Chicago's evolving culinary scene

by Donna Berry
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Donna Berry

CHICAGO — The past two weeks have been a culinary whirlwind in The Windy City. It all started with the seventh annual Bon Appétit presents Chicago Gourmet, a program designed to showcase Chicago’s culinary talent and highlight the latest epicurean trends. The weekend long celebration of food and wine 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.

 

The epicurean weekend commenced on Friday, Sept. 26 with The Hamburger Hop, a cooking competition featuring 15 chefs from around the country battling for the title of “Best Burger.” A celebrity panel of judges, along with input from attendees, deemed Spike Mendelsohn of Good Stuff Eatery, with locations in the Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia areas, the champion. His winning creation — the Prez Obama Burger — featured Amish gorgonzola cheese, horseradish mayo and red-onion marmalade on a brioche bun.

Saturday and Sunday’s festivities took place in Millennium Park, where chefs served samples of some of their dishes. Attendees, such as myself as a media representative, had the chance to rub elbows with hundreds of culinary and beverage experts, including renowned chefs such as Jimmy Bannos (Heaven on Seven/The Purple Pig), Rick Bayless (Frontera Grill/Topolobampo/XOCO), Homaro Cantu (Moto), Stephanie Izard (Girl & The Goat/Little Goat Diner), Tony Mantuano (Spiaggia/Terzo Piano/Bar Toma/River Roast), Masaharu Morimoto (Japonais) and Mindy Segal (Hot Chocolate).

Image by Galdones Photography

 

There also were tasting pavilions serving classic favorites from Ditka’s, Gibsons, The Signature Room at the 95th, The Berghoff, Italian Village, and my favorite, pierogi from Kasia’s. Attendees were able to travel the world at the newly added Global Street Food Market, which featured internationally loved foods from Africa, China, Columbia, Ireland and 11 of Chicago’s sister cities.

Saturday evening ended with the fundraiser dinner: A Tribute to Charlie Trotter. Many chefs — including many of Chef Trotter’s protégés and friends — gathered at the Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago for a dinner to honor the culinary legend and his indelible impact on the hospitality industry. The event benefited Charlie Trotter’s Culinary Education Foundation.

This past weekend, Oct. 3-5, Taste Talks took place in Chicago’s Restaurant Row (Randolph Street) neighborhood. Held a few weeks earlier in Brooklyn, the three-day food festival explored the culinary cutting edge of a generation. Featuring more than 100 chefs, both established and up-and-comers, the event is dubbed the Future Food Expo. Culinary professionals participated in panel discussions ranging from underground dining to the art of charcuterie.

Image by David Ditzler

 

Underground dining is the latest trend among social-media-obsessed foodies. It is membership dining without a physical location. Time, place and location are announced via social media to the membership, which is selective and secret. In fact, most of the chefs interview applicants before allowing them to join their secret dining society. Locations are typically private residences, but thematic events like an upcoming Halloween dinner, may take place at rented facilities, such as a funeral parlor.

One such modern-day supper club is Dinner Lab, a social dining experiment that unites undiscovered chefs with adventurous diners who are looking for something different from the conventional restaurant experience. With the underground dining concept, chefs vary from event to event, often going unidentified until one arrives. Events bring together a group of strangers around a common table to share cuisine crafted by up-and-coming chefs from all over the country.   

Dinner Lab administration does not influence what the chefs cook. Instead, chefs are given a platform to tell a story through their menus — recipes that speak to their background or heritage, ingredients they are passionate about, or completely new dishes with which they have been experimenting on during their days off from their regular job at a brick and mortar restaurant.

Sandwiched between Chicago Gourmet and Taste Talks, the Olive Garden opened its first location on Sept. 29 within Chicago’s city limits. Evening diners waited more than two hours for a table during the first week.

Image by David Ditzler

 

Even more impressive, or more accurately, insane, was the 26.5 hours someone waited to be the first person in line on the last day of Hot Doug’s, Chicago’s, now-former, sausage superstore and encased meat emporium. Located only about a half mile from the Olive Garden, Hot Doug’s permanently closed its doors on Friday, Oct. 3.

Anticipating a long and potentially never-ending line, it was closed by 6:30 a.m., four hours before the doors opened. Fearing the restaurant would run out of food, as inventory was low on the last day, owner Doug Sohn kept the customer count to about 200 people. In recent weeks, upward of 800 diners a day visited the 45-seat restaurant, with diners averaging $60 orders during the last week.

After standing and taking orders for eight hours straight, Mr. Sohn ended his last day at 6:45 p.m., by stepping in front of the counter and placing the last order at the now legendary hot dog joint. He ordered a char Chicago dog with everything.

Chicago’s culinary scene is definitely changing, but at the end of a long day, nothing beats this quintessential Chicago sandwich, or for that matter, a slice of deep dish pizza.
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By patty grant 10/10/2014 3:58:08 PM
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