Chicago features some of the finest food in the world, and offers many experiences beyond your typical lunch or dinner. Expand your gastronomic boundaries with these 11 foodie experiences in (and around) Chicago this spring. Learn to assemble the perfect cheese platter, join a Secret Supper club, learn to butcher a hog and more. Experiences are listed in order of cost (low to high). Bon appétit!
Do you want free food samples? From some of Chicago’s best chefs? Held indoors at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum (2430 N. Cannon) October through April, the Green City Market hosts local chefs each week on Saturdays at 10:30 a.m. They set up a mini kitchen with all the ingredients to demonstrate the creation of some of their favorite dishes, and share those samples with the audience. You can learn the insider secrets that make up the menus of your favorite restaurants. Last year I had the opportunity to see Chef Heather Terhune of Sable give a demonstration, and I benefited from the tasting of cheddar grits topped with grilled pork belly and a maple gastrique.
Upcoming chef demonstrations include:
- March 15: Leonard Hollander of Marion St. Cheese Market
- March 29: Heather Terhune of Sable
- April 5: Peter Klein of Seedling
- April 19: Abraham Conlon of Fat Rice
Looking for a hard-to-find kitchen gadget or a unique gift? Shop where the chefs go for their kitchen supplies – at Northwestern Cutlery (810 W. Lake). The company has been sharpening knives for over 50 years and sells many items to fill out your kitchen supply. Bring your knives for sharpening while you browse this warehouse store in the West Loop for items such as:
- Rice cube sushi former
- Double-handled cheese knife
- Lattice-dough cutter
- Chicago-style deep dish pizza pan
- Zucchini/carrot ribbon curler
Can’t get enough bacon? Appreciate craft beer? Pair the two at Paddy Long’s (1028 W. Diversey) infamous beer and bacon tasting. Sign up with a group of friends and compete for who can down the most bacon (many of their menu items feature bacon as well). Each slice is served with a description – different cuts, different curing styles, and different toppers such as brown sugar – and the seasonal beers that best complement the tastes. Paddy Long’s features a selection of their 18 beers on tap, which rotate frequently.
Most tastings are Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons, and spots fill up quickly. Tickets are $36.
Want to know how to select the perfect cheeses for your next cocktail party? Pastoral, one of Chicago’s finest cheese, bread and wine shops, is hosting “Cheese 101” at their Lakeview location (2947 N. Broadway). On Saturday, March 29 from 12 – 1 p.m. the master cheese mongers will give a thorough introduction to different varieties of cheese, giving you the know-how to select a well-rounded sampling next time you shop. Tickets, $45 include a glass of wine or beer, with additional drinks available for purchase.
Chicago Food Planet has been hosting walking tours since 2006, highlighting Bucktown, Old Town and Chinatown’s delicious treats. Part neighborhood tour and part food sampling, Chicago Food Planet tours are led by knowledgeable guides adding local flavor and tidbits to your repertoire.
I had the pleasure of taking this tour and was turned on to restaurants I had never visited before, which are now some of my favorites in the neighborhood. Start your tour with the iconic Chicago-style hot dog at George’s (and show your trivia knowledge of all the original toppings), the newest deli recipes from local artisan shop Goddess & Grocer, a falafel pita sandwich from Sultan’s Market, pizza and beer samples from Piece, fully customizable liquid-nitrogen frozen ice cream from iCream, and more.
Since the tours are on foot, they begin in April, and are held Tuesday-Saturday at 11:30 a.m. Tickets are $47 and include all food. You will definitely not leave hungry!
Secure your spot in Chicago’s first Secret Supper, where you’ll meet with other mysterious guests at an undisclosed location on Tuesday, April 1 at 7 p.m. Held in cities around the country, Secret Suppers bring together a roster of in-the-know guests to be served by a chef creating a unique menu in a secret location. The event is hosted by Dishcrawl, an organization that brings together friends and strangers alike for progressive dinners, chef encounters and more. With rotating upcoming public events, the Secret Suppers take a special spin on the concept by keeping the menu and location hidden for an air of surprise. Tickets, $89 plus optional wine pairings, will sell out very quickly. This will definitely be an experience you can brag about to your friends!
