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Chicago Gourmet - an outdoor epicurean marathon

Get the map ahead of time for sure, but get all the schedules ahead, too. Planning makes perfect!
Get the map ahead of time for sure, but get all the schedules ahead, too. Planning makes perfect!
Barbara Payne

Chicago Gourmet

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No doubt about it. Chicago Gourmet (CG), held each autumn in the beautiful outdoor spaces of Millennium Park, abounds with inspired food creations, luscious wines and hearty spirits. It’s a weekend of tasting that even 3-star chefs can and do enjoy.

For the best experience, plan ahead! Offerings are available on such a grand scale that if you just go in and start wandering, you’re sure to miss out on many things about which you’d have said “I just have to try this” if you’d known about it beforehand. This year they provided an extremely thorough mobile app you could download, but I suggest getting some written materials ahead of time so you can better understand what's available (so much!) during each time period.

CG is a whirlwind of experiences involving high-quality food and drink. This year’s event showcased more than 150 of Chicago’s finest restaurants and chefs, as well as hundreds of renowned vintners, spirit makers and premium breweries from around the world. It also featured dozens of live cooking demonstrations, gourmet tastings and wine seminars.

In a single day you may not have time to see any of the smack-downs – competitions between chefs using a certain ingredient - unless you set those as a priority. These competitions sound like the fierce battles you see on Chopped, the television show where they get 20 minutes to create a recipe out of strange, mismatched ingredients, then must cook, plate and garnish, and serve judges a perfect dish. But I didn't make it to one, so I'm guessing.

A very popular event is the Hamburger Hop on Friday evening. This is a massive hamburger competition, and I heard some folks saying it’s the best party of the weekend. I also didn't make it to the Global Market, new in this year’s calendar of events, where local purveyors shared and sold delicacies from around the world.

One thing you won't want to miss for sure next year are the wine seminars. You'll get samples and education about some really fine wines. I was particularly intrigued by the one on champagne, taught by the founder of Chicago's own School of Wine and Beverage Service.

The Grand Cru (tickets sold separately from the main CG activities) takes everything up another notch with famous chefs and world-renowned wines and spirits. A note of thanks to the lovely Laurie Mack from Southern Wine & Spirits of Illinois. She noticed me sitting – it was 85° that day – sweaty and exhausted on the outskirts of the Grand Cru tasting. She'd seen my earlier struggle to manage everything at once – cane and plate and glass and pen and notebook and cellphone camera. So when I finally sat down, she stopped by a few times to bring me samples of food I’d have had to stand in line to get. Thanks, Laurie!

This year’s Chicago Gourmet 2013 – a celebration of food and wine, was produced by the Illinois Restaurant Association and sponsored by Bon Appétit magazine (check out the pic of their cool tent in the slideshow) and Southern Wine & Spirits of Illinois. The price of admission ain't cheap, but if you plan carefully you will experience some amazing food and wines that you might not otherwise have a chance to enjoy.