What is it like for two people to try 120 different dishes in two days? Here is the account.
The biggest draw of Chicago Gourmet (sponsored again this year by Bon Appétit) is the chance to sample dishes from such a enormous number area restaurants in one go. In fact, the festival proudly advertised that guests could sample food from over 100 area restaurants. I can't think of another occasion where one person would be able to experience so much of Chicago's dining scene in one go. Of course, these tastings were just one aspect of the festival; there is so much more to do, including chef demos, wine tastings, and seminars. Most people try a few things, walk around, watch a demo, drink wine, and enjoy themselves. Standing in lines all day to try dozens of tiny bites seems sort of like a fool's errand.
But what if you had been challenged to do just that, as I was by fellow contributor Roger Kamholz? I couldn't turn away from such a taunt! Plus, wouldn't it be interesting to sample so many Chicago restaurants? In the immortal words of Barney Stinson, challenge accepted. Of course, I also made sure that Roger was right there next to me documenting this ridiculous adventure. It was the least he could do.
This required far more than just an empty belly; it required planning, determination, and more than a little luck. We focused exclusively on the Chef Tasting Pavilions, avoiding the few random booths scattered around. That left us with approximately 126 restaurants to try. Yes, you read that correctly: 126 different plates of food. Fortunately, we didn't have to gorge all at once; the restaurants were divided between four sessions spread over two days.
But even broken up like this, we faced the issue of lines. The restaurants were grouped into ten pavilions, and the waits for some could stretch up to thirty minutes long. This made visiting ten different pavilions, along with photographing and writing down the name of each dish, more difficult than we original expected. Occasionally we broke off and each took a different line. Once, we arrived 30 seconds after the line was closed. Other issues were beyond our control. A few chefs arrived late, so there was no food available when we made our way through the line. Others simply didn't show up.
The Final Tally
In the end, we sampled 119 different restaurants, just eight shy of the 126 total. Not bad, if I say so myself. We also got the chance to sample Purple Pig's roasted hog sandwich, which didn't count towards the official tally, but I threw in the picture to even things up.
What did we learn? Festivals are hard. A restaurant wants to cook something that perfectly encapsulates its identity to showcase to the masses. But it also needs to be an item that is easy to prepare, so those same masses aren't waiting around. What the restaurants of Chicago put together was downright impressive. Sure, we liked some dishes more than others (which we'll be writing about tomorrow), but for the most part the quality was extremely high. It was a completely ludicrous exercise, one that I have no interest in doing again, but it was a delicious adventure.
Without further ado, check out the slideshow of everything we ate at Chicago Gourmet. The pictures are grouped four to a slide, so you don't have to click 120 times, but it's still a lot to take in.
About the names of the dishes: Most of the restaurants didn't have a sign with the name of the dish, so I had to ask the chef and then frantically type it into my iPhone, while simultaneously holding a multiple small plates of food. It was a lot harder than I imagined, especially when Roger and I were split up and I had to also take a picture. The names are as close as I could get in the short amount of time, and I think they are mostly right. Most are way more complicated than the name suggests (I gave up on dishes that were thirty descriptive words in a row). If you see anything that looks off, let me know.