Chicago was on top of the food world Tuesday.
First, we got the early news that Michelin is releasing its first Chicago guide in November (immediately met by a flurry of tweets and Facebook posts over who's getting stars and will Michelin get it right and does Michelin matter here and so forth.)
That was followed up by a press conference at the Chicago Cultural Center to kick off the third annual Chicago Gourmet, sponsored this year by Bon Appetit magazine.
The event was mostly a chance for about 50 of Chicago's chefs to mug for cameras, champagne flutes in hand, and for Mayor Daley and event officials to promise a bigger, better food festival. But there was no doubt word about the Michelin guide -- which had been rumored for a few years now -- gave them a unexpected buzz.
And now the fun begins. The discourse already has begun on as to whether Alinea -- recently named the seventh best restaurant in the world -- will get three stars. It's no secret, Alinea's Grant Achatz says, that he, L20 and Charlie Trotter's all are gunning for stars because, well, it matters.
"I firmly believe that there's four three-star restaurants in Chicago," Achatz said. "I don't think they're gonna give us four. But I'm not gonna sit here and bite my fingernails off. I think what we do is three-star work."
Achatz also commended Michelin inspectors for pulling off the impossible, at least in his restaurant -- going undetected. (Inspectors have been visiting restaurants and hotels in Chicago for the past two years.)
"I've gotta tell you, I have an uncanny pulse on food critics and food writers, and I have no idea when they were in our restaurant. No clue," he said. "I've talked about it with everybody from Curtis [Duffy] at Avenues to Thomas [Keller]... I don't know how they pull it off."
Chicago foodies will be interested to know that the 10-person U.S. Michelin team includes some Chicago natives, and some who have worked or trained here, according to Jean-Luc Naret, director of the Michelin Guide.
Also of note: There won't be another Los Angeles or Las Vegas guide in the forseeable future, Naret said. Both guides were published in 2008, much to the disappointment of food lovers here, who thought Chicago deserved the spotlight then.
And for those of you following Michelin on Twitter, hoping to unearth some crack in the foundation that will lead to the identity of these super-secret inspectors, well, you're not really following them. "We're not doing it directly from restaurants and not instantly after we left. We create a vacuum of a day or two," Naret said.
The Michelin folks are so mysterious, they sent out an e-mail just this morning to chefs about a reception tonight with Naret and Mayor Daley, where no doubt the buzz will continue.