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Red-carpet celebs will have a few made-in-Chicago treats at their disposal (do they actually eat?) at the Academy Awards on Feb. 28.

In the backstage green room and in the dressing rooms, they'll find Terry's Toffee, and in their swag bags, they'll have cookies from Cookies by Joey of Wheeling and chocolates from Chocolatines in Schaumburg. contact.jpg

This is the seventh year Terry's Toffee has made an appearance at the Oscars, all thanks to owner Terry Opalek's chutzpah (he heard through the grapevine that that's what you should do -- call the Academy and offer your goods to them -- so that's what he did). The luxe toffee from the eight-year-old company, which started out of Opalek's home, also was hand-picked for the mini-bars of the Trump Hotel Chicago when it opened in 2008.

Cookies by Joey owner Joanne Sherman is an Oscar first-timer but no stranger either to carb- and sugar-loving famous clients.

"The Judge Mathis Show -- they order regularly. The Chicago White Sox were eating our cookies all last season. The Kardashians have enjoyed our cookies," says Sherman, who started her Wheeling company in October of 2008. "Dreamworks . . . And Ellen [DeGeneres]. She actually introduced us to Judge Mathis."

Soon enough, Distinctive Assets, the company in charge of the gift baskets at the Oscars and other major Hollywood events, came knocking for samples.

Sherman bakes eight familiar but decadent cookie varieties. For the Oscars, she'll make boxes of eight to 12 cookies, which will go to all the nominees as well as the press.

It goes without saying that the media will gobble up the cookies. Advice to celebs: Screw the detox. Sherman's cookies are super-fresh with no preservatives, so it's best to eat them as soon as possible. Which, for the losers of the night, might not be such a stretch.

Clarification: A spokeswoman for Distinctive Assets says the gift baskets containing Sherman's cookies and other goodies (an understatement, as jewelry, trips abroad and private jet rides are common swag bag items) are delivered the morning after the ceremony to "all nominees who don't win an Oscar. It's their consolation." So there.

Giada De Laurentiis, who charmed fans during the Taste of Chicago, is back in town Friday and Saturday on behalf of Target. Since she'll busy hawking her new line of cookware and food products and giving away free groceries, we got the chit-chat -- about celebrity, children and chocolate -- out of the way today.

De Laurentiis is the mother of a 2-1/2-year-old girl, the author of five cookbooks (the newest, Giada at Home, was out this spring) and a bona fide Food Network star who makes it all look so breezy and easy but, refreshingly, gives credit where it's due (her clothing designer husband's flexible schedule allows her to travel and fulfill her many commitments, she says).

Mostly, she just sounds like the rest of us parents -- concerned with figuring out the work-life balance and making sure her kid isn't eating total crap. Today Show Giada De Laurent.jpg

On not getting a true taste of the Taste of Chicago (she and buddy Mario Batali were the cooking demo headliners this year): "It was overwhelming and I didn't get to walk around as much as I would've liked. When I asked to go out for a walk, it was very brief, and it got a lot of people very stressed out."

On not being a sandwich-at-lunch person: "I don't believe in sandwiches. And I know a lot of parents give their kids sandwiches. For lunch, my daughter usually gets pasta with protein and a vegetable. I put it in a Thermos and it stays warm."

On Americans' tendency to scare themselves out of the kitchen: "We have time to cook. I think it's how much do we want to do it. . . Maybe you cook twice a week. And if you cook twice a week, it'll last you four days. And then maybe after that, you go ahead and open a package of something to eat. People think they have to change their entire way of thinking and eating, but truly, it's baby steps. If you just cook one night a week, that's a big difference."

On why you probably won't see a Giada talk show anytime soon: "I feel like for me, because I have a small child, I have to be very careful as to what I spend my time doing. Because obviously we can't do everything and we can't do everything well. I've been trying to figure out how much can I do and what can I do well. I don't want to wake up one day and say, Oh my gosh, my daughter's 10, where have I been all this time."

On her mini-me daughter: "In her preschool, they have a little kitchen set up. She'll go up to [classmates] and say, 'I'll cook you something. Do you want me to cook you something?' "

On her guilty pleasure: "Frozen chocolate chips."

