Restaurants embrace spring summits

By Aviva Einhorn

Despite apprehension about school closings, violent protests and traffic jams, the upcoming G8 and NATO summits in May could bring unique attention to the city’s culinary community.

Plans for Chicago’s Culinary Crossroads, a “dine-around initiative” created to celebrate the international climate surrounding the summits were announced Feb. 27 by the Illinois Restaurant Association during a meeting at the Union League Club, 65 W. Jackson Blvd.

The May 1–25 event will give individuals who eat at three or more participating restaurants the opportunity to apply for prizes online, said Janet Isabelli, spokeswoman for the IRA.

According to Isabelli, the IRA has created a culinary committee of four Chicago chefs: Dirk Flanigan of Henri and The Gage, John Hogan of Keefer’s, Tony Hu of Tony Gourmet Group and Tony Priolo of Piccolo Sogno. The committee will work with the IRA to reach out to their chef peers and put the word out in order to recruit additional restaurants.

“Right now, the IRA is curating the restaurants that are interested,” Isabelli said. “We’re anticipating well over 50 restaurants.”

She said apart from the committee, renowned chefs from abroad will be coming to Chicago to pair with participating restaurants and collaborate with chefs to influence their menus.

“Participating chefs and restaurants will offer special menus that celebrate the G8 and NATO nations,” Isabelli said. “We’re giving them the flexibility to do what inspires them the most.”

While the IRA initiative is an opportunistic approach to the summits, there still remains a cautionary side to all events revolving around G8 and NATO.

As reported by The Chronicle on Jan. 30, Jerry Roper, Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, told the Chicago Sun-Times that “stores along State Street in the Loop and Michigan Avenue on the Magnificent Mile should prepare for the worst should protests turn violent.”

Flanigan, executive chef at Henri Restaurant, 18 S. Michigan Ave., and The Gage, 24 S. Michigan Ave., said he does not necessarily see restaurants, or Chicago in general, as a main target for protesters.

“When you look at the string of violence surrounding these summits, it’s mostly in different countries,” Flanigan said. “I think [the summits] are much more lighthearted than that. I don’t think that we’re in a situation where we’re that close to the action. I think that the violence is going to be limited to other countries, not our country.”

He said his restaurants won’t take any particular precautions or extra security measures in preparation for the summits.

He will most likely be paired with Chef David Colcombe of Opus Restaurant in Birmingham, U.K., a partnership he said he is looking forward to.

Like Flanigan, many restaurants owners on Michigan Avenue don’t sound worried about the upcoming G8 and NATO summits, despite the large number of expected demonstrators and the possibility of violent protests.

Whitney Rittmann, manager of Mercat a La Planxa restaurant, 638 S. Michigan Ave.  said only time will tell how they will prepare for the upcoming summits.

“I don’t know much now,” Rittmann said. “But I do know that there will be a series of meetings and forums where we will discuss what’s in store for May.”