Chicago Gourmet debuts in Millennium Park

CHICAGO A high-end Taste of Chicago is underway this weekend as the city attempts to promote itself as a key food and wine destination. The first-ever Chicago Gourmet began with a gala dinner Friday night in Millennium Park.

It's not just a gourmet version of the Taste, but rather, a weekend devoted to food, wine and the education of both.

The city has essentially closed off Millennium Park for the next two days. But the public is invited to attend. Those who do attend will just have to pay some serious money.

The VIPs mingle behind the Gehry bandshell tonight, toasting the kick-off of Chicago's first gourmet event. Meanwhile, local purveyors like Pastoral Artisan Cheese and Glunz Wines are getting their tents ready, along the Great Lawn's perimeter. They're trying to emulate the granddaddy of gourmet food events.

The Food & Wine Magazine Classic in Aspen is held every June for the past 26 years. The Classic brings together winemakers, chefs and food personalities for a weekend in the Rockies. This year's ticket price was about $1000 for the weekend. When one considers a one-day pass for Chicago's event is $150 dollars, and a weekend pass is $250, that looks like a bargain. But attendees can also go a la carte, and attend individual food seminars for just $30, or wine seminars for either $60 or $90.

"With our wonderful restaurants and chefs we can compete globally and the other thing we have is we have a lot of these chefs from the international cities which we're really excited about."

One of those chefs is Mpume Dhlomo, from Durban, South Africa. She's been teaching at Washburne Trade School this week, and on Friday, she served her native puutu.

"It has to be granular like couscous, and we're serving that with rare ostrich meat which is very healthy because it's lean," said Dhlomo.

Alpana Singh is the Wine & Spirits Director for Lettuce Entertain You. She's been working on recruiting colleagues to lead educational seminars like hers.

"One seminar will be pairing wine to Chicago neighborhoods, and the other seminar is going to be focused on New Zealand pinot noir," Alpana Singh, Chicago Gourmet Host Committee.

Several of the city's top chefs are getting involved, offering tastings or leading classes. Mohammad Islam is the chef at Aigre Doux in River North. He'll be leading a class on how to get maximum flavor from a few ingredients.

"It's bringing flavor to something very simple. Adding more flavor, something that has no flavor, like breadcrumbs," said Islam.

Tips like adding syrup to spaghetti squash or making your own cardamom-scented yogurt and herb oils, so you can "plate" dishes like the pros.

As for the city's number one foodie, there's a good chance attendees might get to see him in action.

"I better call Maggie," said Mayor Daley.

If you have kids and want to skip the grand tasting and cooking demos, there's also a family pavilion that's just $30 per adult. Children under 12 are free.

Tickets are $150 for a single day.
$250 for the whole weekend..

But be aware, some of the smaller food and wine seminars come at an extra charge.

Chicago Gourmet
Sept. 26-28
Millennium Park

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