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Stars and 10,000 People Come Out for the Inaugural Food Network in Concert at Ravinia

The event at Ravinia packed in the crowds for the food, signings, drinks, and John Mayer

Ilya S. Savenok

The Food Network invaded the tony suburb of Highland Park this past Saturday to deliver the first ever Food Network in Concert. The event, held at the idyllic venue Ravinia, was a success, packing in more than 10,000 attendees who enjoyed a day of food, drinking, demonstrations, panels, music and camping out on the lawns. Food Network bigwigs said they're leaning towards making it an annual event.

Food Network TV stars Geoffrey Zakarian, Alex Guarnaschelli, Anne Burrell and more were on hand for demonstrations and book signings that drew epic lines. New York City chef Wylie Dufresne (wd-50) was also on the festival's grounds, contributing to a panel and stepping in for Jose Garces to host a dinner.

There were more than 50 chefs, most locally-based, serving up festival bites of food to hungry festival goers in the afternoon. One of the local chefs, Table, Donkey & Stick's Scott Manley says that at some point the day took a bloody turn. "Honestly it got a little embarrassing. Two of us wound up slicing our thumbs open" while attempting to "saber" champagne bottles with cell phones.

Kevin Hickey of Bottlefork won "Top Dog" honors at the Franks & Beats competition with the "Duck Fat Dog" due to hit the menu of his forthcoming restaurant The Duck Inn. The Don Julio Airstream trailer was a personal favorite, with Hickey declaring that perhaps he and his crew spent a little too much time inside of it.

In addition to the general admission ticket to the festival, attendees had the ability to gain entrance into separate ticketed dinners in the early evening, such as the Farm to Turntable dinner hosted by Zakarian. The dinner featured a silky foie gras torchon from Bill Telepan of Telepan in New York City and a smokey grilled pork loin from Paul Virant (Vie, Vistro).

Despite feeling that the "expansive" layout of the festival was a tad too confusing for patrons, Ryan McCaskey, chef/owner of Acadia, saw a lot of promise for the event, calling the idea "awesome." McCaskey hopes for more diverse music acts on the level of John Mayer in future iterations.

Highlights in the day's music include Twin Forks featuring Dashboard Confessional's Chris Carabba and American Idol season 11 winner Phillip Phillips (who had the crowd serenade him with "Happy Birthday" to celebrate turning 24 the day of the event). John Mayer capped the day, delivering a soulful set of music that gave him ample opportunity to display his guitar playing prowess.

Hosted by Food Network Magazine, the event benefitted Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry campaign. Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rodkin, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn all declared September 20 Food Network in Concert Day.

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