I shared an Uber ride to Chicago Gourmet 2016. The rider I was matched with turned out to be a smartly dressed and well manicured woman in black sunglasses the size of saucers. As we sat together making small talk, she asked me where I was headed that Saturday morning. When I told her I was on my way to Chicago Gourmet 2016, she pulled off her shades. I could see her eyes well up with tears. Turned out Chicago Gourmet was her late husband's favorite event every year. In an ever shrinking world that is Chicago, it turned out I knew her husband, the owner of legendary Redhead Piano Bar, Art Bryan. Art passed away last April, she told me. Then she pulled out his picture. Would I mind taking him with me to the festival? Would that be crazy? Crazy, maybe, but I didn't mind. So, I tucked Art into my purse, and away we went.Bon Appetit's Chicago Gourmet is a feast for all senses, an amusement park for the palate. It is the celebration of all things delectable, and food and wine junkies flock from near and far to taste a bite of this and sip a bit of that. The fact that pricey tickets sell out every year several months before the festival date is proof positive of the event's popularity. It is well earned, however, it is easy to understand the attraction. Champagne? Right this way. Steak is your game? Try this one. BIG red wine? Chocolate? Seafood? Whiskey? All are well represented here. There is truly something for everyone. Pritzker Pavilion was a veritable who's who of Chicago. Celebrity chefs fresh off the TV screen, political dignitaries, famous journalists, editors of glossy magazines, food photographers and socialites were all represented. The opening remarks were spirited, full of good humor and fueled by champagne. Truthfully, any press conference where chilled flutes of bubbles are passed out would eventually turn into a party. This one was no exception. We toasted the festival. We toasted its first ever host chef Rick Bayless. POP! go the bottles! Remember that time Mayor Emanuel traced a smiley face on the sweating chilled golden bottle of Ace of Spades champagne? Yes, indeed. Thus started my day at Chicago Gourmet 2016. Roederer Estate sparkling wines from Anderson Valley in California. Their booth, manned by the same two dapper gents every year, was the highlight of my annual bubbly tour. Brut and rose, non-vintage and vintage, these sparkling wines are spectacular. Just like old friends, we go way back. And I return for yet another sip every year. Gibsons brought the heat with their outstanding filet mignon sliders, the festival's signature. Supreme Lobster tent impressed with their stellar rotation of chefs and seafood dishes, and sported the longest line. I enjoyed the pork belly meatballs from Hutch; while not the prettiest, they packed a wallop of flavor. I never miss duck from Maple Leaf Farms, and this year was duck bacon with apples and brie, yum. I also discovered truffle sauces from Urbani, three in all, white truffle-porcini being the favorite. Organic tofu bite with papaya slaw and herb salad from ShopHouse Kitchen, Chipotle's new Southeast Asian sibling, was a welcome fresh and light surprise. NFL Homegating booth to check out their build-your-own-slider shindig. I even caught the Mayor giving it a whirl, building his own slider. The fun interactive experience started out with the choice of veggie or beef patty. The plethora of condiments and toppings was on hand to help customize each creation. Why have a menu when you've got your imagination?
Bon Appétit's Chicago Gourmet takes place every September in Millennium Park in the heart of Chicago.
The Local Tourist's press access courtesy of Isabelli Media Relations.
All photos by Gourmet Rambler.
In memory of Art Bryan (1960-2016).