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Chicago Gourmet Tue Sep 30 2008

Closing Time

dtchicagogourmet.jpgIn the same way that one shouldn't order fish on a Monday, showing up for the last couple of hours of Chicago Gourmet meant that I missed out on the bustle and excitement that the other GB writers experienced during their trips to the weekend event--no rubbing elbows with Bayless, no moments with sake masters--and I kind of wanted it that way. Could a high-end culinary event fill out three days' worth of festivities?

The weather was overcast and chilly, so perhaps the long lines and huge crowds would stay home (or have already made their mark and split), leaving me to freely roam. I wasn't wrong; lines moved swiftly and the people who were still there moved fast, possibly to make sure they squeezed more value out of the hefty ticket price.

I arrived just in time to see the cooking demonstration between former Top Chef contestants Dale Levitski and Stephanie Izard, who chose instead to have a cooking challenge reminiscent of their reality show days instead of using their half-hour to slowly show how to make a dish. The twist was that each chef's ingredients were secretly chosen by the other (at the Boystown Whole Foods, natch) and revealed at the beginning of the event. Izard's bag held a pork chop, butternut squash, coconut milk, and celery root; Levitski's held shrimp, milk chocolate, cippollini onions, and bacon.

Dale and Stephanie CookAs the two explored their ingredients, you could tell their minds were back in Top Chef mode as they rapidly tried to invent a dish under pressure. Both started aimlessly chatting as they began organizing their work stations, telling rather candid anecdotes to the audience about their experiences on Top Chef (the extent to which Bravo controlled their lives--having their luggage searched for non-"approved" items, being unable to make personal phone calls or read magazines), giving little cooking hints (the tasty pairing of mushrooms and chocolate, how to cook a celery root) and, most interestingly, voicing their frustrations with the cooking challenge that exceeded what we're used to in reality TV voiceover sidebars; Stephanie repeatedly stated that she didn't like what Dale had chosen for her, while Levitski, seemingly more perplexed, set to work. In the televised world of Top Chef, Izard was portrayed a serious and often anxious contestant; here, away from Padma and the camera lights, she seemed at ease once she started chopping and cooking, making jokes with the audience and carrying on a sibling-like, witty banter with Levitski, who is a longtime friend. I thought it was unfortunate that the editorial styling of Top Chefdidn't give Stephanie's humor a bit more attention.

Talk turned to the two chef's plans to open restaurants: Levitski has located a space downtown for his forthcoming Town and Country, but the sour economy has put a temporary stop to progress; he is currently waiting tables at Lincoln Square's Sola to get by, wryly commenting that people who recognize him from Top Chef tend to tip less than those who don't. Izard was quiet about her own plans, but has a place in the Chicago industry from her days as the owner of Bucktown's now-closed Scylla.

Chicago GourmetAfter the end of demonstration, when Izard and Levitski bravely sampled the other chef's dish (and neither seemed too impressed), I wandered around the grounds in search of the tasting tables. Chicago Gourmet was meant more for the wine drinker than the foodie, which meant that the hungry were in for an agonizing experience. The line for food from Table 52's Art Smith was so popular that they closed down quite early; all I could find was a small plate of cappicola from Quartino. The salty meat awakening my thirst, I wandered in search of something other than wine to bring my palate back to normal. By 4:00 p.m., the booths were closed or closing down, and overall the place looked sad and worn; a CHIC student begged me to take some surplus (and very delicious) pastries as she walked the green with a serving tray, and the bustling Dunkin Donuts table couldn't give away their sugary, whipped cream-topped coffee drinks fast enough (perhaps DD's odd placement there was really meant to sober up the wine swillers). Salivating and ready to head home, I passed by a booth with a familiar-looking logo and stopped in my tracks: ah, Evian. I grabbed a bottle and inhaled it in one gulp. It was the best thing there.

 
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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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Drive-Thru is the food and drink section of Gapers Block, covering the city's vibrant dining, drinking and cooking scene. More...
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Editor: Robyn Nisi, rn@gapersblock.com
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