While the Taste of Chicago, a 10-day food-a-thon that culminates on the Fourth of July, gets a lot of media attention as the food event of the summer in the city, serious foodies know that the season’s must-attend affair is the Green City Market Chef’s BBQ. Always held mid-July, this year’s event took place on July 15 in Lincoln Park. When it first started 10 years ago, “BBQ” was a fitting description. But with 80 chefs and a record crowd of 2,500 people, this once-simple affair has become a huge food extravaganza with chef’s pitting their creativity against one another in the use of market ingredients in their mini preparations. Not surprisingly, the impressive lineup of the city’s top chefs guarantees a sold-out event, and despite the 90-plus-degree heat, this year was no exception.
One thing I would advise for those who go: eat as little as you can the day of the event. Even still, as hungry as you come, there are way more offerings than one stomach can handle. A smart plan of action is to skim through your program booklet, mark the restaurant stations you want to try, and pace yourself for the next two hours. Did I take my own advice? No.
As people lined up outside and poured into the event, I followed the crowds and wandered aimlessly around. There were a few stations I missed, but when you’re in a pantheon of great food, it’s hard to go wrong. Some of my favorite tastes included (some I was able to photograph; some not):
Spot-on grilled pork belly tacos (left) with salsa negra, baby arugula, homemade queso fresco on homemade corn tortillas (Gunthorp Farms, Nichols Farm and Orchard) – Rick Bayless, Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, XOCO
Corn on the cob with caramelized shallots, togarashi, and herbs – Bill Kim, Belly Shack/Urban Belly
“Kaserkrainer” – Jared Van Camp’s own hot dog (left) using South Pork Ranch, Brunkow Cheese, Nichols Farm and Orchard, on a Bennison’s Bakery bun. Delish!
Super tender BBQ tri-tip sandwiches (with Heartland Meats) – Ina’s and Smoque BBQ
Grilled pork belly on toasted bread with an excellent honey aioli and summer vegetable salad (left) (Becker Lane Organic, Floriole Bakery, Heritage Prairie Farm, Nichols Farm and Orchard, Yuppie Hill Farm) – Tony Mantuano and Meg Colleran, Terzo Piano
A decadent smoked short rib grilled cheese sandwich with butterkase, pickled onion, and roasted garlic butter – Brian Millman, Uncommon Ground
Tender whole smoked pig with fresh pickled market vegetables – Roger Herring, Socca
Miniature peach unpside down cake (left) with sweet chevre (Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery, Seedling Farms) – Pamela Fitzpatrick, Fox & Obel
Roasted peach/vanilla ice cream on a stick – Devin Hickey, Four Seasons Hotel
Berry galette (minus the galette) and maple ice cream (left) – Mark Payne and Eric Estrella, Ritz Carlton Hotel Chicago
Being a BBQ, meat was in abundance—grilled, braised, and barbecued—usually paired with some incarnation of salad or vegetable. In addition to food, there was locally made beer and wine, and this year, hand-crafted cocktails. It being a hot evening, cold beer hit the spot, especially a new, citrusy and light Goose Island brew called Marisol, created especially to go with Frontera Grill’s Mexican dishes. There was so much to try, by the end of the event, some of the stations couldn’t get any more takers as people held their stomachs and waddled away.
As the Chef’s BBQ grows in size every year, so does the ticket price. This year’s ticket was $100 per person. In a recessionary economy, you might think twice about shelling out those big bucks for an evening, but you do get an incredible variety of tastes in one place and all profits from the event go toward Green City Market’s programs and educational initiatives.