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Chicago Gourmet From the Budding Foodie's Perspective

By Jacy Wojcik in Food on Sep 29, 2008 9:45PM


The seminars at Chicago Gourmet were a lot like college— you either left feeling smarter after a lecture from a great professor or you sat through the whole thing drawing on your notebook, wondering what all your friends were drinking at the wine tents. I assume many ticket holders attended Chicago Gourmet hoping to expand their knowledge of food and wine. The seminars seemed like the best place to start if this was your ultimate goal. Unfortunately, as Chuck and Anthony mentioned, they proved to be hit or miss.

Goose Island Beer Company brewmaster Greg Hall had attendees mesmerized with his "Pairing Fine Cheese with Craft Beer" seminar. Hall was an excellent speaker and the whole seminar was more like a great conversation with a (much more intelligent) friend than a lecture. He discussed what to look for when selecting beer and cheese pairings- a compliment or contrast, to match intensity levels, how the freshness of cheese plays into the pairing, etc. We sampled a selection of Goose Island beers and carefully chosen cheese selections: Harvest Ale with Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese, Matilda with Chimay cheese, India Pale Ale with a fudgy blue cheese and (our favorite of the four) Pere Jacques and a square of dark chocolate. The audience seemed to take a lot away from this seminar and I overheard a couple discussing their future beer and cheese party, on Mr. Hall's recommendation.

"Baking Techniques: Molecular Gastronomy vs. Artisan Baking" with Pichet Ong of New York's P*ONG and Hot Chocolate's Mindy Segal was less of a "lecture" than Hall's. The group sat back and listened to two renowned chefs discuss their differences and (mostly) similarities, what inspires their creations and their mutual love of bacon. After hearing Segal say she is "in awe of this years crop of fruit in the Midwest" and how she incorporates them into dishes, I made a mental note to visit the farmer's markets as much as possible before winter. While I can't specifically list things I learned as I could in the Hall seminar, it was still a worthwhile seminar to partake. And where else at the festival were you going to hear things like, "Panna cotta is the most bastardized version of a pastry anyone could do"?

"Organic Viticulture in Chile: Tasting Through Terroir at Casa Lapostolle" started almost fifteen minutes late and with a Power Point lecture. A long Power Point lecture. It was followed by a short promo video of the winery and finally, with five minutes left of the seminar, we quickly tasted their six different wines before being rushed out of the room without any time to write tasting notes, ask questions, or tell the people working the seminar (who outnumbered the eight of us in attendance) to please stop talking and shuffling around so we could hear the winemaker, Jerome Poisson. Worth $60 on top of the entrance fee? Absolutely not. Which might explain why we saw an attendee chugging his wine before grabbing a handful of bread on his way out.

I returned to the main grounds hoping to gain more information and insight when I received a text from a friend, also at the festival, that read: "Here's some irony- I'm at Chicago Gourmet and I'm fucking starving." The few places there that did offer food did it well and had beautiful displays, especially The Peninsula and Fox and Obel. The chefs, sommeliers, and wine reps on site were there to answer any questions and share their wealth of knowledge. But if you wanted to glean any information from them you either had to get there early or talk quickly before the drunk, hungry dude at the back of the line trampled you for a mini crab cake.