A new food festival debuts next month in Chicago hoping that the spirit of collaboration between some big-name chefs can differentiate it from other events in the city. Tastemaker Chicago comes from the backing of IMG, the behemoth entertainment group which produces sports tournaments, pageants, and more. It takes place on August 17-18 at Revel Fulton Market and pairs local chefs together to create a series of dishes exclusive to the event.
The event is positioned to undercut more-expensive festivals, such as Chicago Gourmet. Tickets are all-inclusive and cost $65. Tastemaker debuted in May in Toronto and the goal is to every year hold roving food festivals throughout North America in 10 to 12 cities.
Chicago attendees will be able to eat food cooked collaboratively as the lineup features pairings include Sarah Rinkavage (Marisol) and Jonathan Zaragoza (Birrieria Zaragoza). Rinkavage welcomed the pairings as a way to freshen up the sometimes stale food festival scene. Festgoers can tell when a chef isn’t engaged at a cooking demonstration that’s been repeated over and over again: “We get bored, too,” Rinkavage said.
The chefs will prepare two to three items for the festival. Each item will be two to three bites. They haven’t released the menus yet, but Rinkavage said she’s already met Zaragoza to brainstorm over goat tacos at Zaragoza’s family restaurant in Pilsen: “It’s safe to say we’re going to have some goat,” Rinkavage said.
The event is a like a fantasy draft for fans of dining pairing up chefs like Abe Conlon (Fat Rice) with Jason Hammel (Lula Cafe). Erling Wu-Bower (Pacific Standard Time) is working with Ian Davis (Band of Bohemia). Other participants include Aya Fukai (Aya Pastry) and Danny Grant (Maple & Ash), Graham Elliot and Matthias Merges (Gideon Sweet), and Michael Hunter (Antler Kitchen + Bar in Toronto) and Ryan Pfieffer (Blackbird). Chicagoans may know Hunter from the viral video earlier this year of him breaking down an animal while vegan protesters looked on outside through the restaurant’s window in dismay. They’ve since worked to mend fences.
And don’t think the event isn’t vegan or vegetarian friendly. Other vendors, such as Art of Dosa, will serve vegetarian food. Most of the collaborative pairs will also have at least one meat-free option, said Judy Merry, an IMG culinary director. Besides the pairings (known officially as the Capitol One Savor Tastemaker Kitchen chef participants), they’ll have 40 restaurants including Baptiste & Bottle and BLVD.
“You’ll never be able to try these dishes at another place,” Merry said.
IMG is an event producer which organizes the Miss USA pageant, and various golf, soccer, and tennis tournaments around the world. They began to take a stronger interest in the culinary world about five years ago, said Justin Clarke, senior VP and managing director for culinary at IMG. Clarke has held various “Taste of” festivals in London and elsewhere. No, it’s got nothing to do with Taste of Chicago. These festivals were more restaurant oriented, Clarke said. Tastemaker is more centered around chefs.
Clarke admitted that there is an oversaturation of festivals in Chicago and elsewhere, but he feels Tastemaker has a niche. “We think by doing interesting things with a great value for the money that you’ll have an inspired room,” he said.