feel and a long, smooth finish. Had I tasted this blindly I would not have believed it was Merlot. Definitely a winner.
We also enjoyed a Cavit Lunetta Sparkling Rose. Produced in the Tretino region of Italy, the wine comes from primarily Chardonnay grapes with a blend of Teroldego, Lagrein and Pinot Noir. It’s a beautiful pale salmon color, with subtle fruit flavors and a fresh, clean finish. It was a refreshing glass of bubbly as the afternoon warmed up. 4-corks.
And finally, we also gave 4-corks to Trump Winery’s Blanc de Blanc 2009. Yes, that Trump – the one with the hair. I didn’t want to like a Trump wine, but clearly Trump’s winemaker knows what he’s doing. Located in Monticello, Trump Winery is Virginia’s largest vineyard at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This is a wonderful sparkling wine, 100% Chardonnay and estate grown. It has notes of apples and citrus. It’s very crisp and clean with a toasty finish. We loved it and would definitely buy a bottle or two.
But Chicago Gourmet wasn’t all food and wine, although that was the best part! It also featured many cooking demonstrations, seminars and book signings. Mike and I popped in to watch the Pump Room’s Jean-Georges Vongerichten prepare a beautiful fish fillet over steamed vegetables on the Pritzker Pavilion’s main stage. While there is certainly value in picking up a few techniques and tips from the experts, I was mostly drawn to simply watching the renowned chef’s artful movements as he scurried about the demo kitchen. I truly love watching professional chefs at work. It’s mesmerizing.
And that leads us to our giveaway. One of the final events Sunday afternoon was an Iron Chef battle between Iron Chef Jose Garces and Slurping Turtle’s Takashi Yagihashi. Mike and I didn’t make it for the live battle at Chicago Gourmet; but we do love watching the Iron Chefs battle it out on the Food Network. I know there is a certain stigma in the food community surrounding today’s reality TV cooking programs, but I really do enjoy a good Iron Chef battle (as well as Chopped obviously). I really think it’s an art form – an energetic, creative, and sometimes even athletic art form – and Chef Jose Garces is one of my favorites.
Chicago-born and raised, Chef Garces is passionate about travel, cooking and good food. His family has roots in Ecuador. He’s lived in Spain and he’s studied Cuban, Mexican and Peruvian cuisine extensively. As he states in the introduction of his new book, The Latin Road Home, “Five Latin food traditions have greatly influenced the course of my life…” When I found out Chef Garces was hosting a book signing, I knew I had to see if I could squeeze my way in; after all, he’s a Chicagoan passionate about food, travel and sharing cooking from around the world!
Thankfully, and much to my surprise, we popped in the end of a very short line (They limit the lines to keep things moving and I think most people were winding down for the day as only a ½ hour of the event remained.). I was able to meet and briefly speak with Chef Garces, who of course is a very gracious man, while he signed a few books. One for me (it was my birthday celebration after all), and one for you (again because it was my birthday and who doesn’t like presents!).
Chef Garces new book is a beautifully photographed collection of recipes from Ecuador, Spain, Cuba, Mexico and Peru. Each chapter contains a well-written narrative on the Chef’s tie to the region, a brief and informative snapshot of the country from food to land, history and people, and a series of menus. You’ll find four dinner menus highlighting traditional dishes from each region and one extensive menu for a larger gathering, also from each region.
Here are a few recipes I’m dying to try: Ecuador’s Aji Mushrooms with Ginger and Saffron; Spain’s Seafood Vermicelli Paella (a Fedeua); Cuba’s Hearts of Palm with Coconut Vinaigrette; Mexico’s Tortilla Soup; and Peru’s Peruvian Doughnuts, to name only a few. My mouth is watering already! It’s a perfectly complementary book for those that like the mission of our blog, this quote being a great example, “And when you do sit down and dig in, I hope that you and your dining companions will partake not only of mighty fine food, but also a little gastroturismo right there at your table…”
Entry to win the signed book is available to residents of the U.S. and Canada only. Not to worry though, I promise the next giveaway (coming in November) will be worldwide! To enter the contest, simply leave us a comment or submit via the website linked below. Entries will be taken through 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, October 22nd. You can also get extra, bonus entries by following us on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest, or by tweeting about the giveaway to your followers. Thank you for participating and good luck!
To enter the contest click here: Giveaway
I’ll leave you with another quote about Chicago attributed to New York-born William A. Hulbert, “I’d rather be a lamppost in Chicago than a millionaire in any other city.”
(Incidentally William A. Hulbert was one of the founders of the National League in baseball, the first recognized major league. I wonder what his thoughts would be on our beloved Cubbies this year!)
See you later in the week with another treat from Austria. Cheers!