Chicago Gourmet Festival Review – Lights, Camera, Napkin!

Bon Appétit’s sponsored, popular food and drink festival, Chicago Gourmet gave foodies a true backstage pass to some of the most exclusive, entertainment-packed events throughout Chicago, in late September. The 12th year of Chicago Gourmet was better than ever with nine encore events celebrating the Lights, Camera, Napkin! theme. Founded by the Illinois Restaurant Association and produced in partnership with title sponsor Bon Appétit and presenting sponsor Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, guests had the opportunity to rub elbows with chefs, sommeliers and mixologists, while enjoying some of Chicago’s most sought-after entertainment experiences.

Main entrance to Chicago Gourmet
Rise and Shine Event
Natalie’s Juice samples at Rise and Shine event

The week-long event kicked off with a true VIP evening at the theatre to see the one-and-only “Hamilton” with Chef Rick Bayless, complete with an exclusive Q&A with a cast member after the show. Inspired by everyone’s favorite mob movie, Italian Feast on the Odyssey Chicago River had guests saying “arrivederci” as they set sail; Jeff Mauro hosted a star-studded Jef Comedy Jam at Theater on the Lake; and Chef Sarah Grueneberg spiced things up with The Big Chill(i): Gourmet Chili Cook-Off on the Harris Theater Rooftop. Back by popular demand were favorites Battle of the Masters and Rise & Shine Gourmet (which I thoroughly enjoyed) along with other not-to-be missed revelries.

French red wine sample at Chicago Gourmet
RX Bar and Nut Butters
Eli’s Cheesecake goat’s milk and honey cheesecake bites

My fifth year experiencing my absolute favorite food festival was off to a great start with my first time participating with the Rise and Shine GOurmet event at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel (one of Chicago’s landmark properties and a highly lauded 21st century boutique hotel). Tickets were $40/person. There were time slots for 8:30-10:45am or 10am-12:15pm. I was guided with calming sounds of instrumental intentions — from sun salutation through the stillness of Savasana, while enjoying a restorative yoga session led by Core Power Yoga instructors, on a soft, plush yoga mat (which guests got to keep afterwards). After the yoga session, a comforting selection of brunch bites such as a refreshing grain salad with hazelnut, apple and white cheddar provided from Jason Hammel (Lula Cafe), including Left Coast Food and Juice (hermosa avocado toast), Natalie’s Cold-Pressed Juices, Tied House (poached farmer egg, hollandaise and English muffin) and Funkenhausen (succulent mushroom, truffle and egg).   

Foodies enjoying festival samples
Little Village Restaurant PB&J bars

Chicago Gourmet’s setting each year is at downtown’s beautiful Millennium Park and Pritzker Pavilion, with the city’s breathtaking skyline staring right back at you. It is the perfect backdrop with plenty of space to stuff yourself silly with good food and drink. This year I was also very impressed with and grateful for all of the vegan and vegetarian options that were offered, such as Desmond Clark’s Field Roast (makers of artisanal plant-based meats and cheese) delicious vegan Dezzy Dog made with onions, relish, spicy mustard, ketchup, and lemon pepper.

Turano Bread Company

It was also a treat sampling the RX Bar and the company’s new nut butter selections, which offered recipes for desserts and smoothies made on site. Other highlights for me included Ricardo Rodriguez’s (of Whisk) creamed corn baked flan with roasted corn, spiced potato chips made with Pure Circle Stevia and cinnamon, the usual overabundant Turano Bread Company samples for carb lovers (which included various hummus and butter selections such as everything bagel and maple mustard and pumpkin butter to spread on thick slices of bread). 

Lao Sze Chuan Spicy Noodles
Cadillac and Swirlz Create-Your-Own Cupcake Station

I also highly enjoy every year the offerings that come from the Gardens of the Galaxy Veggie Tasting Pavilion, which features delicious Asian cuisine such as frushi selections from Koi Fine Asian Cuisine and Lounge, crispy veggie dumplings from Lao Sze Chuan and spicy noodles and garlic sauce of the recently opened Best New Restaurant Taste of China Awards, Te-amo.

Pure Circle Gourmet Ice Cream sweetened with Stevia

Based on what I observed at Chicago Gourmet, I felt that sweets and desserts were a main highlight of the festival with samples of everything you could think of: gelato, ice cream, flan, chocolate and toffee. Terry’s toffee offered about ten different types to sample (almond with milk chocolate and pecan, orange blossom, pretzel and sea salt and chai). Eli’s Cheesecake had luscious goat’s milk and honey cheesecake bites, gourmet ice cream sweetened with Stevia from Pure Circle, a create-your-own cupcake station hosted by Cadillac Cars and Swirlz Bakery, Absolut juice cocktails and PB&J bars from Italian VIllage Restaurants.

Chicago Gourmet outdid itself this year with desserts and wine

Various wines and spirits were also popular this year at the fest with several vineyards featuring roses and several  French white and red wine selections. My visit to Chicago Gourmet ended on a sweet note as I sampled many lovely Bordeaux wines, that left quite the impression on my tasting palate. This festival is and continues to deliver samples of the best food and drink in the areas to hungry and thirsty foodies. I cannot wait until next year to see what they come up with next!

Photos: Jennifer Lunz

For more details and to buy advance tickets for 2020 at a discounted price, visit the website chicagogourmet.org. Questions regarding ticket sales may be directed to chicagogourmet@illinoisrestaurants.org or (312) 380-4137.

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