During the last weekend in September, Chicago’s Millennium Park becomes a sea of white tents, each offering dishes or drinks prepped by the city’s top restaurant chefs and mixologists. It’s the two-day eating orgy (with a bunch of demos and workshops thrown in) known as Chicago Gourmet, presented by Bon Appetit magazine. The fest, now in its eighth year, is aimed squarely at the consumer market, but many restaurateurs, chefs, sommeliers and other industry folks attend—both as vendors and tasters. They were looking for trends and so was I, so I took one for the team and attended both days so I didn’t miss out on a single bite or sip.
These are my picks.
1. Wild boar.
Pork belly is so 2014. This year, it was all about wild boar, slowly braised in a ragu over polenta, as a filling for handmade ravioli and on crostini with pickled vegetables.
Maybe it’s because they’re easy to eat in one bite, but sea scallops were offered up on many a plate, both raw (in ceviche) and sauteed.
I tasted a couple of spins on the pierogi, prepared in ways that totally belied their traditional roots. The pierogi as carrier of global fillings may soon replace the Asian dumpling.
4. Winter squash.
Purees of butternut squash and other hard-shelled varieties were used as a bed for the aforementioned scallops and wild boar in two preparations and as a mix-in for quinoa in another. Dollops of pureed squash also served as a garnish. The orange puree was quite popular—maybe as a way to welcome the first week of fall.
There was more red than white being poured at the wine stations, but on the white side, Rieslings were getting a big push. The grape has been under the radar and now that wineries are producing Rieslings that are drier and more food-friendly, they seem to be gaining ground.
6. Retailers as foodies.
Two large supermarket players in Chicago—Mariano’s and Target—positioned themselves as “gourmets” at Chicago Gourmet. Mariano’s was touting its Tastemakers program, in which it partners with well-known chefs to create dishes with the retailer’s ingredients. And Target was promoting its Made to Matter collection, handpicked products that are higher in quality and more sustainable.