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Chicago Gourmet Recap: Déjà Vu

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Sep 27, 2010 4:00PM

For weeks after Chicago Gourmet's 2008 debut, media and public relations types would ask me if it was true that there was such a lack of food that Stolpman and I had to go to America's Dog to grab a bite to eat. (We did.) I thought about that circling the Pritzker Pavilion forty-five minutes into the first tasting sessions Saturday and found Black Dog Gelato's Jessie Oloroso still waiting for her product to arrive; a 300-person deep line at the stand-alone Frontera kiosk; minimum 50-person deep lines at any tent or tasting pavilion serving food and another tasting pavilion set up at the bottom of the steps separating the Pritzker Pavilion lawn from its seating, making it next to impossible for guests in wheelchairs to access the food.

Uh oh.

Chicago Gourmet 2K10 didn't necessarily lack for food, although I did have to sit back and reflect on it for a while yesterday. Many of the food tents were branded sponsored tents, like the Frontera kiosk. There was, however, a return of the poor logistics and layout nightmares that led to the interminable lines reminiscent of its inaugural edition, starting with an hour long wait for paying attendees to enter the festival that snaked through Millennium Park and down Michigan Avenue. Also harking back to the first version of the festival? A proverbial shit ton of booze sponsors on the lawn. If your primary goal at Chicago Gourmet was to get faced, there was no shortage of wine, beer or spirits at your reach. Even some of those tents had a wait if it was a branded tent, like the Grey Goose and Patron tents. Reports from the Sunday session said the lines were even worse yesterday.

With the addition of Bon Appétit magazine as presenting sponsor, the increase in the number of larger sponsor branded tents was obvious. The difference is that this year's festival had so many tents shoehorned into Pritzker Pavilion, there was little room for walkways or ways to make the queues more manageable. In his recap of yesterday's session, Steve Dolinsky suggested that it might be a good idea if festival organizers reduced the admission to by 2-3,000 people per day; "capacity" at Chicago Gourmet meant 10,000 people, from Dolinsky's questioning. But would that require raising the ticket prices to make up for the lost attendance?

The festival could afford to expand into other sections of Millennium Park. That would require shutting down a wider section of the park to the public, specifically the mall around the Cloud Gate sculpture. A problem with that. Park Grill has a 20-year concession contract for the park with a 10-year option, part of a sweetheart deal they were given by the city. Any expansion of the festival past Pritzker Pavilion would mean Park Grill would have to be compensated for the lost concession income.

Another option would be to move the festival to another park, like Daley Bicentennial Plaza or even Grant Park. If the city and Illinois Restaurant Association continue to host the festival in Millennium Park as currently configured, the growing pains will only continue.