Bon Appetit’s Chicago Gourmet 2010 – 3rd time a charm? Not yet….

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I don’t want to say it, but I’m gonna say it because we have to be honest on this blog right? Ok –
 

“Chicago Gourmet was a disappointment this year”.

 
Note: I did not say “huge disappointment” but just “disappointment” compared to last year. 

This was the 3rd annual Chicago Gourmet and this year, it was a big hit with more visitors than ever!

All in all though, it was still a great show/event with the all the various foods we were able to taste, the selection of high quality adult beverages, the NEW Specialty Food vendor pavillion as well as all the live food lecture series.

So, here’s why it was disappointing this year:
The lines for food were LOOOOONG. Last year, the hungry audience was able to enter without much of a line up but this year, with the entrance just in front of the “bean” aka Cloudgate; the lines still went out to Michigan Avenue. I knew we were in for a long day as soon when we saw that.  Good news for those who participated in “Dine Around” for Chicago Gourmet passes, if you qualified for a free pass for eating at participating restaurants prior to Chicago Gourmet – you get to bypass the line!

Speaking of “Dine Around”, here is a tip we received from a lady who hung out with us while waiting for one of the long lines for food. She received a free pass without ever ordering an entrée at the participating restaurants. She went to places which had a bar and had a glass of wine and an appetizer and received her credit towards her free CG pass! She said all in all, she spent about $20 per meal (multiply that by 5) so about $100 to get in to CG (remember, the full price of the event for ONE day only is $175.00) – WHAT A STEAL!

Quite a number of showcased foods were absolutely “HO HUM”.  The best example of this:  I know there are a ton of Rick Bayless fans round Chicago and I admit, I’ve never been to any of his restaurants – but I didn’t feel inspired to try any of his food after visiting his pavilion. In fact, I think his tent should have been placed with Specialty Foods  pavillions because essentially, he was there to sell his line of products.  With a $175 ticket in tow, I expected that “Chicago’s Rick Bayless” would be cooking up a storm and talking to his fans (or soon to be fans). Instead, after waiting for 45mins in line, I was treated to a plate of highly mediocre guacamole and a super salty taco mixed up with his processed sauce. He was there to sell his line-up of bottled goods rather than showcasing his restaurant and talents as a chef.

So, back to the agonizing line ups for food. Like last year, drinks were aplenty with endless amounts of alcohol, from wine, spirits, champagne and specialty items like sake too! But you can’t spend a day drinking bottomless amount of hard alcohol without something to soak it up.  Last year, I found access to the gourmet food pavilions to be quite reasonable, waiting in line at most, 5-10 mins. This year, Michelle and I waited in line for 35 mins for the Latin food only to be told that some of the vendors had run out of food and that they would be closing down to set up for the Asian showcase, 15 mins earlier that what was showing on the schedule. We didn’t want to stand around and wait for the new vendors to set up so we opted to run out and try some other things and come back.

The switch in plan worked in our favor as we found the tent for Gibson’s restaurant group. I’m usually one to yawn at chains (although the Gibson group is highly respected Chicago chain) but I was extremely impressed with their offerings.

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They were serving up a seafood ceviche and filet sliders! Both were *amazingly* delicious!!!  The filet burger was mouth-watering , cooked perfectly medium-rare while the ceviche was fresh and well balanced in flavor. Geez, this must have been an expensive dish to serve!  It’s definitely a great representation of the high quality steaks prepared at Gibson’s Steakhouse.

Some other highlights to our day:

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ABOVE: Shin Thompson – BonSoiree (Chicago Food Whore’s Flavor pick of the event!!)

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Bon Soiree’s – Scallops – hot and fresh out of the oven – these perfectly baked scallops oozed in cheese – this was SOOO good that I went back for thirds!

This ain’t no “Taste of Chicago” event where the “taste” would typically be mozzerella cheese sticks. Just to give you an glimpse of what your $175.00 per DAY ticket entails (in addition to the ENDLESS pours of wine, spirits and beer):

 

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ABOVE: Scott Walton – Markethouse

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ABOVE: Trevor Hoyte – IPO at the W Chicago City Center (CFW’s 2nd place runner up)

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ABOVE:  Arun Sampanthavivat – Arun’s

Chicago Gourmet is also a great place for liqueur companies to debut their new products! Here’s a recipe that includes this wonderful Kentucky Bourbon: http://bourbonbuzz.com/2010/08/14/summer-bourbon-cocktails-with-makers-mark-46/

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A big change this year was the Specialty Food Tent  sponsored by FoodSpring.com- we found a TON of yummy things to taste there, and best of all, most of the items were for sale!!  Michelle and I both agree that the most notable item we tried was this tiny little perfume sized bottle of aged balsamic syrup. Tiny, yes. Expensive? Absolutely. $25 for a couple of ounzes!!!  No, I didn’t buy….

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I did however, pick up a bottle of Truffled Balsamic Cream BELOW ($5)  – this stuff is SOOO good it will surely make ANYTHING taste gourmet!  At this stand, it was served with mini balls of mozzerrella cheese (bocconcini). I made some caprese salad at home and drizzled this thick truffle-y syrup and it was to die for! (Caprese = sliced tomato, bocconcini cheese & basil)

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Finally, this La Dorita Dulce de Leche made a mark in our bellies – it was super yummy, made the old fashioned way, like Grandma did in Argentina (eh, not either of our grandma’s of course, but the owner’s Argentinian grandma).  We were offered several ways to taste this milk based sweet jam and my favorite way was the traditional way – on bread with a slab of butter and topped with this brown elixir.  The owner, Josephine, EMPHASIZED that boiling a can of condensed milk IS NOT the proper way of creating Dulce de Leche – the proper way takes HOURS to prepare just one batch.  The difference is in the taste – no boiled condense milk here kids.

One of the things we missed out on this year (but really enjoyed last year) is participating in the lecture series with celebrity chefs. We were too busy eating our hearts out but did get a glimpse at a few well known people in the food community like Ted Allen, the host of Food Detectives, who at Chicago Gourmet was representing the Robert Mondavi Discover Wine Tour.

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So, despite the few issues, I still walked away with a very, very full belly and a buzz on – and I am hopeful that the crew behind the scenes of Chicago Gourmet will not take suggestions lightly and will work to improve the event again next year!

I’m still going to be a huge supporter of Chicago Gourmet despite the long lines. They have HUGE sponsors and what seems to be a great planning team.  The list of improvements should be easy to achieve: more tents, more food – as some vendors ran out!   Hope to see you there in 2011!

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