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ETW at Chicago Gourmet 2016 Recap

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One of the annual highlights of the Chicago food season is Chicago Gourmet! ETW is lucky to have gone for the last 3 years, and we always look forward to this veritable Disneyland of food. You pay a flat fee to enter and then the food and booze are free-flowing throughout the day in the enclosed event space in the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. The theme of this year’s Chicago Gourmet was “Food is Art,” and there were sculptures throughout, including a giant waffle, which seemed to be a fan favorite (by sculptor Christopher Newman).

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Otherwise, the setup in 2016 was similar to that of years past: the wine distributors are in two rows the middle flanked by themed tasting booths, restaurants, and other exhibitors on the perimeter of the park. Each of the themed booths had two sessions, with 3 or 4 different restaurants appearing in each 2-hour block. One of the tips we learned from last year’s Chicago Gourmet was that you can’t possibly hit everything – or even most things- especially when it comes to the booze! We focused on going for international foods this year, as in years past, as well as seafood, which always seems to be a safe bet.

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The main place for international flair at this year’s Chicago Gourmet was the Chicago sister cities tent, featuring Chicago restaurants with cuisine from one of Chicago’s 28 sister cities. First up (above) was Kamehachi (representing Osaka) with tuna tataki tartare on a crispy sticky rice cake; Avli Estiatorio (Athens) with pork tenderloin over apple skordalia with a walnut dressing; an Indian/Latin spiced rib from Vermilion (Delhi); and an unexpectedly sweet egg bao from Imperial Lamian (Shenyang, China). In the second round (below) we were treated to a Nori and shrimp ebi poke from Arami (Osaka); charbroiled octopus on pesto from Filini (Milan); corned beef from the Canadian-themed Northern Lights Poutine (Toronto); and a refreshing mango and shrimp salad from Cochon Volant (Paris).

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One of the standalone booths with an international flavor was the Peruvian favorite Tanta, which offered burrata quinoa caprese-style salad and dulce de leche-filled alfajores. One of the other standout bites came from the American Express booth: butter and prosciutto toast topped with crispy radish from rising star Monteverde, with chef Sarah Grueneberg herself at the helm (below). We also sampled some of the Korean condiment Gochujang, and we have a hunch it will be the next Sriracha sauce. Some “big name” brands were there, too, including the Shop House Southeast Asian concept from Chipotle, Barilla, and Thermador kitchen appliances – which had a rotating dessert menu (including a giant platter of Stan’s Donuts) which turned over every hour or so!

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One of the most consistent (and crowded booths) was the seafood tent, so we made a beeline for there after each turnover. Some of our favorite dishes from the first round were found at the seafood station, Hugo’s Frog Bar’s pineapple and seafood gazpacho and Ēma’s elegant tuna crudo.  In the second round we had our favorite dish of the entire event, a tiny lobster roll from Smack Shack that was absolutely full of prime lobster, in a tasty dressing with fresh tarragon, on a toasted bun (below). We could have gone back for two or three more.

cglobster Creativity was also key at some of the booths. We loved Cafe des Architectes’ “burger” macarons – which were styled to look like sliders, complete with “bread” shells, and a chocolate filling. On the unique display front, Promontory had a little brick sterno grill with octopus and veggie kebabs in the Mariano’s tent. This location provided some of our other favorite bites, Dusek’s corn cream soup with chili oil; Nellcôte’s fig and blue cheese; and broccoli with nigella seeds from Ada St. On the BBQ front, there were assorted BBQ bites at the Big Green Egg tent, or at the more secluded second tent, which used to house the Sister Cities. One of the solid bites from this area was the ever-reliable brisket from Smoque.

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Overall, there were a lot of tasty desserts at Chicago Gourmet, maybe more than in previous years. Mariano’s had an entire gelato booth where you could get a scoop of their classics, like chocolate, stracciatella, pistachio, and even the more unusual Speculoos. There was also an Gelato World Tour voting tent (above) where competitors (including Gelato D’Oro, Volare, BomboBar and Coda di Volpe) vied for the top spot with their more unusual gelato flavors. Our favorites were the chocolate cardamom, “Breakfast at Nonna’s House” (red currant, fior di latte and granola) and pink peppercorn. The Macau tourism tent also has an interesting dessert offering from Fat Rice: a sweet/savory, nori rice krispie with pork floss, sesame seeds and caramel fish sauce.

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The Mexico tent was unusual in that it offered bites from both Mexican restaurants in Chicago, and some that are actually located in Mexico. The first round had a savory brisket taco from El Solazo; creatively-presented taquito shrimp and black bean cones from Lula Bistro in Mexico; and splashy yellow and green tequila macarons from La Postreria in Guadalajara. Round two (below) were chicken taco with crema and and chapulines (grasshoppers) from Mezcalina, white chocolate “Angel” mole from New Rebozo and a beef, mango and cotija tostada from Bar Takito.

