A Matter of 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.

Not sure what Taste Talks is all about? "Taste Talks is a national festival series, awards program, and editorial platform charting the future of taste. From our unique position at the crossroads of food and culture, we create electric, forward-thinking conversation about eating and drinking. Whether through panels, tastings, and intimate dinners at the festivals or dynamic videos, interviews, and features at tastetalks.com, we start unforgettable dialogues about eating, drinking, and what it all means." Taste Talks festivals are held annually in Brooklyn, Chicago and Los Angeles.

This year the Chicago festival kicked off with its opening party at . Entitled "Flavors & Sounds", the party was hosted by Chicago's own Chef Jason Himmel of and Glenn Kotche, the drummer of . You can probably guess that this was no ordinary party. Sponsored by , 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.

Saturday brought with it a full conference  line up. It featured Biscuit Bar Brunch with and Bar Throwdown competition, ultimately won by Chef Brian Jupiter of . 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 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 , 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.

A short cab ride later that evening I pulled up in front of , 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 , the dinner kicked off with fresh oysters, East and West Coast, and delicious tequila cocktails. Now that's what I call a Happy Hour!

The beautifully presented sit down dinner that followed featured Chefs David and Anna Posey of highly anticipated , Chef Greg Baxtrom of in Brooklyn, and Chef Jason Vincent of critically acclaimed . 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.

Sunday brought with is Taste Talks All-star BBQ, a celebration of talented Chicago chefs. Curated by Chef Jason Hammel of Lula Cafe in Logan Square, event featured esteemed local chefs and other celebrities spinning together their very best barbecue dishes. The real winners? The people in attendance, since they got to feast on the chefs’ creations. The lineup included Jared Van Camp (), Brian and Jennifer Jones Enyart (), Bjorn Rasmussen (), Rachel Dow (), Charlie McKenna (), Jason Hammel (Lula Cafe), Rebecca Lamalfa (Virgin Hotel Chicago), Chris Pandel (), 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.

Taste Talks closing party, sponsored by , was held at , 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 .

All photos by Gourmet Rambler.

950 W Fulton St, Chicago, IL 60607
Morgans On Fulton
950 W Fulton St, Chicago, IL 60607
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