Emanuel: Cut Production Costs For Taste Of Chicago

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Feb 21, 2013 3:15PM

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Photo Credit: Teddy Wachholz

Were all the changes to Taste of Chicago made with an eye on the bottom line or, as a mayoral spokeswoman said Tuesday, done with safety in mind? Because there are some mixed messages coming out of City Hall after Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events needs to reduce the costs to the city of producing the annual tribute to gluttony.

DCASE announced Tuesday Taste of Chicago 2012 lost $1.3 million, which was expected since Commissioner Michelle Boone testified during City Council budget hearings last October the festival would not come close to breaking even. An estimated 1.2 million people attended the truncated festival last year. Had those numbers held if Taste 2012 remained a 10-day affair, that would have projected to 2.4 million people, an increase over 2011. Revenues for Taste were also up, thanks to the addition of pop-up dinners featuring name chefs like Stephanie Izard and Graham Elliot, and concerts.

Emanuel, by process of elimination, said DCASE needed to tighten the purse strings.

“I told the team at Cultural Affairs to re-think [the Taste]. Attendance was up. Revenue was up. The problem is, costs were up. And I said, ‘We have to come down on that,’” Emanuel said. “There were pop-up restaurants. There were new types of restaurants offered. They’re gonna have to think through how we do that. ... Cultural Affairs is looking at this and will come back with different plans, as they did last year.”

Emanuel also broached the subject that Taste of Chicago may not jibe with what he sees as—wait for it—a ”world-class city.”

“Chicago is a different city than it was when we [started] Taste of Chicago. We now have Gourmet Chicago. We’re hosting internationally 30 countries around the world that are coming to participate. Why? Because Chicago [isn’t] what it was ten years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago when it comes to culinary. We are a culinary capital of the world — not the country,” he said. “More of our chefs now are known worldwide. People fly in for our restaurants.. ... So while you have Taste of Chicago that is going through a revision and change, so is Chicago’s image as a culinary capital.”

Emanuel didn’t outright say that there could be discussion about whether Taste of Chicago has run its course (lest he start a civic panic), he and Boone recognize finding a profitable business model for producing a free festival can be a struggle. So while Taste of Chicago may not fade into history, the changes implemented last year such as pop-up dinners and admission fees for pavilion seating to the festival’s concerts may have opened the floodgates to eventually making Taste a festival with an admission, or at least more surcharges than attendees are accustomed.