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7 Top Tips for Mastering Chicago Gourmet

Chicago Gourmet Ready

Chicago Gourmet Ready – Photo by The Tipsy Housewife (aka April Lee)

7 Top Tips for Mastering Chicago Gourmet

September 2017 marked ten delicious years for Bon Appetit presents Chicago Gourmet. Once again Millennium Park was blanketed in a foodie haven with star chefs and mixologists from all over the world showcasing their culinary talents. Food lovers, beer connoisseurs, wine enthusiasts, and spirit imbibers blanketed the park ready to chow down and toss a few back!

I’ve been attending this incredible midwest food fest for the last 5-6 years and I think I’ve mastered how to navigate the tasty weekend successfully. So without further ado, I share with you my top 7 tips for ensuring you, too, have a positive Chicago Gourmet experience. P.S. Mark your calendars for next year’s gluttonous weekend, September 28-30, 2018.

1. Download the app – There is a lot to see and do at Chicago Gourmet (CG) and it can all feel a bit overwhelming. The CG app makes it easy to know what is happening when and where. In the app you will be able to access a map of the park to see where all of the tasting pavilions and other fun booths/tents are located, get an overview of all the talent that will be in attendance, know about all of the demos, create your own personal schedule with reminders, and more. I download it every year before I head to Chicago Gourmet, peruse and favorite everything I hope to do during my visit (that way I get friendly reminders so I don’t miss anything), and then I delete the app once the weekend is over.

2. Plan ahead and prioritize – Now that you’ve downloaded the app and marked everything you want to do, decide what you absolutely cannot miss. As the popular fest continues to grow year after year, prepare for long lines. You will spend anywhere from 10-30 minutes waiting in line at some of the tasting pavilions while you will be able to just walk right up and grab a bite at others. Keep this in mind if there are food demos, chef talks, or book signings you want to see. Also, note that each year Chicago Gourmet offers supplemental events to coincide with the main event. There are repeat parties year after year like Hamburger Hop, Late Night Gourmet, and Rise and Shine Gourmet. There are also new events each year like Ballpark Fare Goes Gourmet this year among others. It’s a lot and all of these additional events happen outside of the main party at Millennium Park Saturday and Sunday! Some of them overlap so it’s not possible for anyone to attend every single event. My suggestion is to pick one extra event and no more than three extra events in addition to one day at Chicago Gourmet. Don’t forget the Grand Cru which happens during the main fest both days and offers up extra special gourmet bites, sips, and demos. If you choose to do this (it’s also a lot of fun) really, seriously PACE YOURSELF! It’s that much more food and

Also, note that each year Chicago Gourmet offers supplemental events to coincide with the main event. There are repeat parties year after year like Hamburger Hop, Late Night Gourmet, and Rise and Shine Gourmet. There are also new events each year like Ballpark Fare Goes Gourmet this year among others. It’s a lot and all of these additional events happen outside of the main party at Millennium Park Saturday and Sunday! Some of them overlap so it’s not possible for anyone to attend every single event. My suggestion is to pick one extra event and no more than three extra events in addition to one day at Chicago Gourmet. Don’t forget the Grand Cru which happens during the main fest both days and offers up extra special gourmet bites, sips, and demos. If you choose to do this (it’s also a lot of fun) really, seriously PACE YOURSELF! It’s that much more food and drink. And remember, each event has a different cost to attend. So keep all of this in mind when you are planning out your gourmet weekend.

3. Dress appropriately – First and foremost, dress comfortably. The festival lasts 5 hours each day and you will want to be there all five hours or most of them to cover everything. There are different offerings so if you go both days, you will have new things to try. I used to do both days. Now, I personally feel one gluttonous day is more than enough. Just remember, you can still be cute and comfortable at the same time. Trust me, it’s a thing! Also, this is Chicago and as we all know our weather can be very temperamental, especially in the fall when Chicago Gourmet happens. Check the weather prior to the weekend and then check it again as the weekend arrives. Then plan accordingly.

