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CHICAGO “I can smell truffles in the air," said one guest at Monday night's Food & Wine Entertaining Showcase. Held at the Museum of Contemporary Art, the event treated 600 guests to dishes from local chefs, who peppered their offerings with high-end ingredients that—apart from black truffles —included everything from whipped salt cod to apple-cider bubbles and pumpkin consommé.
Now in its 11th year, the tasting is “built around its talent,” said Food & Wine's special projects producer, Devin Padgett, referring to the 20 local chefs who dished out sample-size entrées. Padgett said the first chefs he asked to participate were locals who have been highlighted in Food & Wine's annual “Best New Chefs" feature. On Monday, nine such chefs—including Boka's Giuseppe Tentori, Alinea's Grant Achatz, and Tru pastry chef Gale Gand—showed up to man tasting stations.
To fill the remaining stations, Padgett invited Food & Wine advertisers to exhibit and solicited chef recommendations from restaurant publicists Ellen Malloy of Restaurant Intelligence Agency and Jenn Galdes of Grapevine Public Relations. Ultimately, Padgett said, wrangling the culinary pros' participation wasn't a tough sell. “Chefs love this event,” he said. “It's intimate, it's polished, and it allows them all to get together."
According to Padgett, local foodies are also fond of the $110-a-head function, because it offers a foolproof combo of “great food and wine at a great value.” In past years, the event also offered multiple educational sessions. But this year, scaled-back programming included a single seminar that focused on wine pairing. “I've learned, after doing this for more than a decade, that people don't want to sit down for programming at weeknight events,” Padgett said. ”After a long day at work, they just want to enjoy the food and meet the chefs.”
Other changes included a new layout. For the past 10 years, the showcase has taken place at the museum, of which “we've used every square inch,” Padgett said. “This event has had eleven different footprints." For the first time, a Patron tequila lounge—which housed a branded bar, a photo booth, and flower arrangements spilling out of empty tequila bottles—occupied a lawn in back of the museum. On the terrace, a tented Aruba rum lounge offered tropical drinks and seating in white lounge furniture. On the tent's ceiling, Event Creative cast leafy projections that gave the sponsored area an under-the-palm-trees look.