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Planning on tackling the sprawling Chicago Gourmet food and wine festival this weekend with handout map in hand? How quaint!

The fourth annual fest, which runs Saturday and Sunday in Millenium Park, is offering another option for those who don't fancy themselves quite so old school: a free iPhone and iPad app.

The app makes available the full schedule of seminars and book signings and which chefs are cooking in which pavilions, with accompanying maps. Users can track the fest's live Twitter and Facebook feeds. Niftiest (or most stalkerish, depending on how you see it) of all, the app includes a Friend Finder so you can easily locate other app-using 'friends' in the crowd.

Download the app here.

Seems like just yesterday (or maybe it was last week) it was a blustery, springlike 50 degrees. Now it's 89 and humid, just about right considering the Taste of Chicago is less than three weeks away.

From 11 to 2 p.m. Tuesday in Daley Plaza, the city will offer a Taste preview, with nine restaurants serving street fest-friendly fare. They include new-to-the-Taste vendors Lao Sze Chuan, Beggars Pizza, Chicago Sweet Connection Bakery and Texas de Brazil.

Lao Sze Chuan's dry chili chicken might be one of the best bets to be had. There's also Adobo Grill's guac, pork tacos and chicken tamales; and Manny's three-course offering -- corned beef sandwich, mac 'n' cheese and apple pie - that isn't quite what the USDA had in mind with its new MyPlate icon for healthy eating. Oh well.

The other vendors include: Connie's Pizza, Polo Cafe and Robinson's No. 1 Ribs.

Tomorrow's samples are cash only and will range from $3 to $6.

7-1_hale_treysongz_5585.jpg There will be no shortage of pizza at the Taste. | photo by Keith Hale

When it comes to the food -- because it's about the food, dammit -- Taste of Chicago, now under the auspices of the Chicago Park District, won't seem much different this year than in years past. There will be Eli's cheesecake and Harry Caray's fried dough and Robinson's Ribs and more than enough pizza and Americanized Thai and Chinese food to go around.

But there are 12 new vendors this year. Among them: Chinatown favorite Lao Sze Chuan, which will offer dry chili chicken, salt and pepper pork ribs, crispy shrimp in lemon sauce, vegetable fried rice and spring rolls, and the Parrot Cage inside the South Shore Cultural Center, run by Washburne culinary students, which will offer turkey meatloaf, gumbo, seafood salad and red velvet cupcakes.

Another newbie, the Fudge Pot, 1532 N. Wells, looks to be filling the void left by Aunt Diana's Old Fashioned Fudge -- the Riverside shop and other suburban vendors were kicked to the curb last year because of the city's policy that all vendors be located in Chicago -- by offering chocolate-dipped frozen bananas and strawberries.

The other new vendors are:

Alhambra Palace, 1240 W. Randolph, serving falafel and other Middle Eastern fare; Banana Leaf, 1948 E. 79th, with jerk wings and lamb chops and blackened tilapia; Beggars Pizza, 310 S. Clinton; Chicago Sweet Connection Bakery, 5569 N. Northwest, with something called Atomic Cake, among other sweets; Loving Hut, 5812 N. Broadway, offering the even more inriguingly named Home Run Ball, described as a "fried vegetable textured protein with a sweet and spicy sauce"; Ryba's Fudge Shops, 600 E. Gand, offering fudge, caramel apples and more chocolate-covered strawberries; Smoke Daddy, 1804 W. Division, with pulled pork and chicken; Starfuit Café, 2142 N. Halsted, with frozen kefir, and Texas de Brazil, 51 E. Ohio, serving lots of meat.

Six restaurants dropped out: Doreen's Pizzeria, Las Tablas, Shokolad Pastry and Café, Summer Noodle and Rice, Tamarind and the Grill on the Alley.

The Taste runs from June 24 to July 3. Food tickets are 12 for $8. As always, admission is free.

Baconfest is going big.

The second annual all-bacon tasting extravaganza will be held in April at the UIC Forum, which can (and will, organizers say) accommodate more than twice the number of attendees as the inaugural fest -- an estimated 2,000 pork-eating fans.

Andre Pluess, one of the fest's chief architects, also expects to double the number of chefs and vendors. This year's Baconfest was held at the Stan Mansion, 2408 N. Kedzie. A preview dinner, held last fall, drew about 100 people.

There is method to all this porcine madness. As with the first fest, a portion of the proceeds will go towards the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

Tickets go on sale early next year - that's right, next year, because it's never too early to plan your spring eating calendar. Go to for updates on tickets, participating chefs, preview dinners and more.

What, if any, impact will the departure of Bon Appetit editor-in-chief Barbara Fairchild mean for Chicago Gourmet, which this year benefited from the magazine's sponsorship and presence?

Not much, Fairchild hopes.

"Quite frankly, I'd love to attend next year just a private person because I do love the city so much and I have relationships with a lot of chefs there," Fairchild said today, back in her office in Los Angeles. Early last week, Fairchild announced she was leaving the magazine after 32 years; parent company Conde Nast is moving the magazine's operations to New York.

Reflecting on the jam-packed weekend, Fairchild was genuinely pleased by what she saw as a successful event, right up there with the magazine's Vegas Uncork'd event, albeit distinct in personality. "I loved the atmosphere. . . This one had a wonderful air of almost being in a country fair but in an urban setting," she said. Now, now, don't take those as fighting words. "It's well spread out," she continued. "Even though there were 13,000 people there, I never got the sense it was crowded. Everybody kept up the pace."

