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Chicago cooks up its first-ever Food + Wine Festival

Inaugural-Chicago-Food-Wine-Festival-600x300From the Saturday, April 25, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

By Dave Wischnowsky

The WISCH LIST

Before I met my future wife, the Michelin rankings I knew were for tires, not restaurants, I was much more likely to shuck an oyster than actually eat one, and my idea of fine dining probably consisted of opting for Chipotle instead of Taco Bell.

OK, well, maybe I wasn’t that bad. But I wasn’t too far off.

Four years later, however, my wife Debbie – who developed her dining acumen growing up in Manhattan (New York, not Illinois) before sharpening it into a knife (nay, cutlery) during 11 years in Chicago – has elevated my palate to the point that she jokes about creating “a monster.”

Now, I wouldn’t go that far – salads and subs still dominate my weekly diet – but it is true that these days I have developed a great appreciation for great food. Especially when it’s from the Windy City.

And that’s why I was excited to learn that inaugural Chicago Food + Wine Festival will be rolling into town this summer. Organized through the collaboration of the promoters behind Lollapalooza, celebrity chef Tim Love of Texas, and Food & Wine Magazine, the Chicago event was announced on Tuesday and will be held Aug. 28-30 in Lincoln Park.

One year ago this month, Debbie and I attended the Austin Food + Wine Festival along the banks of the Colorado River deep in the heart of Texas. Surprisingly rollicking but without the overwhelming masses that you’ll encounter at, say, the Taste of Chicago, the Austin fest served as a very fun and very approachable way to dive into the world of upscale food.

I imagine that the Chicago event will follow a similar relaxed-yet-refined blueprint that’s also proven to be a success for Food + Wine Festivals from Miami to Aspen to Sonoma and other points in between. And considering the plethora of great chefs, restaurants and summertime weather in Chicago, it’s about time that the city made the Food + Wine cut.

In Lincoln Park, the festival will feature Grand Taste Tents offering unlimited wine, cocktails and food samples from such a star-studded lineup of local chefs that Chicago Tribune restaurant critic Phil Vettel already has dubbed it “Chefapalooza.” At least 40 of the city’s biggest culinary names are expected to take part during the weekend, which will also include the Chef Showcase will featuring interactive cooking demonstrations – In Austin, grilling lessons involved participants each working his or her own charcoal grill – as well as special events, book signings and speakers.

The festival’s advisory board features Chicago food luminaries Jimmy Bannos, Rick Bayless, Graham Elliot, Jose Garces, Stephanie Izard, Paul Kahan, Tony Mantuano and Art Smith. Among the other local chefs expected to be under the tents dishing up their diverse fare will be Christine Cikowski and Josh Kulp of Honey Butter Fried Chicken, Charlie McKenna of Lillie’s Q, Amanda Rockman of Nico Osteria, Mindy Segal of Hot Chocolate, Guiseppe Tentori of GT Fish & Oyster, Tom Van Lente of Dove’s Luncheonette, Paul Virant of Vie and Perennial Virant, Takashi Yagihashi of Slurping Turtle and more.

In addition to the two days of tastings on Saturday and Sunday, there will be separately ticketed events. Friday night’s Feast Under the Stars will feature a five-course, outdoor dinner. Saturday night’s Toast & Taste will feature live music and tastings from 16 top chefs. And Last Call will be late night on Saturday with dishes from top pastry chefs.

The Food + Wine Festival isn’t cheap with single-day admission $175. But it’s an opportunity to sample of all of Chicago’s best food all at once as opposed to making dozens of reservations. For tickets and details, visit chicagofoodandwinefestival.com.