Searching For Food At Chicago Gourmet

Chicago puts itself on the front burner this weekend with the inaugural Chicago Gourmet, a weekend-long festival of food and wine attended by chefs and sommeliers near and far. Special MenuPages correspondents Bridget Houlihan and Tammy Green, of the dining podcast Chicago Bites, are on the scene. Today: Where’s the food?

Dried fruit display at Pastoral Artisan Cheese

Chicago Gourmet is a food festival without food.

My tummy was rumbling when I arrived at the main entrance Saturday morning, primed to sample everything Chicago’s best chefs had to throw at me. It turns out that wasn’t much.

The majority of the booths at the main event, located on the lawn of the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, offered wine, not food.

“Isn’t there supposed to be a Grand Cru Wine Tasting later today?” I asked Tammy, my Chicago Bites co-host, as she photographed the scene.


“So what’s with all the wine?” I asked, baffled. “Where’s the food?”

So we set out on a tireless quest to find something to eat, relentlessly foraging from booth to booth.

The booths themselves were lovely. Many looked professionally designed, and were decorated with phenomenal flower arrangements and tempting pictures of food or large reproductions of restaurant menus. But time after time, we walked away with brochures and nothing to eat.

Then we saw a line stretching out of the Chaise Lounge booth… they were serving crab cake and salad! Victory!

“Have another plate,” the owner said, after I’d devoured my first. “I’ve never been to a food fest with so little food.”

True. And here’s the kicker: I’d venture a guess that all that wine drove up ticket prices. So folks paid $100 to get in and drink on empty stomachs because they thought they were paying to eat.

Tammy and I were able to ferret out a few more food tastings throughout the day. But they was sparse and meat-heavy. Tammy is a “fussitarian”: She eats fish but no meat. So she sat by patiently while I tried things like chicken salad wraps and bacon-and-onion tartlets.

She did get to sample A Mano’s olive oil gelato though, which was one of the food highlights of my day. We both enjoyed Kefir smoothies from Star Fruit café in the Whole Foods kids’ area, and there were a couple of booths with dried fruits and excellent cheese. I loved Rick Bayless’ rib eye steak dish. But of course Tammy couldn’t eat that. —BRIDGET HOULIHAN

The crab cake at the Chaise Lounge booth was a saving grace.

[All photos by Tammy Green. All rights reserved.]

Searching For Food At Chicago Gourmet