She admits, however, that those long lines were hard to miss.

"Some of the food lines were really long, but that's what happens when you get Rick Bayless and some of these other chefs cooking," she said.

While the discussion over how to remedy those nagging lines unfolds, Fairchild simply offered this: "Maybe instead of reducing the number of people, what you need is more food."

Fairchild will be back in our big city/small town in November to promote her Bon Appetit Desserts cookbook.

7-13-10 podgo daley 33x.jpg p.s. Let's have more of this next year, shall we?! (Minus, uh, Mayor Daley. And Barbara Fairchild as Bon Appetit editor).

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.

Start detoxing now for the weekend of Sept. 24. It's going to be three day of face-stuffing, and it should be good.

First up: The Chicago Food Film Festival, a two-day affair, gets under way that Friday at the MCA Warehouse, 1747 W. Hubbard. Six short food-related films will be paired with related fare -- oysters, ice cream, cheese curds and more. The fest's second day pairs meaty, boozy films with burgers from Michael Kornick and his DMK Burger Bar.

Oh, and speaking of burgers: Also on Sept. 24, there is the Hamburger Hop, a 15-chef burger contest on the rooftop of the Harris Theatre, to kick off the third annual Chicago Gourmet food and wine festival in Millenium Park.

Fest organizers just released the full, jaw-dropping schedule for Saturday and Sunday, and it's thick with chefs on everyone's hot list, plus some celeb out-of-towners, including Jacques Torres, Cat Cora, Marcus Samuelsson and Fabio Viviani.

There are deals to be had when buying tickets for either the Chicago Food Film Fest or Chicago Gourmet.

For the film fest, you can get $5 off tickets ($10 off VIP passes) to the film fest when you go to and use the code "WOOLWICH" at checkout. Tickets are $20 in advance and $30 at the door.

For Chicago Gourmet, you can score free entry --a $150 value -- by, um, eating more. Specifically, by eating at five of the participating restaurants in the Dine Around program, then bringing those five receipts with you to Millenium Park.

Lolla food preview

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The lobster corn dog (at right) is just the beginning. lobstercorndog.jpg

Graham Elliot Bowles on Monday offered a sneak peek -- albeit an air-conditioned, highly edited, paired-with-cocktails peek -- of what to expect foodwise at Lollapalooza in August and, well, the kids will be eating well.

Passed platters at Bowles' River North restaurant held sopes cradled with pork belly and black beans from Big Star (below); sliders with bacon, cheddar and squiggly-soft quail eggs on fat pretzel rolls from Kuma's Corner; layered pork and pickled veggie bao from Sunda; plump shrimp with a tomato and peach relish from the Southern and the now-famous corndogs and truffled popcorn from Bowles. A cantilevered tabletop contraption, meanwhile, held several varieties of cupcakes from the Gold Coast cupcake boutique more.

And while no one was accusing Bowles (or the cooks from the aforementioned restaurants who also were present) of skimping, he promised heartier portions at the actual music fest, which runs Aug. 6 through 8 in Grant Park.

Thirty restaurants now are in the lineup at Lolla's so-called Chow Town, all of which "are focused on the indie spirit," said Bowles, who last year made such a splash cooking backstage for Lolla founder Perry Farrell, he was tapped to be culinary director this year. (Farrell also was on hand Monday, looking even tinier in person than in print.)

This has been the summer of Bowles. There was the mini-media blitz this past week, with appearances on ABC's Nightline and a Q&A in the New York Times Monday. Next week, Fox debuts the Gordon Ramsay series "Masterchef" with Bowles as judge. Of course, there's Lolla.

But sadly, we'll have to wait a big longer for Grahamwich, Bowles' 20-seat sandwich 'n' soft serve shop, slated for 615 N. State -- at least til September, he says.


Lollapalooza food boss Graham Elliot Bowles has put together quite the culinary cast for this year's music fest. Bleeding Heart Bakery and Kuma's Corner, with their pierced-and-inked crews, will be on-site, which is hardly a shocker; Trotter's To Go, a little more so. Big Star, Paul Kahan's taqueria, is a get (though considering Kahan's musical provenance, makes sense). Other local darlings who've so far signed on for the three-day fest include Sunda, the Southern, Hoosier Mama Pie Co., newcomer Franks 'n' Dawgs and Seedling Orchard.

Lollapalooza runs from Aug. 6 through 8 in Grant Park.

Well, this just about makes it official.

Bon Appetit magazine has signed on as sponsor of Chicago Gourmet, the food festival in Millenium Park, the Illinois Restaurant Association announced today.

The event, dreamed up two years ago by the association, stumbled in its first year but appears to have found its legs and then some. It'll now be called the "Bon Appetit Presents Chicago Gourmet" fest. Might this be the start of a beautiful relationship that will evolve into something rivaling the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen? We can only hope.

"We are just delighted to be part of Chicago Gourmet," Bon Appetit editor Barbara Fairchild said via press release. "It's a city of great restaurants with much diversity, talented and innovative chefs, and an enthusiastic foodie public that enjoys it all. I always love exploring the scene. And we're looking forward to talking with everyone!"

Tickets to Chicago Gourmet Sept. 25 and 26 are on sale here.

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

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



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