Chicago Gourmet: Day 2 Recap

Expecting more of the same of what we saw Saturday, it was decided that any coverage of Chicago Gourmet for Sunday would be optional. With an overcast sky and the first tinges of autumn finally in the air, it turned out to be a prudent decision.

It also appeared as though the weather kept paying customers away, as well. Lines for the exhibitors on the Pritzker Pavilion lawn were noticeably shorter than Saturday. This resulted in actual sightings of food to complement all the wine. Although descriptions such as "pork rilelttes with tomato chutney" and "vegetable ragout topped with bacon" didn't quite register with the seen-and-be-seen scene. At the Culinary and Hospitality Institute of Chicago tent (where the ragout was served) we overheard a couple of "tee-hee" Betties asking the chefs for truffles, then giving looks of confusion when informed that the truffles CHIC served were not made of chocolate.

At the tent manned by Courtright's Restaurant in Western Springs, owner Rebecca Courtright poured wine and passed out copies of the restaurant's new dinner menu while new executive chef Jerome Bacle was serving up samples of his chilled corn and tomato soup with tomato salad. Bacle, formerly chef de cuisine at Le Bec-Fin in Philadelphia, said that his style will incorporate some classic French with modern American and local ingredients. The temperate weather probably called for a warmer soup, but it did have a good consistency and great flavor.
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We hadn't made our way to a food seminar yet, so we decided to check out "Tasting the Best: American Cheese From the Midwest to the Coast" hosted by Pastoral cheese purveyor Cesar Olivares and Leslie Cooperband, PhD., owner of Prairie Fruits Farm, north of Champaign-Urbana. Olivares did a serviceable-but-dry job in tying in the rise of artisan Midwestern cheese makers to the slow food and localvore movements and noting that five out of the past six American Cheese Society "Best in Show" selections have come from Midwestern cheese farms. The seminar picked up steam when Cooperband, a soil scientist, described how she made the transition from academic to cheese farmer. In just under four years Prairie Fruit Farm has gone from a farm with three goats (one ram, two does) to the first farmstead cheese farm in Illinois and a flock of 50 goats (farmstead means that the milk produced is used exclusively for cheese making).

Cooperband also let attendees into some of the farm's future plans, including hosting farmers dinners and the purchase and transition to organic certification of seven extra acres of land for extra grazing.

After a day in which we were flying from seminar to seminar, it was wonderful change of pace to just walk around the pavilion lawn with some wine, take in the exhibits, sample some food and listen to the people around us. We even had a chance to break out our old sake notes with a tasting. There were still a fair amount of attendees complaining, though it wasn't as prevalent as Saturday. The PR firm handling media for the festival was only hired three weeks ago to replace the firm that originally handled press Chicago Gourmet. Considering what they stepped into on short notice, the job that they did merits a tip of the hat. As we left the festival after the penultimate cooking demonstration featuring Stephanie Izard and Dale Levitski, there seemed to be a palpable sense of relief among the organizers that they managed to pull Chicago Gourmet off. There's still some work to do before this festival can truly be called great. at least now the city and Illinois Restaurant Association have a blueprint on what to improve.

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