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Monday, November 23

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Chicago Gourmet Mon Sep 29 2008

Highlights from the Family Village

dtchicagogourmet.jpgNo festival is complete anymore without some kid-friendly programming, and that includes Chicago Gourmet, which had a grassy stretch with two performance areas, a smattering of convenience (albeit organic convenience) foods and some really friendly vendors--all hiding out behind the Pritzker Pavilion. I visited the Whole Foods Market Family Village with my 11-year-old son, Henry, who loves to try new foods and has strong convictions about what he'll eat (the most expensive thing on the menu) and what he won't eat (anything that ever breathed).

We arrived around noon on Sunday. And we arrived hungry. It was a festival of food, after all. When we checked in at the front gate, we were told we'd have to walk around the perimeter of Millennium Park to get to the family area, as kids weren't allowed in the main event (and tastings) area because wine was being served. This hadn't been an issue at Kidzapalooza or any of the other street festivals around the city, where parents could sip wine or beer as Junior rocked out or got his face painted. But, it was barely noon on a Sunday; access to wine wasn't my goal.

sept2008 031.jpg
Gale Gand and her daughters make panna cotta.

I was glad we'd made it in time for Gale Gand's cooking demo. We grabbed some samples of kefir smoothies from Starfruit and found front-row seats. Gale, accompanied by her adorable, three- or four-year-old twins, showed the audience how to make vanilla buttermilk panna cotta. Gale was a perfect presenter for the kids. She talked about where sugar comes from, and showed the audience what vanilla beans, which come from the orchid family, look like and how to use them. She had lots of tips for cooking with kids, even offering that sometimes when her family is covering strawberries with chocolate, they'll all climb in the shower together to do it, so rinsing off afterward is quick and easy.

We were even hungrier after watching Gale's daughters eating the berries they were meant to be mashing, so we went to take a closer look at the foods on offer at the food festival. There wasn't much: stuffed pretzels, little packs of carrots with ranch dressing, organic animal crackers and kefir, kefir and more kefir. Henry tried a few flavors of ProBugs kefir drinks (in 5-oz. pouches), and had about seven samples of kefir smoothies. The pretzels, heated in a microwave, tasted like convenience food, not gourmet food. And animal crackers ... need I say more?

At one point, Henry suggested I follow the lead of one of the park-district guys who was going into the main area to bring back plates of food for his coworkers. I was hesitant to leave my kid alone, even though the crowd was pretty thin and very friendly. So I went for the shortest tasting line--pasta from Phil Stefani's 437 Rush. We got about three bites each, and then Henry licked his plate clean. When I offered to take him away from the food festival to find something to eat, he said he wanted to stay.

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The Spatulatta girls unwind after their cooking demo.

The other attractions and vendors in the family village were great. The park district had a tent where kids could make shakers with toilet-paper rolls and corn kernels, then compose a poem about a specific food item, and recite or sing it into a mic. A guy with a laptop then mixed the track, adding loops and reverb, and took an e-mail address so each kid could have a copy of his or her recording. The ladies from Flourish Studios entertained us on and offstage, and at the end of the day we got to see CircEsteem perform some tricks and the Spatulatta girls (tween sisters Isabella "Belle" and Olivia "Liv" Gerasole) make a rice salad. Actually, we had to split up for the last two; I watched the Spatulatta girls and Henry watched CircEsteem. Later, when the CircEsteem performers were spotting audience members on their gym wheel and teaching kids to juggle, Belle and Liv took a spin on the wheel. I asked which was more fun, the cooking demo or the gym wheel. Belle, the older sister, diplomatically said both: "Each cooking demo is a new experience, but this was certainly a new experience too." Liv gushed, "That was awesome. It was so much fun."

Most parents I spoke to said the same things: the performers shouldn't have had to compete every hour from their different stages, and there should have been more food. Most parents want to make sure their kids are exposed to more than chicken nuggets and peanut-butter-and-jelly (or microwaved stuffed pretzels)--all while trying to avoid creating boorish, mini food snobs like the ones described in Details a few months ago.

There was also a lot of speculation among parents about why Sunday's $30 entry fee for the family village had been waived. Theories varied; there were stories of parents angry on Saturday because they couldn't have access to the food and wine they'd paid $150 for from the family village, and the simple answer that the organizers wanted to get more people to the event. Either way, if the goal of Gourmet Chicago is to highlight the city's culinary talent, and the family village is supposed to be a part of this, the dysfunctions in the family programming will need to be tweaked before next year.

 
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Ida / September 29, 2008 11:24 PM

A guy with a laptop then mixed the track, adding loops and reverb, and took an e-mail address so each kid could have a copy of his or her recording. The ladies from Flourish Studios entertained us on and offstage, and at the end of the day we got to see CircEsteem perform some tricks and the Spatulatta girls (tween sisters Isabella "Belle" and Olivia "Liv" Gerasole) make a rice salad.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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