Taste Talks hit Chicago last weekend, bringing with them delectable parties galore, meaningful discussions of food and drink scenes and their trends, as well as rather infamous Mother of Pearl dinner and All-star BBQ.Virgin Hotel. Entitled "Flavors & Sounds", the party was hosted by Chicago's own Chef Jason Himmel of Lula Cafe and Glenn Kotche, the drummer of Wilco. You can probably guess that this was no ordinary party. Sponsored by OpenTable, this clever shindig featured not only the change in flavors, but also the change in music and the color of lighting to match the food. White, Yellow, Red, Black & Blue: the dishes came out in succession. Burrata, summer squash, grilled beef ribs and oysters in smoked tomato broth each got their own soundtrack and spotlight. Our favorite? Yellow: summer squash, caviar and wild fennel atop of rye cracker paired with The Beatles' "Yellow Submarine" and warm golden glow. Bang Bang Biscuits & Pies and Kellogg's Cereal Bar Throwdown competition, ultimately won by Chef Brian Jupiter of Frontier. A jam packed schedule of panel discussions offered a wide variety of topics, covering everything from sourcing, foraging and sustainability to visual storytelling to cooking demos to Chicago drinking culture. There were talks of pizza, wine, pesto, economic change, restaurant history and marketing. I attended several sessions, sipping Jackson Family wines and snacking on cereal creations (open bar and snacks included with price of admission). My favorite panel: So You Think You Can Taste? It was an interactive wine demo led by Master Sommelier Larry O'Brien, who walked us through a blind tasting of white and red flights. Which is the smallest production? Which is the most expensive? Which is the highest rated? Which is your favorite? We walked through these questions while sipping wines to help us make up our minds. "TASTE! That's the only thing that matters. Does my opinion matter? Does the wine critics'? NO. Yours. Your opinion is the one that matters. Now, taste in different order and determine which is your favorite. That's the only question that matters, folks." Energetic and exuberant, Larry led us through the nooks and crannies of blind tasting with ease and humor. Perfection. Local Foods, Chicago's own destination for all things local and sustainable. Local Foods is the grocery store with a mission to help local farmers and to bring their wares to your family table. It is very appropriate that the big dining event of Taste Talks is held here. That night the store was closed and set up for Mother of Pearl dinner. Sponsored in part by Don Julio, the dinner kicked off with fresh oysters, East and West Coast, and delicious tequila cocktails. Now that's what I call a Happy Hour! Elske, Chef Greg Baxtrom of Olmsted in Brooklyn, and Chef Jason Vincent of critically acclaimed Giant. Four courses served family style, four delicious interpretations of the season. Autumnal produce was front and center, as it should be in time of harvest. Smoked white fish with apples and turnips gave way to heirloom tomato schnitzel with a variety of toppings. Smoked spicy lamb with a mezze of pickled Brussels sprouts, hummus and fresh pita sizzled while chamomile panna cotta with plums soothed and calmed. It was a lovely progression. My favorite? The tomato schnitzel with ricotta, bagna couda & piperade was a true feast for all senses, taking me by surprise. I think visiting Olmsted in Brooklyn is a must after having tasted that dish. Leghorn Chicken), Brian and Jennifer Jones Enyart (Dos Urban Cantina), Bjorn Rasmussen (Old Town Social), Rachel Dow (The Betty), Charlie McKenna (Lillie Q’s), Jason Hammel (Lula Cafe), Rebecca Lamalfa (Virgin Hotel Chicago), Chris Pandel (Swift & Sons), and many others. Held in Palmer Square park, the BBQ got sprinkled with rain pretty continuously. But a little falling water could never stand between hungry Chicagoans and their food. BBQ went off without a hitch, feeding two turns of die-hard guests a rich sampling of what Chicago dining scene has to offer. Aberlour Whisky, was held at AceBounce, Chicago's new ping pong lounge, where participating chefs got to mingle with their admirers, and perhaps played a game of ping pong. The whisky cocktails flowed and curated bites were on hand to stifle the hunger. That is if you were in fact still hungry after the weekend of decadence. The festival came to a close, and I for one am already looking forward to next year. When Chicago taste talks, I like to listen. Because taste is the thing that matters. I learned that at Taste Talks.
Taste Talks Festival and Conference took place at Morgan's on Fulton, 950 West Fulton St, in Chicago.
The Local Tourist press access to Taste Talks events courtesy of Baltz Company.
All photos by Gourmet Rambler.