Chicago Gourmet 2011: A Serious Celebration of Chicago's Food Scene

Another fall weekend, another celebration of high-end gluttony in Millennium Park in downtown Chicago. For the fourth consecutive year, the Illinois Restaurant Association, the lobbying arm of the state's restaurant industry, held the spectacular fundraiser that is Chicago Gourmet, which this year consisted of a gathering of more than 120 of the Chicago area's best restaurants and a much larger number of wine and spirit companies.


Photographs by Andrew Stamm, Lori Torres, Booker Whitt and Daniel Zemans unless otherwise noted

The event is spread over two days, each of which is divided into two three-hour sessions. Most of the approximately 8,000 attendees spent $150 to go one day, but some of the more ambitious eaters dropped $250 for a 2-day pass.

Two years ago, the event was a spectacular success. Last year, the food was amazing but 25% more tickets were sold and there were some logistical problems resulting in very long lines.


Photograph from Chicago Gourmet's Facebook page

This year, attendance was about the same, but thanks to a redesign, things went a lot more smoothly despite some early rain each day and the resulting muddy ground. Each session's group of about 30 restaurants were divided among nine tents, and the waits ranged from non-existent to not more than 20 minutes. People who wanted beer had some of the longest lines of the day while people looking to sample wine or hard alcohol had no wait at all.


I spent two full days at the event and managed to try offerings from well over 100 restaurants. There were a few misses sprinkled about but overall the chefs displayed an impressive array of creativity and a commitment to putting out some delicious food despite the limitations of being nowhere near their kitchens.

Most of the food was on the richer side and it leaned heavily towards contemporary American fare, but that's a pretty broad category. The variety and quality of restaurants involved might be the most impressive food festival in the country, particularly when taking into account how many portions are made. Are there any others out there that compare?


Before you answer, check out the slideshow with 21 of my favorite bites ยป