The weekend kicked off at Hamburger Hop, which vetted 15 burgers from 15 restaurants around Chicago. A crystal-covered cow welcomed guests as they were offered a choice of beer, wine or cocktails as well as unlimited views of the Landon twins (which proved to be a recurring theme throughout the weekend). Burgers were lined up along the edge of the Harris Theater Rooftop along with their respective chefs. The field was divided between a few big name chefs with even bigger flavors, upscale steakhouses that focused on meat and a few sports-bar-type venues that relied on different bun options.
Chef Matt Trost of Three Aces took home the People’s Choice award with his 50/50 mix of Allen Brothers Steaks USDA Prime chuck and sirloin. The meat was ground in-house and presented with bacon jam, three-year-old Wisconsin white cheddar, bone marrow salt, red onion and mixed mesclun greens on a pretzel bun. The Judges' Choice was prepared by chef Yoshi Katsumura of Yoshi’s Café and included Allen Brothers Steaks' Wagyu beef, a panko-crusted fried green tomato and pickle, Asian pear jam, Brie cheese and micro wasabi - all drenched in a smoky Asian style BBQ sauced and presented on a poppy seed brioche bun.
Day one of Chicago Gourmet brought some big names to Millennium Park, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel who kicked off the festivities. Chef tasting pavilions as well as more wine and liquor than anyone in their right mind should dare consume were scattered in tents on the lawn of the J. Pritzker Pavilion.
The highlight of our day was a brew seminar called “Are You Really Going to Brew With That?” led by John Legnard, brewmaster of Blue Moon at the Sandlot. He walked participants through a tasting of seven beers, most of which will not be found at the local bar. Chocolate bacon suds, anyone? It was not disgusting; in fact, it was pretty tasty with a rich chocolate flavor and slight salty bacon finish. Other notable brews include their new vintage series that blends grapes with beer creating a wine-beer hybrid reminiscent of cider.
Day two arrived with a fresh batch of hungry guests . . . as well as many repeat offenders nursing a hefty hangover.
In addition to chefs demos from Jimmy Bannos, Ryan Poli and Chris Pandel; a seminar called “Food in the Media” caught our eye. It was a panel discussion with Adam Rapoport and Andrew Knowlton of Bon Appétit, David Tamakin of Time Out Chicago and Geoffrey Zakarian of The Lambs Club as well as Food Network. The hot topic was celebrity chefs – a term that only came to the forefront in the last few years, before which the chef’s job was too cook not entertain. One big question was on everyone's minds: do celebrity chefs even cook anymore?
Perhaps this is something to ponder until next year. Chicago Gourmet returns to Millennium Park on September 27-29, 2013.