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Chicago Gourmet and Hamburger Hop Recap

The Judging Panel: WXRT's Lin Brehmer, Bon Appetit Editor in Chief Barbara Fairchild, Chef Thomas Keller, Southern Wine & Spirits Lee Schrager, Michelin Guide's Jean-Luc Naret and Blue Moon's Keith Villa
The Judging Panel: WXRT's Lin Brehmer, Bon Appetit Editor in Chief Barbara Fairchild, Chef Thomas Keller, Southern Wine & Spirits Lee Schrager, Michelin Guide's Jean-Luc Naret and Blue Moon's Keith Villa
[Photos: Ari Bendersky]

Over the weekend thousands of people streamed into Chicago's Millennium Park for the third annual Chicago Gourmet. And once again the big complaint was that there wasn't enough food and the lines to sample it were often dozens deep. But unlike the first year where it seemed to be more of a booze fest than a food fest, you were able to at least fill your belly enough to balance all the wine, spirits, and beer on offer.

There were, however, some definite highlights, including the grilled kumamoto oyster atop a head cheese cracker from the Publican; Graham Elliot's mini cup filled with fig, ricotta, and fried prosciutto; bacon ice cream in a mini cone from NoMI; a grilled watermelon/lump crab/passion fruit salad with a sweet/sour/spicy sauce from the forthcoming IPO restaurant in the W City Center hotel and more.

But the best part of the weekend was definitely Friday night's Hamburger Hop kick-off party. Set on the roof of the Harris Theater overlooking the park, Hamburger Hop saw 15 local chefs, including Girl & The Goat's Stephanie Izard, Season's Kevin Hickey, Sola's Carol Wallack and Edzo's Eddie Lakin, vie for the title of best burger. With unlimited Blue Moon flowing and event workers passing around crispy french fries and sweet potato fries, guests happily meandered about, tasting the mini burgers in order to cast their vote for the People's Choice award.

The official panel of judges included chef Thomas Keller, Bon Appetit Editor-in-Chief Barbara Fairchild, Michelin Guide director Jean-Luc Naret, WXRT radio DJ Lin Brehmer, Blue Moon creator Keith Villa and Southern Wine & Spirit's Lee Schrager. They tasted through all 15 burgers to finally crown NoMI's the best. The fan favorite went to Kevin Hickey of Season's (at the Four Seasons), and we're not sure if it was due to the soft Labriola bakery roll, the addition of lobster, or the brandied-cherry chocolate malt that came with it. But whatever it was, there was a winning combination.

Overall, it was a fun weekend (despite the unseasonably cold weather), but we're not sure why the Illinois Restaurant Association, which organizes Chicago Gourmet, can't seem to manage a proper balance of food and drink. Last year's fest seemed to move in a better direction, but 2010 took a couple of steps back. We thought that the addition of Bon Appetit as the title sponsor and Thomas Keller as a judge on opening night showed promise. But as too many people waited too long for food, we quickly realized that more finessing would need to happen before 2011.

—Ari Bendersky

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