ComplexCon, a festival that gathers designers, artists, and other creative types before an international audience of media influencers and others wanting to stay current on pop-culture and fashion trends, takes place over the weekend at Chicago’s McCormick Place Convention Center. The two-day event caters to hypebeasts and others who collect sneakers, street wear, and other items.
In the restaurant world, the event could appeal to the Instagram obsessed, the diners eager to post photos from the newest restaurant minutes after it’s opened. It’s unclear if these posters actually eat at the restaurant, but the photos are usually very pretty. ComplexCon has invited food vendors like Shake Shack (they’re doing a version of an Italian beef), Mott St (the West Town spot is doing a $100 “Complex Con-Fetti” Burger with 24-karat gold flakes), and Rakki Cafe in Wicker Park (owner Johnny Lee said they’re not into the flash; they will serve shaved ice).
Chance the Rapper’s favorite Harold’s Chicken Shack will also have a presence. The fried chicken spot is getting into the apparel business, working on a collaboration with the Hundreds, an LA-based company. The clothing is only available at the convention where it will be revealed.
Also invited are the team from Finom Coffee, the Hungarian-influenced restaurant in Old Irving Park. The shop has been hosting a pop-up over the last few months with the Secret Donut Society. The society’s the brainchild of Patrick McBride, the former chef at Pork Shoppe in Avondale. The pastry pop-ups bring out long lines are sold out in minutes. He wanted to do something special for ComplexCon.
McBride’s friend is Finom co-owner Rafael Esparza, a Chicago restaurant veteran who’s at places including Momotaro in West Loop. Esparza tapped into his contacts and enlisted the help of one of Chicago’s biggest guns: Rodrick Markus of Rare Tea Cellar.
Markus is the Willy Wonka of Chicago’s dining and drinking scene. He has a cavernous Ravenswood space filled with luxurious, expensive, and rare ingredients. RTC supplies teas to most of Chicago’s high-end restaurants, including three-Michelin-starred Alinea. Esparza and McBride proposed making a doughnut and loading it with truffles and other pricey toppings. They felt $100 was a good price target. Markus had other ideas.
“He laughed at our broke asses,” Esparza said.
“They could do better,” Markus said.
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Ok, so @secret_donut_society and I went to @rareteacellar today to talk about doing a $100 donut for @complexcon as like a “baller donut” for anyone willing to fork over the cash. Well what happened after Rod caught his breath from laughing at our broke boy version of baller shit was him telling us “fuck it, why not do a $1000 donut?” Then he opened up the toy chest and led us down a path that would wind up being a $500 donut/$6500 dozen..aka the most expensive dozen donuts in the world! (That’s based on the results of a quick google search on the subject) . If this sounds like some over the top shit , you’re right it’s 100% unnecessary and quite possibly the most insanely ridiculous/ expensive ingredient lists ever, but make no mistake about it these two donuts taste AMAZING so stop being a hater and stay tuned for pics. . . #complexconchicago #complexcon #balleralert #niceyandpricey #donutsmakemegonuts #stuntin #stunt101 #chicagocoffeeshops #chicagofood #instafood
Markus, who’s got a reputation for being generous, told Esparza and McBride to pick any ingredients they wanted. Price wasn’t an issue. He’d bankroll their endeavor. After hours of research at Rare Tea’s lair (they didn’t have McBride’s fancy doughnuts to experiment with at first; they used crullers from Dunkin’ Donuts), McBride settled on a $500 price tag. He would create two doughnuts with names that sound like Calvin Klein fragrances: “Decadence” and “Opulence.”
“Suddenly all that money for culinary school makes sense,” McBride said on Tuesday at Rare Tea.
Esparza and McBride know many will say this is unnecessary. But they feel ComplexCon is the right audience. A customer at Finom, who’s a woodworker, created custom wooden boxes for the doughnuts. They’ll have 26 doughnuts available. There’s a baker’s dozen special for $6,500. McBride has no idea who would purchase the doughnuts. Perhaps a high roller from the Hamptons, they joked. Maybe rapper 2 Chainz, who has a thing for Berco’s fancy popcorn in Lincoln Park, will buy them. Based on the weekend’s success, they may auction off the doughnuts at a future date for charity.
McBride builds the pastries using his standard sour cream old fashioned cake doughnut. It’s about 4 inches in diameter. He’s nervous assembling them at Rare Tea. Breeze from a ceiling fan makes it hard use the 24-karat gold foil wrappers that will cover Griottines cherries soaked in Kirschwasser brandy. These are for Decadence. Three rolled up strips of Ibérico de Bellota (12 pounds cost about $1,000) join the three cherries. McBride dots the doughnuts with 100-year Aceto balsamic vinegar. Younger vintages are readily available, Markus said, but he pushes to procure a small supply of the century old. They produce makes 50 bottles annually.
“You’re smelling history,” Esparza said. “That’s two World Wars.”
At $500, this isn’t the most expensive doughnut ever made. A quick Internet search pulled up doughnuts costing more than $1,000. But McBride said they don’t look tasty. They just look dressed up in gold sheets. His doughnuts actually are delicious, he says.
“I think it’s like a really awesome charcuterie board in your mouth,” Esparza said after a Tuesday taste trial. Markus lobbied to add a fancy finishing salt and nougat with Piedmontese hazelnuts.
Opulence features Golden Osetra, one of the most expensive caviars on the world. It’s about $80 per half an ounce. McBride learned to use a truffle shaver to pile 10 grams of Australian Winter Truffles on top. They are pondering shaving additional truffles on the doughnuts at ComplexCon. Markus, ever so observant, suggested maple flakes for an extra crunch.
“That’s hands down the coolest thing I have ever made in my life,” McBride said.
The $500 doughnuts won’t be the only pastries McBride will sell over the weekend. He’s got a few more collaborations with Rare Tea ingredients that will be more cost conscious. Why would Markus encourage this escapade? He’s known Esparza for years, dating back to the chef’s time at Yusho, the shuttered Japanese spot in Logan Square. He’s just taken a liking to the two.
“We speak the same language,” Markus said. “And that language is flavor.”
ComplexCon takes place on Saturday and Sunday at McCormick Place, one day passes cost $80. Check out the ingredient list for the doughnuts below. Don’t ask about the calorie count.
- Iberico de Bellota Jamon
- Delice de Bourgogne Triple Cream Cheese
- 100-year Aceto balsamic vinegar
- Griottines Cherries in Kirschwasser Brandy wrapped in 24-karat gold sheets
- Callebaut Ruby
- Australian Winter Truffles
- Golden Ossetra Caviar
- 24-karat gold flakes
- Limited Edition Rare Tea Cellar Perigord Barrel-Aged Black Tea
- Winter Truffle Maple Syrup
- Okinawa Black Sugar