Archive of ‘People You Should Know’ category

How Chicago Gourmet Helped Steal the James Beard Awards Away from NYC

I had the opportunity to interview Sam Toia, the President of the Illinois Restaurant Association during the Chicago Gourmet show, and learned that Chicago Gourmet was key to helping Chicago to host the James Beard Awards it’s 25th year (after being held in New York for the past 24 years). Impressive! So, how did that happen?

Below are my interview highlights from my chat with Sam Toia:

Sam Toia, President and CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association and Erica Williams, Food Blogger for http://www.tastebuddiaries.com[/caption%5D

Q: What has Chicago Gourmet Done for the Restaurant Industry in both Chicago and in Illinois?

A:   “We are bringing the James Beard Foundation Award ceremonies here in May, and it all started with Chicago Gourmet. It started 7 years ago, and the talent that we have in this town from Rick Bayless, to Stephanie Izard to Graham Elliot is phenomenal. We are able to showcase to the city, the state and the rest of the country that our homegrown talent is as good or better than they have in New York, San Francisco or LA. There are over 180 chefs participating in Chicago Gourmet, so just by that fact you see that every chef wants to participate in Chicago Gourmet.”

Q: How does Chicago Gourmet benefit Chicago from a Financial/Tourism standpoint? A: “The Mayor is working on getting 55 Million visitors a year to the city of Chicago by 2020, and it looks like we are closing in on 50 Million in the next year, so we’re getting close!  When people look at what city they are going to travel to, 38% look at the restaurants in that town. They may say “I want to go to Mexique, I want to go to Grace, I want to go to Stephanie Izard, Frontera…Alinea…” – so they look at the restaurants and then make the reservations to come.  The front half is business, but the back half is tourism. Chicago Gourmet shows how great the homegrown talent is here, and it’s getting bigger and better every year, and attracting more visitors. It’s great for the industry, the tax base, the restaurants, the museums, and it’s one of the cogs in the wheel to bring more people to Chicago.”

Q:  This year, Chicago Gourmet is sold out and the demand is off the charts. Do you have plans to grow it, add more days, etc.

A: Absolutely, we are always looking to grow. We will definitely sit down and go back to the table. We need more real estate. Over the weekend, we bring in about 12,000 people between the Hamburger Hop, and Saturday and Sunday at Chicago Gourmet.

Q: What big things is the Illinois Restaurant Association working on for 2015?

A:  “We are bringing the James Beard Award ceremonies here. It was 24 years in New York, and it’s the first time they are out of New York in their 25th year. The James Beard awards are like the Oscars of the food industry, so we will be working on that, and it’s the first Monday in May. We will be working on that as soon as we wrap up with Chicago Gourmet with the ChooseChicago tourism arm here in the city. We are working very diligently on the ceremony coming in May.”

Erica:  “Wow – That’s taking Chicago’s food scene to a WHOLE new level – Having the Beard’s here after 24 years in New York? How did you do that?”

Sam Toia: “There had always been rumbles about moving to San Francisco, or another city, and Mayor Emmanuel reached out and said that it would be great to have the Beard’s here, so we had great cooperation from City Hall and Choose Chicago, and we made our presentation to the Beard Foundation. With the homegrown talent here, it just made sense. San Francisco was trying to get it, and we got it before San Francisco.”

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So, there you have it. Chicago should be proud. Keep an eye on the James Beards in May – I know I will be! In the meantime, check out the delectable bites I had from our amazing homegrown talent in the best food city in the world – Chicago!:

[caption id="attachment_827" align="alignleft" width="640"]Lemon Olive Oil Cake from Acanto Lemon Olive Oil Cake from Acanto

Bourbon Mousse with Smoked Bourbon Sugar Bacon from the Dawson

Bourbon Mousse with Smoked Bourbon Sugar Bacon from the Dawson

 

Roasted Apple Ice Cream Taffy Apple from Mindy Segal

Roasted Apple Ice Cream Taffy Apple from Mindy Segal

 

Tasty Ethiopian from Demera Ethiopian Restaurant

Tasty Ethiopian from Demera Ethiopian Restaurant

 

Mercat a la Planxa

Mercat a la Planxa

IMG_0765 IMG_0786

 

 

More of Mindy Segal's apple creations

More of Mindy Segal’s apple creations

Cheers from Chicago Gourmet 2014!

Cheers from Chicago Gourmet 2014!

