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Tuesday, December 1

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Chicago Gourmet Thu Oct 03 2013

The Sunday Recap of Chicago Gourmet

In my second year going to Chicago Gourmet, I knew exactly what to expect: tons of wine, long waiting lines and more food than I could handle. The two-day event garners top Chicago chefs and others from around the country for a day of tasting pavilions, cooking demos and gluttony. It requires a game plan. The atmosphere was lively, the drinks were flowing and the couples were in tow when I walked in this past Sunday. Sunday offered a different chef line up than Saturday and I quickly mapped out who I wanted to sample: Two Restaurant, Three Aces, Browntrout, Honey Butter Fried Chicken and Telegraph at minimum; the rest would just be for soaking up all that wine.

I arrived in time at my first pavilion to sample Two - they were offering a smoked pork shoulder with a sweet corn and tomato relish.
two.JPG

Visually unassuming the shoulder had a strong smoke behind it that, on its own, would have been too much. The sweetness of the corn added the perfect balance. I don't believe in the "you can taste the love in food" mantra, but the authenticity of the dish made me wonder if I needed to revisit my position. I will be going to Two soon.

With a bit of food in my stomach, it was time for wine. I found myself a glass and scouted my next target -- the new Honey Butter Fried Chicken. With the name like that, you'd expect to be getting something fried and well, chicken. Chicken I didn't get but candied pork I did. So hypnotized by the words candy and pork in the same phrase, I missed the rest of the dish's ingredients. Candied pork is exactly how it sounds, crunchy and slightly sweet. Dip that pork in some dark chocolate and we could call it a day.

lobster.JPGSunda caught my eye with a beautiful lobster roll and I gave them props for doing something more than a crostini. I haven't found a lobster roll that I've fallen in love with but the lobster wasn't chewy and the roll was dressed in a light sauce. The move away from a traditional bun to a hawaiian bun also made it more palatable. Sadly it didn't make my love list and I've now come to accept the fact that I just simply like my lobster in butter.

The chef shifts changed and I jumped in line for Three Aces. Long lines mean you need to make friends and thankfully I met a couple that didn't mind talking to a stranger. I quickly learned that apparently Groupon Goods was selling groupons for "adult toys" - on a Sunday, at that. My new friends in line and I discussed whether that was a strategic business move. We agreed it wasn't. Appropriately enough, Three Aces was serving sausage - a homemade porchetta sausage with beet puree and black kale. I noted the bottle of Malört at their station -a suggestion that a positive correlation usually exists between those who like sausage and those who drink Malört in Chicago. The sausage had a nice season without being too strong, and the beet puree took away some of the heavy meaty taste. If you could get gourmet with sausage, Three Aces did it.

Lines were backing up so I found a less than popular pavilion tucked in a corner. I was glad I stopped by because I was introduced to Firefly Grill, located in downstate Effingham and their corn succotash topped with a corn espuma. "Where is Effingham?" I asked, and secondly, what were they doing at Chicago Gourmet? After swigging down the espuma I didn't care; the succotash was delicious, the presentation detailed with my own wooden block and a later search would reveal this:

Screen Shot 2013-10-03 at 3.01.31 PM.png

If this didn't scream farm-to-table, I don't know what would. In the middle of Chicago Gourmet, with a gorgeous view of the city and top chefs, I had to admit, all I wanted was to find myself lost in Effingham, IL with a bowl of corn espuma on a wooden porch.

Nostalgia of the country behind me, I had noticed bees flying around and realized why when I got to the Palmer House station. They brought the bees with them this year, along with fresh honey to drizzle onto what looked like some sort of corn bread cake. Their tent looked more like a bee farm than a food station, the lady pouring honey -- possibly the honorary bee whisperer. Cool idea or poor attempt at defining local? I hedged my bets against it and moved on to Browntrout, which was serving a chicken pâté with bread and butter pickles. Like the girl who comes to the party in the same dress, however, Bread and Wine was doing the same thing around the corner. Their version was markedly better.

The day was winding down and I had half an hour to try my last pavilion. I jumped in the line just in time before the gate was closed behind me, signaling that service was soon to be over.

It was here that I finally met the winner of the day, the dish that would make me believe that Chicago Gourmet was not losing its fizzle -- the Scallop Motayaki from Kabocha. Chunks of scallop and crab swimming in a sea of butter finished off with what I believed was parmesan cheese. Now this was what Chicago Gourmet was supposed to be.

scallop.JPG

Key takeaways from this year's Chicago Gourmet: pork belly is finally out, pâté is in, watch out for wines coming out of the Blue Ridge Mountain region, and good food can be found outside of Chicago.

All in all, Chicago Gourmet isn't as gourmet as it sounds. The food was fine, but restaurants that you come to expect genius from tend to fall just slightly short of the wow factor. Setting up a pretend kitchen and cranking out food conveyor belt style might be why and I can respect that. You'll walk away full, but the memories won't be about having your best bite ever. If you're a Chicago foodie and chef fanatic or just like to eat and drink in massive quantities, Chicago Gourmet is definitely something you should put on your radar for next year. Be warned, staying sober isn't an option.

 
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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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