Food industry preps for international guests, chefs

February 24, 2012 3:18:45 PM PST
Chicago restaurants hope for international exposure during the G8 and NATO summits.

The special menu at David Burke's Primehouse draws curious foodies for lunch.

"It's a fun thing to do to literally try all the menu which I thought was really exciting. Get introduced to some new flavors and try a new place," Contessa Gibson said.

"It gives you an opportunity to try new restaurants that you've always wanted to try out but it's a little more affordable," Ilana Kaplan said.

The Primehouse is among more than 200 Chicago area restaurants taking part in Restaurant Week --- where special prix fix menus are offered at a discounted price.

As Restaurant Week winds down, plans gear up to feed Chicagoans and visitors in May during the G8 NATO summits.

"There's a lot of different angles so we're already running through scenarios. That's part of my meetings everyday trying to figure out how to make people happy," Chef Rick Gresh, David Burke's Primehouse, said.

That's a tough order with the reality of security and transportation issues for summit visitors. If done well, it's an opportunity that could have a lasting impact on Chicago tourism.

"It's incredibly important to the city and to have the world watching does help our efforts," Meghan Risch, Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau, said.

Marc Malnati, the owner of Lou Malnati's, says even through a tight economy their business is growing with the help of tourists sampling their pizza --- increasingly more foreign tourists. He isn't expecting much disruption to their operation during the summits, and welcomes seeing more international guests this spring.

"The people I'm seeing are leaving here happy. And they're going home telling their friends and relatives and it keeps building," Malnati said. "The more protestors we have out in front of our store the more pizza we're gonna sell because protestors have to eat too."

Some restaurants will be building special menus for the summits. Also, the Illinois Restaurant Association is organizing Chicago's Culinary Crossroads, a program that offers locals prizes for sampling Crossroads menus.

"The world recognizes that Chicago is a great food city mainly because of our fabulous chef and this will shine the light and enhance that reputation," Sheila O'Grady, Illinois Restaurant Association, said.

Culinary Crossroads will also bring in guest chefs from G8 and NATO countries. The chef at Keefer's Restaurant was inspired by a recent visit with a Spanish chef. In May, they will partner to create a special menu.

"The dignitaries are going to have functions at every hotel and they're going to be busy with whatever it is they're gonna be doing. Meantime, Chicago dinners can get a little taste of some of these nations that are coming to our city," Keefer's Chef John Hogan said.

More than 50 local restaurants are expected to participate in Culinary Crossroads . Eight guest chefs will come to Chicago during the summits from G8 and NATO countries.

Chicago's Culinary Crossroads

  • Developed by the Illinois Restaurant Association in conjunction with the G8/NATO Host Committee
  • Chicagoans and visitors can eat out and experience cuisines from around world
  • Over 50 participating restaurants will present special menus
  • 8, internationally-renowned chefs from the G8/ NATO countries will be here for the kick of and paired with Chicago restaurants.
  • Eat at three restaurants for a chance to win fabulous prizes, one of which includes a Chicago Gourmet Weekend at the end of September (Weekend Passes to Chicago Gourmet ? also produced by the Illinois Restaurant Association ? and hotel stay)
  • May 1-15, 2012
  • Visit for more information on Chicago's Culinary Crossroads