Known for its restaurants, markets, Nutella and Coffee bars and much more, Eataly (43 E. Ohio) also features a cooking school, La Scuola. During a 90-minute demonstration, Eataly’s chefs will take you on a voyage through Umbria, featuring regional ingredients and the basic language related to the culture and gastronomy.
Your menu will feature Insalata di Zucca (Butternut Squash Salad), Strangozzi con Burro al Tartufo (Strangozzi with Truffle Butter), Porchetta con Lenticchie (Roasted Umbrian Pork with Lentils), along with a two glasses of wine (red and white).
The class is held on Thursday, March 27 at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $95 and you can register through the link above. The next Italian language class features the Lombardia region, and will be held on Wednesday, April 30.
Situated in a secluded location in the Gold Coast, The Drawing Room (937 N. Rush) serves up award-winning meals and equally impressive cocktails. Their menu, changed seasonally, currently features winter flavors such as Winter Squash Crepes with red quinoa, parmesan mornay, charred scallion and crispy sage, and Braised Short Rib Risotto with red wine braised short rib, maitake mushroom, and blue cheese espuma. The richly combined flavors are matched with unique hand-crafted drinks. As the drink menu offers some incredible options, it is best to ask your waiter and Master Bartender to devise the perfect pairing for your meal, and even for each course. This will round out your experience in the subterranean lounge space.
The drink menu currently features concoctions such as:
- Orange is the New Black: Cointreau Noir, St. Elizabeth Allspice, North Shore Sirene, fresh sour
- Return of the Mac: Macallan 12, Cointreau, habanero shrub, maple
- Casa de Martin: Remy Martin VSOP, Galliano Ristretto, xocolatl mole bitters, maple
Meat lovers only – if you want the full experience on how your meat is prepared, reserve a spot in one of Butcher and the Burger’s (1021 W. Armitage) hog butchery classes. Chef Al will show you how to prepare the animal for cooking. Classes are BYOB and feature a full meal, so come hungry!
Upcoming classes are on March 13th and 27th at 6:30 p.m. Call 773-697-3735 to make your reservations.
For the fifth year, the Chicago Botanic Garden (1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe, IL) hosts three farm-to-table dinners, bringing together farmers, chefs, winemakers and more to serve you a locally-grown meal. You will be seated within a vine-covered trellis in the Regenstein Fruit and Vegetable Garden while learning about how the food is planted, organically grown and harvested.
Award-winning Chef Cleetus Friedman orchestrates the multi-course meal. Tickets, $220, feature cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, a tour of the garden, and the multi-course meal, as well as support to the Green Youth Farm program, providing students with opportunities to learn about organic farming. Make your reservations now for this exclusive dinner, held on three dates in 2014: July 16, August 13 and September 3, from 5 – 8 p.m.
Looking for an even more exclusive experience? You could create your very own wine blend, in your very own oak barrel, with your very own label. Right in Chicago’s West Loop, you could be sampling and serving your own wine. This special program is offered by City Winery (1200 W. Randolph) with customized consultations throughout. You will select which varietal of grapes and vineyard you prefer, and will have the opportunity to get hands-on during the crushing and maceration process after the grapes have been harvested.
Based on your specifications, the wine will be aged 6 – 24 months, with visits at your preferred frequency. Once your wine has reached its desired age, you will have the option to blend with other City Wineries, or maintain your own varietal selection. Then comes the fully-customized bottle and label design. The in-house designer will craft the perfect label for your personal brand, and the result will garnish 250 bottles for you to enjoy.
Have you tried any of these experiences in Chicago? Leave a comment and let us know how they were!
Check the Events Calendar page to keep track of these events and more.