So I finally make my way into the ballroom and I have this sense of urgency. I must battle this crowd like a salmon swimming upstream to taste it all! I cannot shove the food in my face fast enough. Am I in heaven? It turns out that most of my favorite dishes are only feet from each other. It is as if there was a flashing neon sign with my name. First stop, Shawn McClain, chef at Spring, Green Zebra and Custom House, all located in Chicago. I see sausage. Not just any sausage, a venison sausage served over winter legumes, quince and curried spices. There are lentils too. I think this is the perfect winter dish in this perfect winter wonderland.
But wait; do I see Chef Marc Murphy from New York’s Ditch Plains and Landmarc restaurants across the aisle? I do. He is serving up ‘Orrechiette all Norcina’ which turns out to be his Thursday night pasta special at Landmarc. These ‘little ears’ are stuffed with a sweet, fennel sausage and served in a rich, heavy cream sauce. Yummy. So I turn around again and I see green. I could use some greenery in my life right about now. And who better to lighten things up for me than Little Owl and Market Place chef, Joey Campanaro? He is serving up a Sangria-marinated Skirt steak in a Romaine lettuce leaf with toasted bread crumbs. The warm, well seasoned steak is perfectly complimented by the crisp, cool romaine. It tastes like pure freshness to me. Everywhere I turn there is something that I want. Although I am full at this point, how can I not taste Kerry Simon’s Citrus-braised short ribs with steamed Bao dough? The citrus really came through on these ribs. They were yummy melt in your mouth short ribs. Then I see a tray of meatballs. These are not just any meatballs; these are Toasted sesame-crusted lamb meatballs with sweet harissa yogurt sauce prepared by Kat Cora. Yes please. I am trying to make my way out by now. But of course I have to stop for one of Jacques Torres’ famous hot chocolates. Why do I do this to myself? But what better way to end my night than with a cup of spiced, hot liquid chocolate? So I leave in search of some grappa, hoping for a digestive miracle. I already can’t wait for next years Festival!