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Chicago Gourmet 2014: On Beautiful Weather, Lines, James Beards and Trotter Tributes

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Heather Lalley filed this report from the seventh installment of Chicago's preeminent food and drink festival.

All Photos by Marc Much

The sun has set on the seventh annual Chicago Gourmet—the city's food version of Lollapalooza, filled with over-the-top excess, rock star chefs, crowds, and plenty of mood-altering substances (mostly in the form of gallons of pinot noir).

This year's Millennium Park event celebrated both the James Beard Awards—the Academy Awards of the culinary world which Chicago will host next year—as well as the legacy of famed Chicago chef Charlie Trotter, who died last year.

Chicago chefs recognized by the Beard Foundation presented dishes in the Grand Cru tent. Among the line-up: Stephanie Izard, Bruce Sherman, Jimmy Bannos Jr., Andrew Zimmerman, Paul Virant, Mindy Segal, Ryan McCaskey, Roland Liccioni, Rohini Dey, Jonathon Sawyer and Perry Hendrix. Those with Grand Cru tickets, an extra $199 on top of the Chicago Gourmet ticket price, also sampled high-end wines.

After Chicago Gourmet closed Saturday evening, hundreds of diners headed to Trump Tower for a $500, all-star fundraising dinner in support of Charlie Trotter's Culinary Education Foundation. Trotter colleagues and friends Sergi Arola, Rick Bayless, Della Gossett, Thomas Lents, Matthias Merges and Masaharu Morimoto, as well as master sommeliers Serafin Alvarado, Alpana Singh, Joe Spellman and Larry Stone mounted an impressive six-course dinner with wine pairings.

"My husband was a change-maker," an emotional Rochelle Trotter told the crowd. "Thank you all for helping me keep him alive."

Chicago Gourmet attendees were gifted with gorgeous weather this year, which made for sometimes-sweaty waits in long lines for food—especially at the many "tasting pavilions" dotting the park. By Sunday, many waited 25 minutes to get a couple of ribs, some mac and cheese, and half a sausage at the popular BBQ Chef Tasting Pavilion. "I feel like I'm going on a ride at Six Flags," one young woman said.

In addition to the long lines, there was often a shortage of places to sit once you scored some food.

Complaints aside, there's plenty to like about Chicago Gourmet. Here are some standout bites, sips and moments from the weekend, in no particular order:

· Pulled pork slider from Q-BBQ with tangy coleslaw, spicy sauce and a deliciously-charred burnt end perched on top

· Savory-sweet "Chicago Mix" bismark from Stan's Donuts, filled with cheese-popcorn pastry cream, topped with caramel and sprinkled with cheese-caramel popcorn

· Alpana Singh's touching reflections on Charlie Trotter at the fundraising dinner

· Super-refreshing sage-topped punch from Dusek's

· Perfectly grilled, not-too-chewy octopus salad from mk

· Chicago Gourmet's support of fresh, local food with the addition of tasting pavilions highlighting both neighborhood restaurants as well chefs who support the Green City Market

· An adorable, ethereal French take on the Kit Kat from Cafe des Architectes

· Hilarious, quick-fire insults hurled between chefs Jimmy Bannos Sr., John Hogan and Tony Mantuano during their mainstage demo on roast chicken

· The thirst-quenching "Professor and Mary Ann" cocktail with Tin Cup Whiskey, cucumber, ginger, habanero and mint

· Creamy, spicy chicken soup from Steve Chiappetti, the new chef at the Marion Street Cheese Market Cafe

· Over-the-top four-cheese brisket mac and cheese with Cheetos garnish from Spritz Burger

· The always-gracious Ina Pinkney sharing the stage with rockstar pastry chef Della Gossett, making pastry dough look simple

—Heather Lalley

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