Chicago goes gourmet

By Eve Fuller

Renowned chefs and restaurants were honored at the first annual Gourmet Food and Wine Festival in Chicago. From Sept. 26-28, Millennium Park was transformed into a mecca for food and wine lovers. Acclaimed chefs from all over the nation were invited to demonstrate their recipes and present their food specialties.

“We want to showcase to the world what a terrific dining destination Chicago is,” said Jennifer Hefferly, director of communications at the Illinois Restaurant Association.

Partnered with the Anton Family Foundation, a leader in the food and hospitality industry, the Illinois Restaurant Association created the festival.

“Our mission is to promote the restaurant industry, and what better way than to have a food and wine festival that includes chefs and restaurants from Chicago,” Hefferly said.

For the price of $150 for a one-day pass or $250 for the weekend, festival-goers were able to take cooking classes with Chicago’s “Top Chef” winner Stephanie Izard and test expensive red and white wines to pair with their gourmet food like ceviche, sweet onion casseroles and crab cakes.

Hefferly hopes that Chicago’s Gourmet Food and Wine Festival will draw a national appeal like Aspen’s Food and Wine Classic in the future. “Because it is the first event, we anticipate the attendees to be from the Chicagoland area and the Midwest,” Hefferly said.

An open grass area with scattered tables let people roam freely at the festival or sit down and try their food. White tents lined the perimeter of the park where vendors exhibited their specialty wines and food. Cooking demonstrations took place on the Viking Culinary Stage where people could sit elbow-to-elbow with the chefs and ask questions.

“This is such a lovely city, and you couldn’t have asked for better weather,” said Leigh Alderton from Jacob’s Creek Winery, located in Barossa Valley, Australia. “At first I was sad that I was under one of the tents and would not be able to enjoy the beautiful day, but now I feel bad for people who are on the grass and need to worry about their wine getting warm.”

At the event “Great Seafood! World Flavors from Master Chefs” Mayor Richard M. Daley and his wife, Maggie, were asked to help cook with the pros.

“I think I would rather speak on the microphone than cook,” Mayor Daley said to the crowd.

Chef Paul Bartolotta, Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare, Takashi Yagihashi from Takashi Restaurants and Rick Moonen, from R.M. (Rick Moonen) Seafood at Mandalay Place in Las Vegas demonstrated their favorite dishes and gave money-saving tips including how to buy the best olive oil and to not neglect butter as a cooking staple.

While marketed as a food and wine festival, Chicago-based brewery Goose Island had a presence as well.

“We are the only beer company here, but we have a lot to offer,” said Anna Clark, marketing manager for Goose Island. “This is a great way for the city of Chicago to learn more about us.”

Dorothy Danielson, a Chicago native, enjoyed the festival.

“I am having a great time here, but I wish there was some type of scoreboard we could have,” she said. “I don’t have a list where I can get any of these foods.”

After a successful weekend, another Food and Wine Festival for 2009 is likely, said Hefferly. “We absolutely anticipate it to be an annual festival.”