At Chicago Gourmet, Andrew Knowlton talked best new U.S. restaurants…and more.
The delicious Chicago Gourmet may have folded up its napkins, put away its wine glasses and rolled out of Millennium Park late last month, but those who help bring the sold-out foodie fest to life spend the rest of the year eating and drinking ‘research’ that informs this September weekend. Among those most responsible is Bon Appétit Restaurant & Drinks Editor Andrew Knowlton.
The New York-based magazine is Chicago Gourmet’s title sponsor, teaming with the Illinois Restaurant Association and presenting sponsor Southern Wine & Spirits of Illinois to promote Chicago’s world-class culinary community of chefs, restaurateurs, and sommeliers – and their industry colleagues from around the globe. Nearly 12,500 food lovers flocked to Millennium Park for this year’s event, the largest numbers since Chicago Gourmet’s 2008 debut.
If “food is the new fashion,” as Bon Appétit boldly (and rightly) states, then Mr. Knowlton is one of the industry’s style leaders.
At Chicago Gourmet, copies of the magazine’s special issue featuring 50 of “America’s Best New Restaurants” were hot items. And talk about extensive research. Mr. Knowlton spent three months straight traveling the country, dining everywhere from Nashville to Austin, Texas, to Portland, Oregon, to come up with his Top 10 list. And one of those is Chicago’s own Fat Rice, which Mr. Knowlton pronounced the nation’s fourth best restaurant.
The no-reservations-accepted eatery at 2957 West Diversey Parkway features cuisine from the former Portuguese colony of Macau – food that owners Abraham Conlon and Adrienne Lo call ‘Euro-Asian comfort food.’ With mingled culinary influences drawn from China, Portugal, India, and Southeast Asia, Fat Rice has exposed Macanese cuisine to a city – and country – that know little to nothing about this fusion food.
When Mr. Knowlton wasn’t moderating Chicago Gourmet’s “Bon Appétit: Top 50 Best New Restaurants Panel” – which included Conlon of Fat Rice – he chatted with writers, bloggers, and attending foodies about his latest travels, favorite meals, and up-and-coming American food cities and towns.
Recently back from San Sebastián on the northern coast of Spain, a place now renowned in foodie and chef circles for its inventive Basque cuisine, Mr. Knowlton and four Bon Appétit colleagues cycled 80 miles daily for 10 days on their way to the Spanish city of Bilbao. The trip was research for the magazine’s upcoming May 2014 Travel issue, one that required these staffers to eat their way across the Basque region. A couple weeks before, Knowlton traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark, for more research. It’s all about honing his ‘tasting memory,’ one that inspires his work.
Most of his travels are domestic, and discovering great food in America – whether accessible ethnic fast food or upscale eats – excites Mr. Knowlton most. He says chefs who’ve made it in the big cities of New York, Chicago, L.A. or Atlanta are increasingly ‘going back home’ to where they grew up and opening world-class eateries in smaller places. “The playing field has been leveled,” he says.
The up-and-coming food cities to watch? Mr. Knowlton’s got his eye on Pittsburgh, Houston, St. Louis, Austin, and Madison, where he says forequarter serves the best charcuterie in the Midwest.