First Chicago Gourmet Fest Offers International Roster of Chefs, Lots of Wine

Mayor Daley's inaugural Chicago Gourmet event included an opening-night reception and a two-day festival that brought global culinary offerings and plenty of wines to Millennium Park.

By Rebecca Taras October 2, 2008, 11:07 AM EDT

The Chicago Gourmet festival

Photo: Deja Views USA

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Chefs, sponsors, and food fans joined Mayor Richard Daley at the Harris Theater rooftop terrace on Friday evening to celebrate the inaugural Chicago Gourmet, the city's first fine food and wine festival that took place Saturday and Sunday in Millennium Park. The Illinois Restaurant Association, in partnership with the Anton Family Foundation, produced the festival, which, after years of planning, the association hopes to make an annual event.

Mayor Daley served as the chair of the host committee, which included a roster of nationally recognized culinary experts, fine-dining chefs, and sommeliers. “Great restaurants, great chefs, and great nightclubs are all a part of being a global city,” Daley said at the kickoff reception. “We are trying to highlight Chicago and our culinary industry, which is one of the best in the world and getting better every day.”

During the opening reception, under a tent constructed by HDO Tenting, some 700 guests sipped wine and sampled dishes by chefs from the Chicago Sister Cities program. Menu items included ostrich filet with beef jus and basil yams, and risotto with veal sweetbreads and crawfish moussaka. Highboy and regular tables and chairs from Hall's Rental offered assistance for guests juggling the passed champagne and hors d'oeuvres provided by Calihan Catering.

Heffernan Morgan translated the culinary theme into the decor by hanging large bundles of grapevine and chili pepper strung with small lights from the tent ceiling. The evening wound down with passed desserts such as triple-layer brownies and coffee from sponsor Dunkin’ Donuts. Benefiting Green City Market, the evening raised more than $15,000 through a live auction of culinary prizes, including a 24-course dinner for two at Alinea that went for $800.

The next day, Chicago Gourmet kicked off in Millennium Park, offering more than 200 wines to sample, cooking demos by chefs such as Rick Bayless and Shawn McClain on the Jay Pritzker Pavilion stage, and educational seminars. The Worlds of Flavor pavilion (produced by the Culinary Institute of America) showcased a spectrum of Latin flavors cooked by chefs brought in from Mexico and Latin America. A special family pavilion sponsored by Whole Foods and a grand cru tasting tent rounded out the activities. DJ J. Maximillian provided the event's musical backdrop, broadcast over the park’s sound system.

Approximately 50 white tents set up in a horseshoe pattern around the perimeter of the park were primarily dedicated to the festival's featured wine companies, leaving many guests buzzing as to why the event was considered “gourmet” and not wine focused. Fewer than 10 of the tents offered food, which resulted in long lines for those looking for a bit of sustenance in between sips.

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