Every September since 2008, food and wine lovers from all over the city and the suburbs have come out of the woodwork by the hundreds to attend the biggest high-end food and wine event of the year: Chicago Gourmet, presented by Bon Appétit.
For those unfamiliar with it, Chicago Gourmet takes place at various venues and features musical performances, tasting pavilions, and more. The centerpiece, though, is the two-day Grand Tasting festival on September 29 and 30. It overtakes Millennium Park, with hundreds of booths to sample wine, food, and spirits spread across the Great Lawn. Sponsors also set up elaborate tent lounges (with tons of free giveaways), and there are book signings, chef demos, and culinary seminars everywhere you turn. So how do you plan what to see? Here's what I've found to be helpful for schedule strategizing.
For many food geeks, the main attraction is the opportunity to see their favorite chefs up close on stage. On Sunday, celebrity chefs like Stephanie Izard, Graham Elliot, and Takashi Yagahashi will cook on the demo stage. This year seems to have slightly less of the out-of-town, Food Network-type talent (no Emeril Lagasse or Ming Tsai, for example), but this leaves space for some amazing local chefs, like Stephen Gillanders of the acclaimed S.K.Y. or Andrew Zimmerman of Sepia and Proxi. They’ll each do half-hour demos of a favorite dish or technique, and some lucky audience members usually get to taste the results.
If you want to actually learn something (while getting a bit toasted, perhaps), the drinks seminars are the best. On Sunday, you can learn about making perfect gin and tonics, how to serve cider in the summertime, or which California cabernets are worth drinking.
I mention events on Sunday because tickets for Saturday are sold out — you can still purchase $195 tickets (yes, the price is steep) for access to Sunday's tastings for now, but they're moving fast.
But let's say you don’t have the time or the money to do a full day of eating and drinking on Sunday. You can still experience the Chicago Gourmet fun at a few of its ancillary events. On Saturday night, check out Global StrEATS, a function celebrating “street food around the world” on the roof of the Harris Theater, featuring chefs like Diana Davila, Carlos Gaytán, Andrew Zimmerman, and Lorena García. Or join up with Chef John Hogan of River Roast on Thursday night for Blues, Booze, and Bites, a tasting event with live music played by some of Chicago’s best chefs. (Full disclosure: Chicago magazine is also hosting an ancillary event, Late Night Gourmet, on Friday night.)
There's a lot to take in, but that’s what makes Chicago Gourmet so awesome. There’s a ton of deliciousness to be had — and you should probably get tickets now if you want a taste of it all.