Culinary Excellence in the Windy City

Written by Monique Knill


Chicago Gourmet, presented by Bon Appétit, is one of the most anticipated events of the culinary calendar. Held on the final weekend in September, the three day event set in Millennium Park boasts an impressive line up of Chicago’s top local chefs, tastings of participating restaurants flagship dishes, demonstrations, and seminars. In addition, the weekend line-up is offered in asssociation with some of the world’s most respected wineries, brewers, and spirit brands. Set against the backdrop of Chicago’s world class reputation for food and wine, the event is the pinnacle for self professed cooks, industry professionals, and connoisseurs.

The staggering amount of choice presented by Chicago Gourmet is overwhelming and comes down to the old adage: too much selection and too little time. The best approach to the weekend event is strategy – attacking it all, five minutes here, ten minutes there; or embracing a more leisurely approach and keeping on an eye on the clock to catch a selection of your “must dos.”

Our culinary experience began at the events new “Smackdown” series where duos of chefs compete on the live stage to win the judges’ and audiences’ taste buds.  Watching local Chicago chefs, John Coletta from Quartino pitted against Doug Psaltis from RPM Italian in the ultimate battle to take out the Smackdown Meatball crown, was an entertaining yet informative experience, allowing home cooks to pick up some helpful tips and recipes.

1:45pm and clock watching. The Grand Cru area – a name fittingly given to France’s most illustrious, highest quality vineyards – is set to open its doors. Imagine, an exclusive rooftop area featuring ten internationally renowned Chefs, five of whom carry Michelin stars, preparing one of their signature dishes on stage complimented by a collection of Chicago’s top industry wine professionals presenting an expansive selection of luxury beverages from around the globe including, Armand de Brignac de Blanc de Blanc Champagne NV and Glenmorangie’s “Signet” Highland Single Malt Whisky.  This tantalising experience required yet another strategy – adopting a “one bite only” approach no matter how good the dishes and utilizing the spittoon; or enjoying a couple of dishes and glass of your favourite wine. The Grand Cru area is an extra $199 + tax add on to your Chicago Gourmet ticket price, but for serious foodies, it’s worth the splurge.

After enjoying the delights of the Grand Cru stage it was time to head to the Culinary Room for “The Wine of the Rhone Valley” tasting. Leaving the seminar room with my glass of Hermitage, I could hear Graham Elliot wrapping up his Midwestern Roadtrip culinary demonstration on the Main Stage.  An avid fan of the Masterchef USA, I was somewhat disappointed to have missed the opportunity to haven seen one of Chicago’s most famous icons in action. However, as luck would have it, back at the Grand Cru tent for one final glass of Ruinart Champagne, Chef Elliot was taking the time for a meet and greet. 

By the end of the day, we had had our fill without feeling any uncomfortable fullness. Chalk it up to the sample dish sizes, the leisurely walk between exhibitors, or more likely the Fiji water and Illy macchiato helping with digestion.

Come Monday and it was back to three standard size meals, all seemingly bland compared to the extravagance of the Chicago Gourmet weekend. Thankfully, exhibitors in the Global Market area of the event not only provided samples of their delights, but they also had a range of their produce available for purchase.  Needless to say I was pleased with my acquisition of Katherine Anne Confections, locally hand-made salted caramel truffles, and the melt in your mouth hand made seasonal pasta from Pasta Puttana that I tucked away safely in the fridge for another day when I craved a touch of Chicago Gourmet indulgence and decadence.