Another year, another stellar Chicago Gourmet food fest: rocking the fork Chicago-style!

How is it possible for 2018 to have flown by so fast? For starters, the past 12 months have been very busy for our family. Interviewing Chef Rick Bayless has been one of this year’s highlights. Of course, welcoming baby Alex has been the best highlight of all 🙂 Here’s hoping for a fab new year, filled with good health and plenty of great food! Before 2018 departs, however, it’s time to review one of the biggest food fests of the year: Bon Appétit presents Chicago Gourmet. This review is long overdue, but then again, so are all of my blog posts as of late. Blame it on baby Alex, I say 😉

In 2018, Chicago Gourmet organizers came up with the special theme Rock the Fork to highlight the organic connection between the Windy City and food and music, respectively. Nearly 250 restaurants and chefs served their dishes at various pavilions spread across Millennium Park, and members of the public experienced the sounds of various musical genres (ranging from blues and classical to international, pop, rock and more) while tasting their way through Chicago Gourmet’s myriad of flavors and cuisines.

This was the second time I attended Chicago Gourmet (you can read my review of the 2017 edition here), and my experience was very different from last year’s. First of all, the weather: after enduring sweltering heat and humidity last fall, this time the weather was cool and cloudy, and it even rained at some point. This was not particularly conducive to taking good pictures, but definitely better for purposes of moving from pavilion to pavilion and standing in line.

Speaking of which, the lines were definitely longer this time around, and it took me around 20 minutes to get the food at Mexico’s Pavilion or the Cadillac Doughnut Bar, to name a couple.

As expected, however, standing in line was worth the wait 😉 I started off my 2018 Chicago Gourmet experience with vegetarian samosas filled with potatoes & peas, topped with okra chips and raita, and served with garbanzo beans/chickpeas. A delicious vegetarian dish served by Executive Chef Trinidad Paez of Gaylord Fine Indian Cuisine:

I stopped briefly at the Japan Information Center for salmon with lima beans…

… and then took the first mini-break to eat on the lawn. The perfect light start to the day!

Mariano’s Tasting Pavilion was next on my list.

The dish I enjoyed the most at this pavilion were the mini pork gyros served by Chef Jimmy Bannos Jr. of Piggie Smalls Gyro Shop. I’ve had my share of dry pork dishes in the past, but thankfully the meat in this gyro was anything but dry. Brimming with spices, the pork could be described as succulent and addictively delicious. The pita was fantastic too!

With renewed energy and an inspired mind I decided to hit Mexico’s Tasting Pavilion (one of my favorite Chicago Gourmet sections), which this year hosted several Guadalajara-based chefs.

Everything I tried at this pavilion was outstanding: from the tostada with smoked crab, black bean dip, avocado mousse, pickled garlic, fish roe and a paste made from the ashes of 32 different kinds of peppers, served by Anita Li’s Chef Tomas Zertuche Diaz…

… to the exquisite beef tartare with chili and crema prepared by world-renowned Chef Darren Walsh…

… and to the passion fruit tart – light, buttery, sweet yet utterly packed with fresh, pungent fruit flavor – served by La Postreria’s pastry chef Fernanda Covarrubias, each dish was a natural progression of the preceding one, while also being enchanting in its own right. This was one amazing taste experience for sure!

Like I did last year, at this point I decided to take a break from tastings, and went to the cooking demo theater to attend a very upbeat demonstration by Chef Stephanie Izard, with Bon Appétit’s Editor in Chief Adam Rapoport as emcee. Staying true to this year’s Rock the Fork theme, Chef Izard finished off her demo with a singing performance, with Chef Graham Elliot, several members of her staff, and a full choir joining in as well. What a feel-good moment that was!

Refreshed and energized, I decided to face the tasting pavilions once again and to stand in one of the longest lines that afternoon, at the Cadillac Doughnut Bar. Featuring a doughnut wall with a variety of different flavors to choose from, this pavilion also offered visitors the chance to design their very own doughnuts, with expert on-site help from Do-Rite Donuts bakers:

I’m not normally a fan of overly colorful donuts, but this time I needed some cheer-me-up sweetness after the afternoon rain, so I went for the most colorful sprinkles I could find!

After a quick stop at the Thai Tasting Pavilion…

… I ran into the Gaylord Fine Indian Cuisine chefs once again, just in time to try their Chana Masala. I’m a big garbanzo bean/chickpea fan – I would eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner if I could, lol – and as such I was very satisfied with this Chana Masala, which packed a punch flavor-wise. With its sophisticated spiciness and refined blend of textures, the dish reminded me of the delicious food I used to eat while living in the UK. Some great memories came to life in one split second while savoring this food:

With the day not over yet, I managed to squeeze in some Porter Road pork steak sliders (from the media tent), some butter cake from Mastro’s Restaurants (I had tried this cake last year and just had to have it again – it was that good!)…

… as well as some last-minute brisket sliders from Old Crow Smokehouse and jalapeño & cheese cornbread from House of Blues:

I had a great time at Chicago Gourmet and can’t wait to see what the 2019 edition will bring – who will cook at Mexico’s Tasting Pavilion, which dishes will enchant me, whose demo will be the most spectacular. This food fest truly has it all: an array of illustrious chefs/participants, a loyal and discerning public, a prime location in a fantastic city. I will return to Chicago Gourmet next year, hungry for more knowledge, innovation, and inspiring flavors. Good bye, Chicago Gourmet – and see you soon 🙂

*Disclaimer: While I received a complimentary ticket to facilitate this review, all opinions expressed here are my own.


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