Dirk’s Fish Reveals Strategy for Competing in the 4th Annual Common Threads Cook-Off

Dirk and Terry edited photo

On October 2nd, culinary creativity will shine at the Common Threads Cook-Off. Chicago’s top chefs & mixologists will create and serve their favorite dish from the garden, the pasture, the seed, the barn or the barrel, while guests vote for their favorite in each category.

Dirk and Teresa (Terry) Fucik of Dirk’s Fish are one of the +30 chefs competing in thiscompetition, and discussed some of their thoughts around Common Threads, the event, and the competition.

Dirk's Fish Outside Image

Dirk and Terry edited photo

Q: Why are you involved with the Common Threads Cook-Off?

A: Terry and Dirk love children, and have been involved with Common Threads in many aspects, including volunteering in the after-school program with the kids as guest chefs, participating in the World Festival Fundraiser, and volunteering at the Ronald McDonald house. Terry loves teaching and enjoys seeing kids so excited and eager to learn about healthy cooking and eating. She especially likes teaching kids about different cultures, (i.e. how to cook Senegalese Stew) and how food unites us as the human race. She can personally identify with the kids because she taught herself how to cook and started cooking for her family when she was 12. She came from humble beginnings, so she can truly identify with what the kids may need, and appreciates that the recipes are accessible and affordable. “Common Threads is doing it the right way.”

Q. Which category have you selected for this competition?

A: “From the Barn” using Farm-Raised sustainable and certified fish. There is a lot of public misconception around fish farms, and Dirk’s Fish likes to educate people that fish farms are ok, as long as they are farmed properly.  It’s not possible to meet consumer demand for fish without farms, as our oceans and lakes are starting to become depleted of natural resources. Just like beef and chicken are farmed, fish can be farmed too. There are good and bad farms for fish, just as there are for other proteins. Dirk and Terry choose farms that are certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, which focuses on sustainable seafood.

Q: What is your strategy for competing in the Cook-Off?

A: People are so into burgers these days, and they like eating them with a fried egg and a slab of bacon on top, which can sound like a heart attack on a bun. Dirk’s Fish wants to represent the burger in a completely different way, where it’s extremely tasty, and flavorful, yet really healthy. When people hear the word “burger”, they are more willing to try different types of fish, so this competition will feature a fish slider.

You are invited to try Dirk and Terry’s fish slider and the culinary creations of +30 additional chefs & mixologists at The Common Threads Cook-Off at Revel Downtown on Thursday, October 2nd at 6:30pm. We wish Dirk and Terry the best of luck!

 For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit: http://events.commonthreads.org/eventDetails.aspx?eventId=140

 

 

“On-the-Run” Foods for Before and After Your Workout

Markita Staples is a fitness blogger that focuses on quick workouts for people that don’t have a lot of time – that’s my kind of fitness! Fitness and food are intertwined, so we wanted to provide you with some ideas for “On-the-Run” foods for before and after your workout.

Markita and Erica Pic updated

Markita the Fitness Blogger (left), and Erica the Food Blogger (right)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Markita doing one of her 15-minute workouts

Markita doing one of her 15-minute workouts

BEFORE your workout:

Markita recommends fruits, veggies and healthy fats before your workouts. You want to have a good amount of energy, but you don’t want to take in so many calories that you spend the entire workout burning them. When people think “carbs” they usually think of the traditional things like bread, rice, grains, and flour-based foods. However, fruits and veggies are full of carbs, plus they are nutrient-dense so will give you “higher quality” energy. Healthy fats like nuts or avocado are great because they also give you a lot of energy but burn slower, so they keep you fuller longer. If you are dying for energy and need to eat more traditional carbs, go for slow burning carbs like sweet potatoes and brown rice.

AFTER your Workout

After a tough workout, where you’ve exhausted your muscles through strength training or cardio, your body is craving to be “repaired”. Protein does this best. Basically, your body breaks down its own protein to build muscle and burn fat, then you replace it later. Protein traditionally includes meat and dairy. Markita is a fan of a nice grilled piece of chicken or salmon. However, if you’re not a meat or fish fan, things like quinoa, nut milks (Markita loves almond milk), and protein shakes are awesome options. Remember how we said to eat carbs before your workout if you’re going to eat them? Well, keep that in mind post-workout. Your body soaks up calories like a sponge and unless you plan to do another workout after the workout you just finished, those carb calories are going to sit there and eventually add some unwanted weight to your body. So of course, avoid eating a ton of carbs and go for proteins, veggies, and fluids (I’m sure you’re thirsty!) instead.

