As an evident fan of Art Smith, Chicago chefs, and healthy and happy young children, I was fortunate enough to attend the Common Threads’ Cookoff fundraiser this week. Common Threads is a spectacularly-successful nonprofit dedicated to educating communities, especially underprivileged kids, on healthy food choices through cooking. Held at Fulton’s on the River, this year’s cook-off required chefs and mixologists to create a dish either in a glass, on a bun, in a shell, or on a stick. Attendees then vote for their favorite in each category. Guests could also bid on cool auction items, including a private helicopter tour of Chicago.
These tasting events always challenge my ability to sample everything, but after Chicago Gourmet, I breezed through the event like nobody’s business. My favorite dishes of the night included:
• head-on prawn (Embeya): Succulent savory head bits gushing into my mouth seems (and is) very much a culinary sexual experience. I was quite dismayed hearing one attendee exclaim with horror, “Ew! What is that monster?” It ain’t a monster; it a delicious crustacean.
• pain perdu with candied pecan and sweet corn ice cream (Sixteen): It was basically a mini French toast that paired great with corn. Patrick Fahy is a particularly creative pastry beast.
• Crispy pork belly with bourbon, butterscotch (Vincent): Shaped like a mini corndog, this meatball-like creature had a wonderfully spicy kick.
• Curry swordfish (Epic): I don’t know why (well, actually I do), but I literally went back for fourths. Maybe fifths. When Chef Matthew eventually noticed, I felt an odd mixture of both shame and pride.
• Fried chicken biscuits, honey butter (Corner Tap): Their sweet homemade pickles balanced out the intensely-savory biscuits and fried chicken.
• Wild boar sliders (Piccolo Sogno): I haven’t had wild boar often, so this little slider was a nice twist. Earthy and devastatingly tender, this slow-cooked protein was perfectly sauced.
• Buffalo chicken sausage hot dogs (Sepia): SAUSAGE + BUFFALO CHICKEN + HOT DOG BUN = PERFECTION. There is nothing mathematically or logically wrong with that equation.
Of course, the Fresh Alaskan crab chowder from Dirk’s Fish & Gourmet Shop and creamy lobster wonton from Roy’s also bear mentioning, as both were magnificently delicious. And though I hardly care about etiquette in any form or fashion, I admittedly found the dishes rather difficult to consume without utensils. I eventually formed the buns into scooping instruments and sticks as pathetic little forks.
Food aside, I also enjoyed mingling with the chefs, for whom I have enormous respect and admiration. I saw well-known chefs like Andrew Zimmerman (Sepia), Sarah G (Spiaggia), and Patrick Fahy (Sixteen), but the fun guys from Roka Akor, table-52, and EPIC rocked the event as well. All these chefs stand for 2-3 hours, plating downright delicious food for a good cause (and for marketing purposes, but that seems less romantic).
As I admired the general splendor of Downtown Chicago at night (from the incomparable view of Fulton’s on the River’s veranda), I sipped slowly on Sprecher root beer and listened to conversations on unrequited love. But it was late, and stuffed beyond belief, I happily waddled home with my swag bag, filled with ZICO coconut water and gym membership coupons (both of which I’ll be using if I continue attending these events).