Chicago Gourmet is my ideal adult playground; the food is inventive and plentiful, the wine free flowing, and the air perfumed with wafts of butternut squash and sage gnocchi. This year marked the event's 10th year of DECADEnce, and the 2nd for this Chicagoland transplant. Other than melting in the 90 degree direct sunlight (shoutout to the BBQ tent that provided some much needed refuge from the heat and more than a few beers to cool things off), this year's Chicago Gourmet was an absolute knockout.
Unlike most food and wine festivals with their frustratingly inefficient lines, meager portions and overbearing crowds, Chicago Gourmet is a spacious, plentiful experience in one of Chicago's most visually appealing venues, where lines are never longer than 4-5 minutes (unless you're the uber popular seafood pavilion), and your ticket get you your money's worth and then some (holy overflowing swag bag). Check out my top 10 highlight's from this year's Chicago Gourmet below and mark your calendars so as not to miss next year's festivities!
1. Sixteen's Foie + Chestnut Dumplings
Exec Chef Nick Dostal's perfectly folded foie, chestnut, and mint filled pyramid dumplings swimming in a porcini mushroom broth were hands down my favorite bite of the day. The dumpling skins were pleasantly chewy, the rich filling balanced by the fresh mint, and the broth satisfying enough to drink alone. If I could have loaded my pockets with these little morsels, I would have.
2. Katsuji's Fire + Ice Custard Performance
Executive Chef of Chicago's newly opened Barrio Katsuji Tanabe's feisty personality is a show enough in itself, but he upped the ante by turning habanero and lime cream into instantly frozen custard in his cauldron of liquid nitrogen for each patiently waiting guest. In the most enjoyably disorienting way possible, I simultaneously experienced a mouth of fire from the habanero heat and a soothing creaminess from the frozen lime custard, all while in a haze of nitrogen smoke. I was only anchored back to reality by Katsuji shoving a freshly poured Stella Artois in my direction and commanding me to "DRINK." Who knew what a fantastic combo beer and frozen custard could be, well done Katsuji, now get that frozen towel off your head before you faint!
3. 4CTG's Jello Rainbows
Four Corners Tavern Group knows how to turn out a Insta-worthy dessert (i.e. unicorn donut holes, funfetti cupcakes, donut walls, etc.) and these tasty rainbow jello shots were no exception. I shamelessly took the bait and struck a pose with one of these colorful treats before scarfing it like a college freshman at a house party.
4. An Absolut Ode to Copper
It's a treat to see what kind of transportive worlds are created within the booths at Chicago Gourmet, and this year's over-the-top copper escape in Absolut's tent was my favorite. It certainly didn't hurt that they were doling out the prettiest little copper pineapple pins as swag. What can I say, I guess I'm just a basic sucker for pretty, shiny things.
5. US Foods' Lobster Mound
Confession: the first time we walked up to the US Foods tent and they tried to hand me a split open Frito's bag they called a "Frito Pie," I declined. I know, call me crazy, but at this point in the day my stomach was on the verge of capacity, and filling up on Fritos didn't sound like a responsible allocation of remaining gut space. And then...I saw this epic mound of fat lobster meat...and I got my happy ass back in line. Those sweet, juicy clumps of lobster mingling with crispy, corny Fritos and a squeeze of queso were well worth every bit of remaining appetite.
6. Wafts of Gnocchi Dokey
Partially because we desperately needed to take a seat and rest in some shade and partially because gnocchi are one of the world's greatest treasures, we made our way to the main stage for Chef Tony Priolo and Fabio Viviani's "Gnocchi Dokey!" cooking demonstration emceed by 93XRT's Lin Brehmer. The decadent wafts of roasted butternut squash, pancetta and sage brown butter that emanated from their futuristic Thermador cooktop was other-worldly. That aroma was so impactful that for dinner tonight we will be recreating the dish, in hopes I might be able to stop fantasizing about it and get back to business.
7. Nonna's Classic Meatballs
Even the most critical of meatball snob couldn't resist Nonna's perfectly prepared and sauced orbs of juicy, meaty goodness. Meatballs are far too frequently a huge disappointment leaving much to be desired. But Nonna's delivered a classic in a big way - no nonsense, just goodness. I will be coming for more very soon.
8. The Blanchard's Sunchoke Macarons
There were only two items all day that I went back to snag seconds, and these sunchoke, apple and chive spice macarons from The Blanchard's Chef Ryan Burns were one of them. Sweet, salty, crispy, savory, chewy...my mouth couldn't make up its mind, but loved everything that was going on. This was the kind of inventive creation that makes Chicago Gourmet special.
9. Stan's Caramel + Popcorn + Cheese Donuts
These made the list for most closely following the event's DECADEnce theme by being so intensely rich, just a bite or two left a lasting impression. Topped with caramel and a mix of cheese and caramel popcorn then stuffed with a sweet and salty cheese filling, these "Chicago Mix Bizmarck" donuts were just something else.
10. Florentine's Black Truffle Risotto
One whiff of the Florentine's wild mushroom and black truffle risotto and I blacked out and ate it all before remembering to take a photo or even stopping to take a breath. Just straight forward, rich, creamy, earthy, deliciousness. The kind that made me regret not bringing a to-go container to smuggle leftovers home with.
Phew, that wraps up my highlights from a whirlwind of a weekend. For more, view my gallery of favorite photos we took at the event at the link below. If you made it to Chicago Gourmet this year, I'd LOVE to hear YOUR highlights, so leave a comment below. If you missed it, keep your ears and eyes open for next year's dates, it is not to be missed!