Bringing the world to the Windy City.
If you’re a self-professed Chicago foodie – or someone willing to pay serious money for up-close-and-personal time with celebrity chefs and local culinary stars – the last weekend in September is one of the year’s favorites. That’s when the Illinois Restaurant Association’s Chicago Gourmet (sponsored by Bon Appétit and Southern Wine & Spirits of Illinois) rolls into town. And this year’s sold-out gastronomic love fest – which took place under sunny blue skies in Millennium Park Sept. 28-29 – showcased hundreds of restaurants, chefs, vintners, spirit makers and breweries from around the world. For food-loving travelers, getting a chance to circle the globe by way of their taste buds is a delicious treat, indeed.
Of course, Chicago’s first-class eateries and chefs star at this annual event, but even many of those take their inspiration from cultures and cuisines around the world. But beyond Chicago city limits, weekend highlights ranged from Canadian-born, Georgia-dwelling Chef Hugh Acheson (now a judge on Bravo’s Top Chef), whose live cooking demonstration explored reinvented Southern flavors to Chef Hubert Keller’s take on “A Frenchman’s Love Affair with Cheeks,” giving attendees a chance to spin the culinary globe this weekend.
There were wines that got their start under the Tuscan sun from Italy’s Marchesi Antinori. 2 Gingers Irish Whiskey, whose cocktails were served up by a straight-from-Ireland rep. And inside the über-exclusive, special-admission-only Grand Cru, visiting chefs from Spain, Sweden, Belgium, Japan, France, Canada, Mexico – even Latvia and Norway – served up tastings alongside Chicago’s own Michelin-starred chefs while attendees sampled some of the world’s finest wines.
These epicurean delights don’t come cheap…each Grand Cru ticket was priced at $199, in addition to the $159 daily admission to Chicago Gourmet. But it’s a lot less expensive than booking an overseas flight…and then paying to hundreds of dollars, if not more, to dine at these star chefs’ restaurants. And at this Millennium Park fest, regular guests get the chance to chat with these chefs and master sommeliers as they sample and sip…not always a guarantee even when you’re seated at a table in their upscale establishments.
A couple other cool internationally themed offerings this year:
- Global Market: The South Promenade Tent featured celeb chef book signings, the Bon Appétit Culinary Stage and booths of around-the-world delights both for sampling and sale. The Stella Artois/Best of Belgium beer-serving setup was hugely popular, while Olives from Spain, Viola Imports (featuring Italian balsamic vinegar and olive oil tastings) and Midwest Roots tempted Chicago Gourmet-goers with their specialty products.
- American Airlines Global Tasting Tour: Actual American Airlines flight attendants handed out Global Tasting Tour Passports to attendees, encouraging them to pick up ‘stamps’ at eight different Chicago Gourmet ‘destinations’ – all themed around countries (among 50 worldwide) to which American and its partners fly. After getting the Passports stamped, attendees could submit them for a chance to win two American coach-class tickets to London. Says Judi Gorman, regional manager-central division, “We want to put Chicago on the global map. The Passport idea was to make sure guests walked around Chicago Gourmet, and (we) made it fun and interactive for them.”
And all without first trekking to O’Hare! For foreign cuisine-loving foodies, it doesn’t get much better than that.