James Beard Taste America Dazzles In Chicago

The James Beard Foundation's Taste America tour made its Chicago stop on Friday, October 14th. With the recent announcement that the James Beard Foundation Awards would be remaining in the Windy City through 2021, Chicagoans were primed to celebrate with a night of lively auctions, culinary stars, and phenomenal food.

The event was held at LondonHouse Chicago, one of the city's newest hotels, located along the Chicago River in the bustling downtown Loop. The cocktail hour set the tone for a gastronomically rich night as lauded local chefs provided flavorful bites to excite the guests' palates.

Sarah Grueneberg of Monteverde, Abe Conlon of Fat Rice, Perry Hendrix of avec, Lee Wolen of Boka, Megan Miller of Baker Miller, and sponsor Sodexo got guests' appetites revved up with delicious small bites in their signature styles. Grueneberg's tortellini en brodo was a particular standout. The chef's pasta expertise was on display in the perfectly chewy ring paired with flavorful mortadella, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and a shot of savory poultry broth.

Dinner delivered an excellent and diverse menu to the hungry attendees; a four-course showcase of culinary prowess. Host chef Jacob Verstegen of LondonHouse got things started right with his appetizer, Norwegian fjord trout with sunflower milk and mint. The delicately cooked fish was one of the best dishes of the night, a refreshing bite accented with subtle cucumber and cucamelon accompaniments.

Chef Missy Robbins traveled from her restaurant Lilia in Brooklyn to add her dish to the menu. Ricotta gnocchi was a warm and satisfying second course, dressed in brown butter with walnuts and lemon. The walnuts added much needed texture to the soft pasta, while the citrus bite of the lemon was a lovely foil to the rich brown butter sauce.

The main course was presented by chef Jimmy Bannos Jr. of The Purple Pig and was a tasteful tip of the hat to the restaurant's name. Suckling porcelet confit was tender and juicy, and a pear sauce terrine pairing heightened the dish with a nostalgic twist, invoking a sophisticated turn at pork chops and applesauce.

Chef Aya Fukai of Maple & Ash brought her unique style to the dessert course with a spin on beloved fall flavors. Her apple tarte Tatin was like an extra helping of the delicious filling of an apple pie. Tart cranberries kept the balance, and warm hazelnuts tied it all together. It was a fitting end to a display of culinary artistry.

Throughout dinner, emcee Donnie Madia Gianfrancisco, owner of One Off Hospitality and 2015 James Beard Award winner for Outstanding Restauranteur, led the event, introducing speakers, such as James Beard Foundation President Susan Ungaro, and kicking off a live auction to raise money for the Foundation's culinary scholarship program. Packages included trips to New Orleans and Los Angeles, special cooking experiences with chefs, and exclusive dinners, with attending chefs and distributors adding in bonus perks mid-bid to sweeten the deal. The energetic auction earned thousands of dollars to support aspiring culinary students.

Chicago and the James Beard Foundation made no secret of their mutual appreciation as this year's Taste America celebrated the excellent relationship that will flourish in the years to come.

Learn more about Taste America at jbftasteamerica.org and follow the tour at #JBFTasteAmerica on Twitter and Instagram.