Chicago Gourmet, the annual Millennium Park food festival, won’t take place this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, organizers announced Tuesday. The event, which would have celebrated its 13th year in the fall, typically draws some of the city’s most prominent chefs for two days of demos, tastings, and plenty of wine.
Instead, event organizers will offer dinners, tastings, and collaborative events throughout September, according to a news release, which will take place at restaurants and small venues. They’ll also offer virtual discussions and cooking demos. Organizers haven’t released additional details yet.
The face-to-face event has historically been a chance for chefs to chat and banter with customers, an experience that sadly can’t be fully replicated over videoconferencing. An Instagram announcement declares Chicago Gourmet’s “2020 programming will celebrate Chicago’s diverse culinary landscape while safely bringing you the memorable experiences you’ve craved.”
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KEEP THE BUBBLY CHILLED : Today, we announce that Chicago Gourmet will come to life in a new way this September. To be revealed soon, our 2020 programming will celebrate Chicago’s diverse culinary landscape while safely bringing you the memorable experiences you’ve craved. With the guidance of health experts and public officials, our outdoor epicurean gathering traditionally held in Chicago’s Millennium Park will be suspended until September 2021. But the celebration goes on! During September, #chigourmet will feature several unique dinners, tastings and collaborative events. Taking place in person at restaurants and small venues citywide, functions will be limited in size to comply with current phasing and public safety requirements and designed for a range of interests and appetites. The lineup also includes Go Gourmet – a compelling series of virtual discussions and demos – that allow you to participate from the comfort of your own living room or home kitchen. Our commitment to community remains steadfast. Events and charitable programs will be announced later this summer at chicagogourmet.org. We can’t wait to celebrate the best food city in the world with you all this fall!
The diversity part is particularly intriguing after last year’s incident involving workers from Mi Tocaya Antojeria, a Logan Square Mexican restaurant, and chef Jimmy Bannos Jr., chef and owner at Purple Pig off the Mag Mile. A Mi Tocaya worker claims Bannos punched him after a confrontation at one of the festival’s auxiliary events.
Bannos turned himself in on November 2 when he was arrested and was charged with misdemeanor battery. Mi Tocaya chef and owner Diana Dávila maintains the incident has a racial aspect, with a group of Mexican workers coming into the festival’s traditionally white space. She says the festival’s organizers have yet to reach out to her about the incident, which took place on September 28, 2019. The case continues to progress in Cook County circuit court, Dávila says.
More recently, in a series of Instagram posts on June 5, Dávila shared how conflicted she was in going forward with the charges: “I felt scared. That I could lose my restaurant,” Dávila writes. “I felt that no one would believe us because we were people of color.”
For the most part, Dávila’s posts were greeted with support. But a few Instagram users lashed out in the comments claiming that her crew instigated the conflict, attempting to discredit her narrative. The ongoing conflict casts Chicago Gourmet’s nod to culinary diversity in a strange light, especially as Dávila says she hasn’t heard from organizers about the incident.
The cancelation comes as yet another blow to the city’s hospitality industry. Nearly all of Chicago’s summer festivals, a vital revenue stream for restaurants, vendors, and caterers, have been canceled or pushed back because of the pandemic. These include Lollapalooza, Ribfest Chicago, and the Chicago Blues Festival.
As for Chicago Gourmet, the nitty gritty — participating chefs, demo options, and more — of 2020’s atypical event have yet to be revealed. Stay tuned for updates on what this year’s attendees can expect.