The James Beard Foundation isn’t moving its big awards show (“the Oscars of the food world” to those in the toques) from its longtime home of New York City to Chicago next year for nothing. The Windy City’s food scene is just that remarkable. Until the big show, though, we can still eat up the lovely fall weather and event-filled calendar, with the main entrée being the splashy, food-and-wine filled fest, Chicago Gourmet (September 26-28). Haven’t heard of it? Here’s a primer to whet your appetite.
What to Know
Held downtown in the city’s picturesque Millennium Park, this gathering of gourmands gets better each year. Now in its seventh iteration, Chicago Gourmet is far from the casual (and sometimes maddeningly crowded) affair that is the Taste of Chicago. It’s class all the way, with top-tier local chefs (Rick Bayless, Stephanie Izard), big-name sommeliers (Alpana Singh, Larry Stone) and international wine and beer makers filling tasting pavilions and demonstration stages. Ticket holders have from noon to 6 p.m. on September 27 and 28 to hop from tent to tent, eat food by chefs from some of the city’s best restaurants, attend cooking seminars and taste wines from all over the world. Tickets for the popular Hamburger Hop burger showdown on Friday, September 26 have already sold out.
While eating and drinking your way through the event sounds more than a little fun, the live cooking demonstrations held every 30 minutes, plus seminars on topics such as how to pair Belgian beers with cheese, make the ticket price ($170 a day) sound pretty reasonable.
What to Do
Chances are you won’t have enough time to do everything you want in one day, but make room in your schedule (and stomach) for a couple must-dos. The Tribute Dinner for the late chef Charlie Trotter will be held on the evening of September 27. (Tickets are $500 a person and a portion of the proceeds will go to the chef’s Culinary Education Foundation.) Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago will host the event, which will feature a six-course dinner, wine and priceless stories by Trotter’s friends, including culinary heavyweights Thomas Lents, Graham Elliot and Iron Chef’s Masaharu Morimoto.
Over the weekend, oenophiles can attend the Grand Cru event from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., held on the rooftop of the Harris Theater inside the park. (Tickets are an additional fee). This event is for serious foodies and will have tastings of rare vino as well as dishes by local and national James Beard Award-winning or nominated chefs such as Andrew Zimmerman and Michelle Gayer. The gorgeous setting is almost as spectacular as the food and wine pairings promise to be at this exclusive soiree.
And while there are a slew of cooking sessions on the menu, you can bet we’ll be at The Mexican Takeover, hosted by Bayless, on the 27th at noon. Bayless knows how to put on a good show while giving practical tips on how to create his Latin American goodies at home. We just hope they’re serving margaritas along with the dishes.
Where to Stay
The Langham, Chicago is an official sponsor of Chicago Gourmet and is offering discounts to those attending the event. Even better, the luxury hotel is part of the call-in-only Gourmand Weekend Travel Package, which features two nights at the hotel, two weekend passes for both days, two Grand Cru passes for the 28th and two seats at the Tribute Dinner, among other perks. The Midcentury Modern property is an ideal place to stay while in town for the big event, as it’s within walking distance of Millennium Park.