Below are my recommendations for “on the run” foods that are great before and after your workout:

 BEFORE your workout:

 Smoothies from Mariano’s:

Mariano’s has an amazing made-to-order smoothie bar with some great green smoothies using fresh ingredients. I’m a huge fan of drinking my veggies, and the Spinach Green Goodness smoothie is one of my favorites. The best part is the price. A 12 oz. smoothie is only $3.99. I love a great deal. Check out the smoothie menu here: http://www.marianos.com/smoothiemenu

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Smoothie stand at Mariano’s

photo 2

Spinach Green Goodness Smoothie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trail Mix:

Trader Joe’s and Costco have delicious trail mix packets that you can take with you to hold you over from the hungry monster when you are on the run. Throw them in your bag or purse, and you are good to go whenever hunger strikes!

costco-bees-121-2

Farmer’s Fridge:

Farmer’s Fridge is a vending machine (yes, a vending machine) that serves delicious, handcrafted salads with gourmet ingredients.  The salads are prepared in a kitchen at 5 am and delivered to the machines around 10 am. There are a few of these machines located in the city, and they aren’t your typical vending machines- they are smart machines with touch screens and they are quite impressive. I tried the machine at 201 N. Clark, and my salad was delicious – it truly tasted homemade, and the dressing was amazing. The best part is that the salads come in beautiful plastic jars that can be saved for another use, or recycled right at the vending machine.

Farmers Fridge Vending Machine Pic

Fresh salad from a vending machine…who knew!

Farmers Fridge Salad Pic

Delicious salad from Farmer’s Fridge!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AFTER Your Workout:

Roti:

One of Markita’s favorites is Mediterranean food after a workout, and Roti is one of her go-to’s to get the protein she needs. The kabobs are great, as the meat is seasoned very well, and they also have other options like The Mediterranean Chicken Salad.
Epic Burger:

Another great way to replenish your protein is to grab a burger or chicken sandwich without the bun. Epic Burger has a few locations in Chicago, and they focus on a “more mindful burger,” providing quality natural and organic meats.

Costco Rotisserie Chicken:

If you are a Costco member, the Rotisserie Chicken is the best deal in town. It’s only $5 – you can’t even get a whole raw chicken for $5, much less a cooked one. If you live near a Costco, go directly to the Rotisserie Chicken section and pick up your chicken, and head directly to the cash register. Do not look anywhere else in the store, or else you will end up spending +$100. You must stay focused when you go to Costco. (Same goes for Target). If you don’t live near a Costco, other grocery stores also carry Rotisserie Chicken, which is a great item for when you are on the run, especially since it will last you a few days.

Hopefully this post provided some good ideas on quick ways to fuel your workout. In the meantime, check out Markita’s website http://www.sweshfit.com for inspiration on quick 15-minute workout ideas!

 

 

Summer Wine with a Story Line

I tasted the Sweet Riesling from Love Cork Screw wines at a dessert event and knew that I needed to feature it on my blog. This wine literally tastes like summer in a glass, and instantly transported me to memories of fabulous evenings at Ravinia, fun times with friends on rooftops, and outdoor summer concerts at Millennium Park.

Erica and Chrishon at Love Cork Screw/Taste Bud Diaries video shoot

Erica and Chrishon at Love Cork Screw/Taste Bud Diaries video shoot

Not only is the wine tasty, but there is an inspiring story behind it. Love Cork Screw was launched in part by Chrishon Lampley, who previously owned the popular Three Peas Art Lounge, an art and wine boutique in Chicago’s South Loop. The boutique was abruptly closed down due to an unfortunate sewage issue in the building, and after a few years, Chrishon re-emerged, launching Love Cork Screw in December 2013. The wines are now in +30 locations, and the brand is taking off. Chrishon’s marketing strategy positions this wine as not just a brand, but a lifestyle – complete with eye catching labels, a popular radio show and events, all which have helped to propel this brand to success.

Love Cork Screw Riesling and Pinot Grigio - ready for summer sipping!

Love Cork Screw Riesling and Pinot Grigio – ready for summer sipping!

The “Head Over Heels” Riesling is naturally sweet and crisp with a hint of lemon and grapefruit. This wine is versatile, and would pair well with chicken (i.e. orange chicken, chicken and pear salad) fish, cheeses and desserts.

Click here for an easy-to-make, delicious dip recipe that would travel well for a picnic and would pair quite nicely with the Riesling – it has Feta and Cream Cheese and is filled with flavor.

