A few hours ago at the Cultural Center, Mayor Daley held a press conference to drum up excitement about September’s Chicago Gourmet festival. Excitement is definitely needed: Last year’s Chicago Gourmet, the event’s freshman effort, was, to put it mildly, a shitshow. Infinite lines for food, a massively disproportionate alcohol-to-solid food ratio, and a confusingly organized demo and chef appearance schedule. But Daley; standing in front of a glittering cast of chefs that he described as “visionaries,” is dedicated to proving that Chicago is the sort of city that can hold a internationally prestigious event (cougholympicscough). To that end, the organizers are pulling out all the stops: we’re promised an increase in spirits providers from 200 to 300, a second demo stage, and a whopping double the number of food vendors (check out a complete list here). Sheila O’Grady, president of the Illinois Restaurant Association, promised she would “let no one go away hungry” at this year’s attempt. She also noted that compared to high-profile food and wine festivals in Aspen and South Beach, where tickets can run as high as $900, Chicago Gourmet is a comparatively thrifty $150 per day (though add on the extra $175 for the exclusive Grand Cru wine tasting, and the wallet empties fast).
As we snacked on shrimp dumplings from Arun’s and chips and guacamole served by Rick Bayless himself, we chatted with Patrick Sheerin, chef of Signature Room at the 95th, about whether this year would do better than the previous attempt. “There was a ton of food there,” Sheerin defended, “but it gets lost in the 200 wineries. Definitely the perception is it will be a lot more food oriented [this year].” As for Mayor Daley, the prospect of having so many illustrious chefs cooking in one place fills him with glee: when asked if he feels like a kid in a candy store with all this set to occur on Chicago’s front lawn, he quickly responded, “definitely.”
Tickets for the two-day event in Millennium Park are available at www.chicagogourmet.org for $120 per day, though after August 1st they’ll be jacked up to $150. Two-day passes are also available for $250. For those who still balk at the three-figure price tag, Chicago’s favorite Mexican-food evangelist and Top Chef master Rick Bayless introduced the Chicago Gourmet “Dine Around” program, in which attendees can earn a one-day free pass by having five meals (priced tentatively at $30-$50 each) at certain participating restaurants yet to be named.
[Photo: Joe Rosner]