Auto Show's Opening Night Gala Offers Fewer Cars, More Beer

By Jenny Berg February 16, 2010, 2:33 PM EST

A food station at the Chicago Auto Show's First Look for Charity gala

Photo: Kate Gross

The Chicago Auto Show's First Look for Charity Gala
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Occupying more than one million square feet of exhibit space at McCormick Place, the Chicago Auto Show runs through February 21. On Thursday night, the eve of the public opening, some 9,000 guests got a sneak peek at the vehicles during the First Look for Charity Gala, which raised $1.7 million for 18 local organizations and kept patrons sated with snacks ranging from cheese ravioli to crêpes Suzette.

Each year, the preview features themed tasting stations, “and we want to make sure it's never the same old choices on the menu,” said Erik Higgins, director of dealer affairs at the Chicago Automobile Trade Association, which produces the show.

After last year's menu reflected a Route 66 theme, Thursday's tasting stations slung foods from international auto-industry markets, including Mexico City, Shanghai, and Paris. An expanded drinks list included nine beers (up from three last year) to represent different countries; Coronas were on offer at the Mexico City station, for example, and German beer flowed at a pretzel-laden buffet area called the Autobahn.

Chicago Restaurant Partners handled catering with logistical assistance from Toque & Bottle Advisory. The gala’s execution entailed 300 walking servers, 40 tasting stations, 22 bar porters, and a detailed production schedule that began at 9 a.m. on Thursday and wrapped up at around 11 p.m. that night. Planners also brought in culinary specialists accustomed to serving large groups of people. Heat Sushi Co. sent a handful of its chefs to McCormick Place four hours before the gala began to start assembling spicy shrimp and California rolls; chefs from Tuscany restaurant manned pasta stations during the event.

Apart from sampling ethnic fare, guests spent the evening checking out cars from manufacturers such as Ford and Lexus. Higgins said that this year, dealers paid special attention to showcasing the green and technological features of their vehicles, and that size was another difference between this show and its previous iterations. “I'm not going to lie. This year's show is certainly not bigger,” he said. “There's no Pontiac, there's no Hummer.” Although he couldn't quote an exact percentage decrease in size, he guessed that “the difference may not be perceptible to the average attendee.”

Correction: The text has been updated to reflect Higgins' belief that the show's decrease in size will not be noticeable to the average attendee.

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