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We are not wine experts, so frankly we feel that we are always a little behind when it comes to the wine potion of the fest. We hit up the Campari booth for a refreshing Aperol Spritz, and tried a number of wines from around the world. There were also a few unique nonalcoholic drinks including a turmeric chai from Rishi tea and the new-to-us Lemoncocco drink, based on lemon and coconut spritzers found at the Lemoncocco kiosk in Rome. We also got the requisite Stella Artois beer glasses, and attempted to savor some Glenmorangie and Glenlivet. Another drink hit was Punch House’s berry punch with basil, located in one of the main tents.

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This year’s Chicago Gourmet was a real success, and left us satiated with flavors from near and far. As always, we capped off our day with one final mini-cappuccino from Illy. Chicago Gourmet also signals the unofficial end of the summer – and we think we sent it off in style. We look forward to seeing you at Chicago Gourmet next year!

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It’s Pawpaw Season!

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Paw paws by WFIU Public Radio

It’s Pawpaw Season! Now, if you’ve never heard of pawpaws, you’re not alone. This forgotten fruit used to be grown throughout the American Midwest and South (Thomas Jefferson even grew them at Monticello), but have all but vanished from the public imagination. The flavor of the paw paw is tropical – and is variously described as a mix between a mango and a banana – and the texture is custard-y, like our Brazilian favorite, the sugar apple. However, the paw paw is hard to store and ship unless frozen, making it ill suited to large-scale distribution. Andrew Moore recently wrote a book on the mysterious fruit, “Pawpaw: In Search of America’s Forgotten Fruit.” Turns out Ohio is right in the heart of Pawpaw country, but they are sadly nowhere to be found in the Cleveland area. However, if you are going to be near Athens, Ohio next weekend – it is the annual Ohio Pawpaw Festival! We hope to make a pilgrimage there in future years. In the meantime, you can try foraging for your own pawpaws!

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Eating the World at Chicago Gourmet

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Where else but Chicago Gourmet can you attend a BBQ demo while sipping on Chilean wine and munching tiny lobster rolls? This always-anticipated food and wine event, spanning a weekend in September, is a veritable culinary wonderland. This is my third year attending, and despite the crowds, I still think it is one of my favorite, (and most gluttonous) annual experiences.ChicagoGourmetAfter

Chicago Gourmet takes place inside the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park in downtown Chicago. The main stage hosts talks and demos by big-name chefs, while the perimeter is ringed with tasting tents where 3 or 4 Chicago-area chefs serve small bites or drinks from their restaurants. Smaller tents scattered around the pavilion host other food and beverage exhibitors, chef demos and beer and wine tastings. Another wildly popular part of the festival (the MOST popular part of the festival?) are the two rows of wine and spirits exhibitors in the center of the great lawn (below).

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Report from the 4th Annual Pastoral Artisan Producer Fest

Wherein the Fearless and Intrepid Lindsay and Matt Consume Much Free Meats and Cheeses Before Purchasing Even More.

The Pastoral Artisan Producer Fest, an annual April tradition held in the Chicago French Market, serves up a crowd-pleasing recipe for disaster: free samples of meat, cheese, and alcohol to any hungry Chicagoan who wanders in the door. With nearly one-hundred locally-sourced, artisanal, and talented vendors, the Fest may be one of the city’s best opportunities to eat well at zero cost. When we arrived at 11am, no wonder the place was already packed to the gills.

Crowded.

Crowded. But worth it.

One can easily get overwhelmed in the crowds, and the many patrons cutting in line to get samples. Here’s the thing, though: there is enough for everybody. Really. As such we tried, as best we could, to take our time: wait in lines, sample everything we could, talk closely with the vendors and makers about their products, snap photos when we had the chance, and save our favorite selections for purchase at the Pastoral counter at the back of the market. So, we meandered amongst the fifty tables, each showcasing two of the nearly one hundred producers of fine meats, cheeses, wines, spirits, and other accompaniments from around the country. With this slow-going method, we sampled the offerings at about half the tables (snaking through the lines at all of them would have taken all day) and took special attention to spend time at the section devoted entirely to Wisconsin cheese makers.

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Prosciutto, salame, mortadella, etc. from Smoking Goose Meatery.

Matt quickly made a bee-line for the charcuterie purveyors. Deservedly, much praise has been heaped upon West Loop Salumi right here in Chicago, and we did love their selections. At the end of the day, though, we could not escape the draw of the Stagberry Salame (pictured at center in the above photo) made by Smoking Goose Meatery in Indianapolis. Stagberry features ground elk – a meat neither of us had tried before – studded with blueberries and soaked in honey wine. A brilliant balance of bold flavors, this hiking-trip in a sausage was worth every penny of its $36.99/lb price. At the end of the day we purchased half a stick for a very reasonable eight dollars.