"Dip for the Stars" recipe from allrecipes.com Photo: allrecipes.com

“Dip for the Stars” recipe from allrecipes.com Photo: allrecipes.com

The “Good Times Good Friends” Pinot Grigio is another wine that is great for Chicago summers. It is medium-bodied with apple and pear flavor notes. This wine is excellent for seafood, and would pair nicely with foods like sushi, oysters, clams, mussels, or pasta.

Chrishon’s story is inspiring, and it’s a story that I want to tell when I share the wine with friends. Check out the video below for my interview with Chrishon to hear more about her story, and after watching it, I think that you will want to tell her story too.

Cheers, and enjoy!

 

Hot off the Press: Chicago Secret Supper Chef Announced!

I have received the honor of being invited to Dishcrawl’s Secret Supper on April 1st, and the chef for this Secret Supper has just been announced – Chef Patrick Glatz!

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Chef Patrick Glatz is professionally trained and highly travelled. He received his education at The Culinary School of the Rockies in Boulder, CO. He honed his skills in France, Italy, and the US Virgin Island of St. Thomas, embracing international cuisines and training with the finest chefs. Chef Glatz leveraged his diverse experiences to become the Executive Chef at several restaurants, including Havana Blue and Mims Limtree in the Caribbean, as well as the Copperworks Restaurant in Peoria, IL.  He also has extensive background in catering and has worked as a personal chef for the owner of a Peruvian Airline in Southern California. His motto is “You only live once, why not dine well?” and he attributes his love of flavor melding to camping trips he took with his grandfather as a young boy.

GB foodie

As you can see, Chef Pat has a unique and cultured culinary background, and I expect that this dinner will be innovative and delicious. Join me at this Secret Supper on April 1st. You can purchase tickets at   http://dishcrawl.com/chicagoss. Hope to see you there!

 

 

 

Chef Spotlight: Pastry Chef Jessica Ashley

[slideshow]I consider myself to be quite the food connoisseur, and I recognize talent when I see it. If I were a chef talent scout (I’m sure those exist), I would definitely be recruiting Jessica Ashley to join my team. She’s young, ambitious and doing her thing! Her talent is undeniable.  In just 3 years after graduating from culinary school, she has baked custom cakes for MTV and celebrity events, and worked as a production chef on the kids cooking TV show Junior Cuisine. In the midst of all of this, she has also been running her own cake business, baking specialized cakes for weddings and special events.

During her college internship with Kraft, Jessica instantly knew that she wanted to be a chef when she visited to the Culinary Institute for Education.  This life-changing “aha” moment led her to apply for culinary school at Kendall College in Chicago after finishing her undergraduate degree. She kept her application a secret until she applied, because she “just knew” that this is what she wanted to do, and there was no stopping her.

The level of creativity and skill is instantly apparent in Jessica’s cakes. They look like the kinds of cakes that you see on shows like “Cake Boss” and “Ace of Cakes”.

Her specialty? The Cream Cheese Pound Cake. This recipe from her great aunt has been in her family for years. In addition to her decadent cakes, she also bakes vegan and dairy-free cakes, and she’s been experimenting with sugar-free dessert offerings for those with diabetes.

Jessica has observed that people aren’t buying the grocery store sheet cakes as much anymore because they are opting for decorative cakes to serve as a trendy centerpiece. Just when she thought that cupcakes were on their way out, they are quite popular, even in weddings.  Some of her clients have requested cupcake towers vs. traditional tier cakes to avoid the “cutting fee” that many banquet facilities charge when using an outside cake vendor.  Cupcakes also allow wedding guests to grab a cupcake and go, and they offer flexibility with providing an assortment of flavors.

What’s next for Jessica? She’s working on offering after school cooking classes for kids centering around nutrition, baking with healthy ingredients, and decorating. She will also continue to host private events, and plans to travel more with her business. Her next trip is scheduled in New York, where she will be baking for a corporate launch party event.

Jessica inspires me because she is truly living out her passion and purpose, and success has followed her along the way.  I see big things for her future. One of her goals is to compete in a Food Network competition, so keep your eyes open!  With her passion and drive, you just might see her on TV!  Hopefully her story inspires you as much as she inspires me.

Jessica’s Baking Tips for Home Chefs:

  • Instead of sticking a knife or toothpick in your cakes/cupcakes to check for doneness, gently press the top of the cake to see if it springs back. If it springs back, its done.
  • If you start baking, make sure all of your dairy items are room temperature.
  • Bring eggs to room temperature before baking. If you don’t have the time, place eggs in warm water to bring to room temperature faster.
To learn more about Jessica Ashley, visit her website at  http://www.jacakes.com.