On Twitter: "I don't do Facebook, but I do tweet. I think I like to because it's immediate. It's really been fun. And it is me doing it."

Follow De Laurentiis on Twitter at @GDeLaurentiis. Or catch a glimpse of her at noon Friday at 435 N. Michigan - she'll be doing a cooking demo, signing books and handing out food.

I missed the first two years of Chicago Gourmet (year 1: maternity leave, year 2: vacation, if you must know), so I can't make comparisons between this year's fest, which ended Sunday in Millenium Park, and past seasons.

And I don't care to make the comparison, as others have, to this being the real Taste of Chicago. (Isn't that an insult to the Eli's Cheesecakes and Robinson No. 1 Ribs of the world who've been around for decades and, year in and year out, cater to the masses in Grant Park?)

Nope. Chicago Gourmet stands on its own, in beautiful Millenium Park, as a wine and food festival (emphasis on wine; more on that later) for the gourmands in all -- make that, some -- of us. At $150 a pop, this is not a fest for everyone, and the crowds that strolled the grounds could best be described as well-heeled.

This year, the festival, conceived and organized by the Illinois Restaurant Association, had an big, bold sponsor next to its name -- Bon Appetit magazine -- which added a certain degree of cachet. And attendance this year, organizers say, was up 25 percent to about 10,000 attendees -- which was very clear to those hoping to actually eat something.

There is an incredible amount to see and drink and attempt to eat at Chicago Gourmet. In addition to straight-out tastings, there were food and wine seminars, cooking demos on different stages and book signings. It can be overwhelming, for the eaters as well as the chefs. There were even more chefs added to this year's lineup, to balance out what in the past had been described as a major wine-to-food imbalance, but even if you were a newbie, like me, things still felt a tad askew.

Standing behind his station in one of the tasting pavilions, Urbanbelly/Belly Shack chef Bill Kim looked out at a line that stretched further than he could see -- a line I'd fell into for the tail end of one tasting session, and immediately re-joined for the next session, a strategy which, it turns out, wasn't so original -- and let out a bemused gasp. "Whew. That's a line," he told me. Kim said he'd limited himself just to cooking under this one tasting pavilion this year. "It's too crazy" to do more, he said.

For those who moved through this particular line, under this particular pavilion, it was a good little moment: five dishes from five restaurants (Kim's Urbanbelly, plus Arun's, Le Colonial, Boka and Japonais), right in a row. Arun Sampanthavivat smiling at you as he hands you a plate of satay and cucumber salad -- not bad. But you could only hold so many little plates, and so many of us in line resorted to wolfing down what we could as we moved through. And then, your moment was over.

A friend described the scene under another pavilion as more chaotic, in that there wasn't one continuous line, but rather several separate ones, and it was difficult to see which chef and restaurant you were getting in line for.

If there's a solution to line management at Chicago Gourmet, I don't know it. Lines are inevitable anytime you get thousands of people in one venue. The attitude to take here: Resign yourself to the fact that you're going to miss out on some things. Chicago Gourmet is about Chicago's vibrant culinary scene happening right now and the people shaping it (with some out-of-town celebs thrown in to impress the easily impressed), and getting a taste of all of that under one Frank Gehry-fied "roof."

Another moment: The line at one of the two dessert tents stalled for a bit, as Eddie Lakin of Edzo's Burger Shop hurried to pour shots of his now-signature Nutella shakes. As I got closer, I saw what the hold-up was: a young woman just chatting up Lakin about his hard-working vintage Multimixer machine. He was laughing and waved a goodbye as he handed her a shake, and then she was off and the line was moving again. We all got our shakes.

Finally: It is very easy to get sloshed at Chicago Gourmet. No lines there.

executive-chef-dale-levitski.jpg You knew it was coming . . .

Bravo will debut yet another "Top Chef" spinoff -- "Top Chef All-Stars" -- at 9 p.m. Dec. 1.

The inaugural series (because surely there will be more to come, along with the requisite cookbooks) brings back 18 TC alums who almost won, including Chicago's Dale Levitski (at left); Richard Blais, runner-up to our own Stephanie Izard, and the second season's weasely runner-up Marcel Vigneron, plus a few who were just too memorable to let fade to black (Spike Mendelsohn and Dale Talde of the fantastically profane fourth season, among them).