This year we hit some of the highest temperatures Chicago experienced all summer! Knowing it was going to be extremely hot, I made sure to be ready. I dressed in light, comfortable clothes and gym shoes (gold chucks). I also wore sunscreen and brought travel size bottles with me to reapply throughout the day. Additional accessories that got me through the brutal heat included a visor, sunglasses, a hip and cute “fanny pack” (yes, I said this), and perhaps most important were my cooling towels (yes, plural). If cool temps are in the forecast, go with layers. Don’t bring a ton of stuff; simply pack the essentials and pack light! Upon registration/check-in, you will get a bag with some goodies and a place to stow additional goodies you receive throughout the fest, your wine glass for tasting all the booze, and a plate to pile on your food. The plate has a slot to slide your wine glass stem to make balancing everything easier. Though I’ve seen a few folks sporting glass carrying lanyards and I gotta give it to them for being innovative and freeing up both hands!

4. Pace yourself – You do not need to eat and drink everything in sight! I repeat… you do not need to eat or drink everything in sight. Chicago Gourmet is literally a weekend of nonstop, neverending food! Don’t overeat… or drink. Seriously pace yourself. If you don’t love something, don’t finish it. Take small bites and sips and toss! Take some breaks by catching some of the demos and talks or grabbing a seat somewhere on the grounds or in the Bon Appetit tent. Remember, your eyes are often bigger than your stomach and tasty alcohol goes down fast! It’s so easy to overdo it on both the food and the alcohol so be mindful. Chicago Gourmet is not a race. It’s meant to be an enjoyable afternoon of delicious eats and drinks from some of the top chefs. Taste and toss…. taste and toss…. you will thank me for this advice!

5. Don’t go solo – Most things are more fun in good company. Chicago Gourmet is definitely one of them. While you can still enjoy yourself solo, being there with friends and/or family just makes it better for multiple reasons. You can compare notes, you can share bites, you can hold places in line, etc. Honestly, out of all of the years I’ve attended Chicago Gourmet, I had the most fun this year and the reason is that I was in amazing company. Being with at least one or more people also means getting to experience and taste more. Let me explain this further… as I previously mentioned, lines can get very long, especially certain lines. Instead of standing there waiting empty handed (and empty mouthed… lol), take turns going to get food or drinks from the shorter lines while one of you holds your place in the longer lines.

6. Know you won’t see everything – It’s just not possible to see or taste everything and that is okay! That’s why you have the app and a plan. You customize your experience to fit your needs and make sure you have an awesome time! Remember to prioritize, pick your absolute must dos and sees. Then leave room for some of the other bites and happenings you might want to check out as well as surprises you didn’t even know about. This year Jim Beam had an awesome booth dedicated to our World Series winning Chicago Cubs and they were giving out free Cubs tanks just for taking a photo. Score!

7. Have fun – No matter what, just have a good time! That’s really the whole point of any festival, right? Don’t stress yourself out trying to make your Chicago Gourmet experience perfect. If you followed the tips above you’ll be ahead of the other attendees but know that plans don’t always go as expected. So, if there is a hiccup in yours, don’t freak out! Just keep moving and enjoying yourself. Life is all about making the most of it and making lasting memories so no matter what happens, you’ll always have the memories.

I sure hope my 7 tips above help anyone planning on attending next year’s Chicago Gourmet from September 28-30 or any future ones. Before I bid you all adieu, I’d like to share some of my favorite bites from this year:

  1. Stan’s Donuts – A spinoff of Garrett’s Popcorn Chicago Mix (Caramel and Cheese) in doughnut form. AMAZING!
  2. Four Corners Group – Unicorn doughnuts, rainbow Jell-O shot push pops, and mini versions of one of my favorite bites in the city from Brickhouse Tavern: a hand-rolled waffle cone with buffalo chicken bites.
  3. Thai Tasting Pavilion – Fried Basil and Pork, Papaya Salad, and Thai Lettuce Wraps
  4. Chef Katsuji Tanabe of Barrio – Habanero and Malted Swiss Merengue Lime Custard
  5. Patron – Boozy popsicles and great cocktails
  6. Bon Appetit – Mac and Cheese bar with truffle and other great mix-ins
  7. Split Rail – Smoked White Fish and Roe Crostini
  8. Honey Butter Fried Chicken – Fried Chicken with Honey Butter
  9.  Absolut Elyx – A light refreshing cocktail
  10. Warm Belly Bakery – Ube Cookie

And here is a little gallery of some of the food I devoured at this year’s Chicago Gourmet!

 

Katie Cahmann

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