The city and the Illinois Restaurant Association have been looking at food festivals around the country the past few years, including successful events in Aspen, Pebble Beach and, lately, New York. Nevertheless, they wanted to put their own stamp on a city-wide food festival, and they're tweaking last year's effort by ramping up both the food content and the education element.
As the city gears up for the second annual gourmet food and wine event, so too are local chefs and wine experts. Over at Piccolo Sogno, chef Tony Priolo gave ABC 7's Hungry Hound a preview of the rustic cooking class he'll be teaching on Sunday afternoon.
"It's a combination of 10 different kinds of squash, with walnuts, amaretto cookies, tossed with butter, sage and walnuts," said Tony Priolo of Piccolo Sogno.
The dish is called capellaci di zucca. In making it, the first step is mashing up cooked squash with the crushed cookies and walnuts.
"Walnuts we'll put inside and outside," said Priolo.
Priolo rolls out a semolina dough, cuts it into equal squares, then fills them with the squash mixture. He folds them over and forms them into tiny "hats," then they're cooked in browned butter and sage.
Like many chefs at the event, Priolo is interested in raising the city's culinary profile.
"We're trying to really push this event because we feel Chicago is a great dining city and we want to promote it worldwide," Priolo said.
Wine education and appreciation is also on the docket. Serafin Alvarado is Director of Wine Education for Southern Wine and Spirits, and he'll be leading a few seminars this weekend.
"We have the tasting on the lawn itself. We're going to have over 300 different wineries participating from that; different levels, different styles, from different countries, different regions, different varietals. Very open, very exciting in terms of exploring different wines," said Alvarado.
Just for fun, the Hungry Hound challenged him to match a wine with Priolo's capellaci; he came up with four possibilities, two red and two white, depending on personal preference.
"Not too full, in terms of body and alcohol, but enough fruit and kind of herb quality character that is able to go along with the sage and the richness quality character that is found in the squash," Alvarado said.
Gourmet Chicago runs from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $150, but when you compare it to other food and wine festivals around the country, it's a bargain.
Sept. 26, 27
For tickets: 312-380-4128
464 N. Halsted St.