Joining the judging panel: Anthony Bourdain.

by guest blogger and New York writer Seanan Forbes


On the last day of New York Fashion Week, Naeem Khan and his wife Ranjana Khan (he designs clothing; she, jewelry) collaborated on a show that was art in motion.

In elegant pop-up lounges, attention went to art of a different kind: wine provided by a Fashion Week sponsor, Sherry-Lehmann Wines and Spirits.

The story begins last century. Phillipe de Rothschild, owner of Château de Mouton Rothschild, was in the habit of asking one renowned artist a year to design a label. (Baron Rothschild's daughter, Philippine, continues the tradition.)

"In 1975, he chose Warhol to design the label for the '75 Mouton," he says. Adams leans forward, his voice sparkling like wine. "When the wine came into Sherry-Lehmann, in the summer of '79, he came into the store ... We had the big bottles - the double mags, the imperials - on display, and he said, 'Hey! Can I sign? Can I sign these?'"

According to CEO Chris Adams, 2010 isn't Sherry-Lehmann's first year near the catwalk. The relationship began a few years ago. "It is a scale at which we don't operate," Adams observes, but "[Fashion Week] is a New York institution, something that's been around for a while ... We think of ourselves as a New York institution. It is a pretty good match."

Sherry-Lehmann's been selling wine for 76 years. New York Fashion Week has strutted its stuff, under one name or another (it started as Press Week) since 1943. Paris was under Nazi occupation. Holding Fashion Week in New York diverted attention from Paris and gave people a welcome, if brief, distraction from the grimness of the war.

Now, there are fashion weeks in New York, London, Milan and Paris - but make no mistake; the French have a foothold in Manhattan's off-stage bars. Adams is especially buzzed about one of this year's bottles. Sherry-Lehmann provided "a slew of wines" (the full list is below), "but this week has been about the Warhol Dom Perignon."

There's a direct connection. "Andy was a client, but he was also part of our marketing strategy." That's not something every liquor store can claim.

The story begins last century. Phillipe de Rothschild, owner of Château de Mouton Rothschild, was in the habit of asking one renowned artist a year to design a label. (Baron Rothschild's daughter, Philippine, continues the tradition.)

"In 1975, he chose Warhol to design the label for the '75 Mouton," he says. Adams leans forward, his voice sparkling like wine. "When the wine came into Sherry-Lehmann, in the summer of '79, he came into the store ... We had the big bottles - the double mags, the imperials - on display, and he said, 'Hey! Can I sign? Can I sign these?'"

Let the invasion of the cupcake trucks begin.

True, Flirty Cupcakes has merrily been doing its cupcakes-on-wheels thing for a few months now.

But with Monday's opening of Sprinkles Cupcakes at 50 E. Walton -- the first Midwest outpost of the Los Angeles-based cupcake chain -- the roads are about to get crowded.

The Sprinklesmobile will be "cruising around the city for the next few weeks giving away free cupcakes," says spokeswoman Jill Katz. Chicagoan-gone-Hollywood Bill Rancic and wife/E! News host Giuliana Rancic will add star power/enviable tans to opening day by working the counter from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and autographing cupcake boxes, Katz says.

Not to be outdone, more, the cupcake boutique at 1 E. Delaware -- just a stone's throw from Sprinkles -- is launching its More Mobile and in its first week, also will be giving away the handheld treats for free.

More owner Patty Rothman hopes to roll out the truck by a week from Friday -- which, not coincidentally, is opening day of the Lollapalooza music fest in Grant Park. The cupcake shop is one of the high-profile vendors in the fest's new and culinarily improved Chow Town food area.

"The best thing I can do is to try and associate myself with being from Chicago," Rothman says.

One sign of a city girl: Rothman's done her homework. In anticipation of a future overhaul of the city's ordinance pertaining to mobile food vendors, and as a nod to the environmentally conscious Mayor Daley, she outfitted her truck with a generator that keeps it refrigerated and air-conditioned even with the motor off. The truck will hold an imposing 1,500 cupcakes in 12 flavors.

As for the competition, Rothman offers this diplomatic take: "At the end of the day, there's enough room for everyone... Truly, I'm always fascinated by how excited people get over cupcakes."

