The Bon Appetit Chicago Gourmet Review - Eat to Your Heart's Content

This past weekend from September 23 to September 25 thousands of Chicagoans, suburbanites and visitors gathered at sunny Millenium Park to savor and celebrate all things culinary during Bon Appetit’s Chicago Gourmet 2016. I had no idea what a treat I was in for as I joined the legions of smiling and friendly faces eager to get inside and eat like there’s no tomorrow.


I treated myself to an afternoon of unlimited wining, dining and drinking bestowed by many of the best restaurants and wine and spirit purveyors the Windy City featured at the event. It almost seemed too good to be true.


Fantastic food

The first thing guests receive is a colorful gift bag which contains a plastic plate with room for the wine glass that one repeatedly refills while walking through the maze of exhibitor booths. I started off with a cocktail at the Bon Appetit veranda, sitting in a comfortable chair while chatting with a lovely stranger, Barbara S., who told me she’s been coming for five or six years. She explained that she wouldn’t “miss it for the world.”


Chateau St Jean

From there, I gradually maneuvered my way around the Great Lawn. The theme of “Food is Art” rang true as I walked around, trying to decide what type of fish, fowl or meat I wanted to try next. I have to admit that sometimes the food presentations were so beautiful that I felt guilty (but not that guilty) taking my next forkful of Italian or Brazilian or Mediterranean main dishes.


There are ten major Pavilions to visit. Inside each white peaked tent, there are several restaurants, along with wineries, beer distillers and spirit purveyors. Each tent had two serving times (12:30-2:30 AND 3-5 pm.) That means if you filled your stomach to your heart’s content, and stopped at each Pavilion twice in the afternoon, you might end up eating 60 to 168 dishes of food.


Crowds at the Bon Apetit event

The chef demonstrations included host chef Rick Bayless, Morimoto, Abe Conlon of Fat Rice, Takashi of Slurping Turtle, Graham Elliot and Bill Kim of Urban Belly. Chef Bruce Sherman prepared a crusted whitefish and celery and squash salad.


Some of the Pavilions had long lines – especially the Supreme Lobster and Seafood Tasting Pavilion and the Big Green Egg Tasting Pavilion.  At the Supreme Lobster and Seafood Pavilion I especially liked fish from Dirk’s Fish and Gourmet Shop and Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House. Gibson’s had delicious petit filet sliders and cheese burgers.


Chateau St Jean

Country Financial sponsored the BBQ, Beer and Bourbon Pavilion. Art Smith of Oprah fame joined several other chefs with delicious BBQ dishes alongside a Sweet Spot Tasting Pavilion with delicious Biscotti and the famous Eli’s Cheesecake Company.


My eating mayhem continued for two more hours, until I couldn’t think about stuffing another morsel of food down my throat. It was great that there were water stations throughout the park.


Rick Bayless/ Rahm Emmanuel

I read Host Rick Bayless’s tips for making the most of the weekend after I got home. He suggested that visitors check out the daily schedules on the Chicago Gourmet website when planning the day. There’s even an app you can download to create your own personal schedule, complete with alarms and a notes section. He recommended that you pace yourself as you take your own tasting tours.


Bayless also suggested that you catch your breath between dining experiences and sit down in one of the many comfortable chairs on the Great Lawn and do some people watching.



I spoke to one young fellow who was ecstatic that he was leaving the event with two wine glasses  plus a goblet from Stella Artois, a cider glass,  a t-shirt, cocktail recipe cards, and restaurant discount coupons after sampling an amazing number of wines, sake, beer and liquor.



I definitely would love to visit this gastronomic feast again next year and eat to my heart’s content. Perhaps I’ll see you there, too. It’s worth the ticket price, which ranges from $150 to $190 per day.

Photos: Sharon Sultan Cutler

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