After months of buildup and debate, the inaugural Chicago Gourmet festival of food and wine kicks off this evening with a gala reception at the Harris Theatre in Millennium Park. You just know that Mayor Daley is eager to showcase the rarefied air of the Chicago restaurant industry mere months before the IOC makes its final decision on the host city for the 2016 Summer Games. He tried to sell the sizzle in this week's edition of Time Out Chicago:
"That’s gonna be great. We’ve got the culinary and we’re bringing in some international chefs from some sister cities. We’re really highlighting that because now culinary and hospitality–we’re about the second city almost, close to New York. We have great restaurants. Really, New York they always have some top three or four, but we’re very, very close. We have original, original creators and all types of chefs. We’re doing very well. I mean, this is gonna quite a show."
Okay, that's probably not the best quote to use. But it was suggested to media a generation ago while covering Richard J. Daley that they should report what the Mayor means, not what he says. Bottom line, Chicago Gourmet would not be happening without the Mayor's enthusiastic support. In spite of all the criticisms (legitimate or not) levied against him in recent years, Mayor Daley is still Chicago's biggest cheerleader and best salesman. It doesn't hurt to have the considerable muscle of the Illinois Restaurant Association alongside the city as the fesitval's organizer. IRA President Sheila O'Grady is a former Daley chief of staff and certainly knows how to facilitate His Honor's wishes.
Then there's the issue of cost. Passes for entry to the festival run $150 per day or $250 for the weekend. That doesn't include the entry fee to seminars (ranging from $30-$90), the Whole Foods Market Family Village ($30 per day), the Grand Cru wine tastings ($175 per day) or entry to tonight's reception ($250). Chicago Gourmet is offering a $400 "connoisseur package" granting the holder access to this evening's reception, a weekend pass and entry to one seminar tomorrow and Sunday. Add two more wine seminars at $90 each, two food seminars at $30 and the Grand Cru wine tasting to the tab, the total rises to $815. In light of being asked to bail out Wall Street to the tune of $700 billion, that total's akin to spitting on a hot skillet and possibly one month's rent for many people. It also places Chicago Gourmet in the price range of similar, more established festivals as the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, CO.
It's worth noting that farmers markets such as Green City Market, where many of the participating chefs also give cooking demos and source the food they serve, won't be present at the festival. Whether they weren't asked or if there were logistic and financial roadblocks is uncertain, but it would have been a nice tie-in to the city of neighborhoods of which some of the paying attendees might not be aware. That said, we are curious to see how the festival turns out and the Chicagoist food and drink staff will be filing daily reports on the festival starting with a review of this evening's reception tomorrow.