Mm, hmm -- whoops, I mean, mmm.

Follow all three trucks on their respective Twitter/Facebook pages.

The food world over knows Rick Bayless is cooking at the White House tomorrow, and making his 28-ingredient mole, and that he has been tweeting from D.C. (though something tells us he's finally been muzzled, as our White House correspondent Lynn Sweet calls it; by our calculations, Bayless averages one tweet every 5.2 minutes, and his last one was around 7-ish this morning). Obama Next State Dinner.jpg

We know, via his Twitter feed, that he was a little nervous, that the White House kitchen is "rather small" and that he was worried about the ingredients, all of which had to be ordered by the White House.

An AP story that just moved on what is shaping up to be the biggest non-story food story involving a famous chef tells us more of the same, plus this fascinating tidbit: Bayless at first wasn't allowed to bring his own knives -- "I said that's like asking a famous runner to run in someone else's tennis shoes," Bayless told the AP -- but the White House finally, surprisingly, relented.

For this state dinner for Mexican president Felipe Calderon, Bayless will be cooking for 200 people. Which should a breeze, considering his past exploits.

While we're on the subject of "Top Chef," past and present, masters and ... non-masters:

Tune in to "At Martha's Table," Martha Stewart's radio show on Sirius, at 3 p.m. May 5. Rick Bayless is dropping by to make Mexican paella, a guacamole bar with help-yourself toppings and margaritas. We'd love to watch them making the latter -- maybe Bayless will pull a Mindy Segal and get Martha on the path to loopy with his margaritas.

And on May 6 and 7, the rolling "Top Chef: The Tour" stops in Chicago. Head over to 505 N. Michigan, outside the Intercontinental Hotel, to meet a few of the sixth-season cheftestants, taste some food, try your hand at a Top Chef-themed putting green and other stuff.

While breast milk cheese is still on everyone's mind, the inimitable Billy Dec will have you know he tasted the stuff. This morning. On the set of Today with Hoda and Kathie Lee. Not exactly knowingly.

Dec and Rodelio Aglibot, chef at Dec's Sunda restaurant in River North, were at the NBC studios in New York taping a cooking segment. Afterwards, "me and Rod were wandering into the Kathie Lee and Hoda set," Dec wrote on his blog earlier today, "and I heard 'Is someone hungry' so knowing me I raise my hand."

Hoda hands Dec what appears to be a schmear of white cheese on crostini. Only after he's taken a bit is he told it's mother's milk cheese.

Ever the sportsman, Dec later posted this on Twitter: "The cheese was sweaty, & ChefRod burped me after."

Aglibot, for his part, cooked corn fritters and creamy rock shrimp for the show.

Here's the clip.

In April, Bravo will be back with another installment of "Top Chef Masters," and Chicago has three more chances to take it home again (Rick Bayless was crowned the first Top Chef Master last year, remember?): Graham Elliot Bowles, Tony Mantuano (below) and Rick Tramonto.

4-29 SALL Tony Mantuano 1.jpg

This is familiar territory for Bowles, who competed and charmed us in the debut series (remember the vending machine food challenge?). "The chance to go back into the lion's den and cook alongside chefs that I have long looked up to, and at the same time be competing for the American Heart Association, was a no-brainer," says Bowles, who added it wasn't any easier this time around.

Viewers also will recognize Wylie Dufresne, Mark Peel, Ludo Lefebvre and Rick Moonen from the first season.

Mantuano didn't watch any of the first season ("It's like our whole life. When you live that all day, you just want to go home and watch 'The Simpsons,' " he admits) but says the pull of the competition was just too strong.

"The list of chefs, it's just awesome to be included in that. And to be able to represent Chicago and Spiaggia. You're not competing against slouches," he says.

Mantuano prepared by watching back episodes of the first season, though he didn't comiserate with Bayless on how physically challenging the whole thing was -- Bayless dropped a good 10 pounds during filming -- until after shooting had wrapped.

With a heavy-hitting field that includes New York's Marcus Samuelsson (also of Chicago's C-House in the Affinia Hotel), L.A.'s Govind Armstrong and Susan Feniger, Toronto's Susur Lee, this should be good.

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.



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