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Little Napoleon (left) and Manchester (right) from Zingerman’s Creamery.

Cheese was everywhere at the fest, with over one third of the vendors dedicated specifically to cheese. Wisconsin, as we mentioned before, boasted its own section – including the amazing offering of a free map of Wisconsin cheesemakers, which now sits in our glove compartment in case of emergencies. We made a point, however, to venture outside the Dairy State this day: Zingerman’s Creamery in Ann Arbor, Michigan (above) served up samples of its aged, soft Manchester and Little Napoleon cheeses. We were also big fans of their burrata, a creamy mozzarella mixture, and went back for seconds. Our were won, however, by the Bijou produced by Vermont Creamery: a simple, French-inspirted, aged goat’s milk cheese that was perfect for spreading and reminded us of similar table offerings we often encountered in Portugal. At $10.99 for two, we took one and ate it for lunch (in addition to all the other samples we had).

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Helpful assistance with choosing at Pear Tree Preserves.

Finally, while meat and cheese ruled the day, we can’t overlook the other offerings. Patrons had a seemingly endless choice of wine and spirits, dessert items, as well as other accompaniments. A great match for many of the cheese would have been one of the local, organic fruit spreads orpreserves from Pear Tree Preserves, based right here in Chicago. We had a cherry preserve that was delectable, great for pairing, eating alone, or thickening into a pie filling. You can check out their current flavors list.

While we were forced to make purchases – and we hope others did as well, as it seems sinful to wade through all these free samples of skilled labor and not buy anything – honestly, we didn’t dislike a single thing we tried. As such, don’t consider our list exhaustive or best-of-the-best by any means. Take a look at the Fest’s vendor list, and support these local makers even if you did not have a chance to attend!

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To do this weekend: Nosh, a weekly food festival in Wicker Park

Chicago is a city known for its festivals, and nearly every weekend throughout the summer you can expect to see multiple events dedicated to food, booze, music or any combination of the three. Enter Nosh, one of the city’s newest food festivals. Any weekend fair with a food theme is sure to attract us, and unlike most other festivals in Chicago, there is no entrance fee to visit Nosh.

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The goal of Nosh is to showcase a rotating selection of Chicago food producers, restaurants and food trucks (check out all vendors here). Much like Taste of Chicago, each booth sells several signature items, at varying price points, and many of the dishes are available for less than $5. The Nosh fair is located in the parking lot of Pritzker elementary school, and is going on every Saturday 11-6 until October.

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On the day we visited, there was a wide selection of different cuisines represented, from Mexican (Cherubs) to Vegan Ice Cream (Robin’s) to Indonesian (The Rice Table). Two food trucks were also present on our visit: The Eastman Egg Company and Da Lobsta. Since it is located on school property, there is no alcohol, but you could buy a selection of Filbert’s soda, Horchata and Lemonade. There was even live music when we visited. Nosh is definitely a fun way to spend a nice Saturday, and is also very family friendly. Go visit before Summer is through!

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New Mexico’s Hatch Chile Festival

Hatch, NM, Chile Capitol of the World

A Rainbow of Hatch Chiles in Hatch, New Mexico – by Steev Hise

If you are lucky enough to be in New Mexico this weekend, one of the US’s great food events, the Hatch Chile Festival, is occurring. The Hatch Chile Festival is dedicated to all things related to the iconic green pepper of New Mexico. Hatch, New Mexico has even earned the honorific of being the “Chile Pepper Capitol of the World.” The name “Hatch” chile can actually refer to a variety of closely-related species, many first bred by new Mexico State University (a close analog is the less-spicy Anaheim pepper). Hatch chiles are famously green, and are harvested in late summer (just about now) before fully ripening. The chiles are then fire roasted, often on a large scale (as seen below). If they are left on the vine to fully ripen later into the fall, they indeed turn red! 

Hatch Chile Roasting in Santa Fe

Hatch Chile Roasting in Santa Fe – by Krissa Corbett Cavouras

Hatch chile verde is emblematic in new Mexico and is a classic choice that has as many recipes as there are cooks (which you can even make without Hatch chiles). But, like any good pepper, Hatch Chile can be used in a huge number of dishes, and as Hatch chile harvest season rolls around, creative recipes tend to pop up:

Though, mostly confined to the Southwest – there are still a few ways to get a Hatch chile fix – you can order them online at various stores. If anyone has any hints on where to get Hatch Chiles in Chicago, clue us in!

Hatch Chiles in Seattle

Hatch Chiles shipped to Seattle – by Paul Gibson

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