24 March 2009

Common Threads gala & Top Chef superfan

By: Jessica B.
Tagged: Chicago, Food

You all know that I’m not the best in the kitchen, but I love a good meal and last night I was very fortunate to attend the Common Threads World Festival 2009 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, which had food and chefs from some of Chicago’s best restaurants.

Common Threads was co-founded by chef Art Smith to educate children on the importance of nutrition and teach them to make proper food choices through cooking education. It’s a really great cause.

I’m writing this recap and noshing on caramel popcorn from Graham Elliott (in a convenient Chinese take-out box,) thinking of how I can recap this great evening for everyone. So we’ll do it in a bulleted form!
Here are some highlights:

  • Seeing Gail Simmons, Top Chef judge and Food & Wine editor, within the first two minutes of arriving and saying (loudly,) “OMG it’s Gail, I die!” FYI: she is gorgeous in person, skinny and petite while rocking sky-high heels
  • Hunting down Stephanie Izard from Top Chef Season 4 and over enthusiastically saying how excited I am to meet her, like several times, oh and how I “hunted her down” to meet her. Probably thinks I’m c-r-a-z-y!
  • Saying hi to Mr. Graham Elliott Bowles himself and having him offer to shove leftover caramel popcorn in my purse. Really wish I brought a bigger bag
  • Best meal: Pork and pasta by Michelle Bernstein. Why was it so good? Perfectly cooked meat that melts in your mouth. Why was it also good? Butter and cream. Num and nummier
  • Best meal runners-up: Goat cheese from Les Nomades and Swedish pancake with goat cheese from Blackbird
  • Most bittersweet dish: Pork and shrimp by Stephanie Izard. It was good, but a little underseasoned for my taste. Still love her though
  • Best drink: Trust me, I behaved myself, but the champagne, Gran Marnier and pomegranate juice concoction was very lovely
  • Other reality-star sighting: Ken from season two of Make Me A Supermodel (he was smiling with his eyes)
Also, while I am sometimes awkward in social situations, I was a TOTAL ham at the party. I had a list of people I wanted to meet and I hunted them all down to say hi. I went right up to Gail Simmons, Stephanie Izard and Radhika from Top Chef and geeked out about how excited I was to meet them. What can I say, I’m a huge Top Chef fan.
I know not everyone may know who these people are, but I had to share this because it was a great night and a great treat to go. Plus, I got to get semi-dressed up in a cute Banana Republic jersey LBD and shoes, which were torture devices near the end of the night. And, I got to sample great, fancy food I would never be able to make. Well, maybe if I could just move beyond making pasta at home….
So the question for everyone tonight is…what is your favorite restaurant/dish to order when you go out? One of my colleagues admitted tonight she’s a huge Olive Garden fan, never would have guessed that!


  1. A Super Girl says:

    I, too, love Olive Garden, which my boyfriend teases me about incessantly.

  2. Miss Grace says:

    I like to ask the waiter what his/her favorite thing is.

  3. i would’ve been a major fangirl around them!! i love those ladies! especially stephanie..is she still in chicago?

  4. Sounds like an amazing night! I'm going to have to try to make the champagne, Gran Marnier, & pomegranate juice drink. Sounds delish! I'm on the Gulf Coast with a ton of locally-owned places that serve wonderful fresh seafood so I usually go that route. I love to try new things so I look for a seafood dish that has a twist to it. Not the standard fried shrimp, oysters, etc.

  5. I love top chef! I actually had a couple of actor friends who were in the Natasha Richardson episode this past season.

    I’m addicted to this sub shop in Delaware called Capriotti’s. They’re a local chain, with the exception of one store in Vegas, and they made some of the best sandwiches ever. Especially The Bobbie (turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and mayo… but mine is without mayo). Ah-mazing. You’d never know I grew up the daughter of a foodie with the way I love a hoagie.

  6. I don’t eat out much because I have a really big kitchen and I love to cook (and so does my boyfriend) but if you’re looking for some really great cookbooks, I recommend Claudia Roden. She writes about the North-African and Middle-Eastern cultures and her books contain information on the culture as well as recipes. The recipes are really easy to make and are absolutely delicious! We made a lamb tajine dish with pears and unions the other day and I’m going to try a recipe for chicken pilaf tonight.

  7. Heidi Renée says:

    We go to Cheesecake Factory a lot. A LOT. Jason’s kind of obsessed. Nine times out of ten, I’ll get Evelyn’s Favorite Pasta. SO. GOOD. Now that we’re moving we’ll have to find all new favorite restaurants, and that’s always fun. We have already made sure there’s a CF in the area–just so Jason doesn’t have to live in uncertainty.

  8. Linda says:

    What a sweet event!

    One of my all-time favorite places to eat in Chicago is at Piece. We always try to go there whenever we visit home.


  9. EP says:

    I cannot believe you got to meet so many Top Chef people! I would have geeked out, too, if I were there!

    One of my favorite places in my little town is this pizza place. They have fantastic pizzas, including my fave, which has a sundried tomato pesto as the sauce, topped with cheeses, avocados, sundried tomatoes, onions and chicken. YUM!

  10. Lys says:

    i almost hate to say this, but i’m a sucker for the king and snow crab legs at red lobster and the angus center cut filet from outback steakhouse. otherwise, there’s a little italian place here in new york called tanto bacci that makes all of their own pasta and sauces. the fettucini alfredo is thick, creamy, and really rich and delicious.

  11. Melissa says:

    I am going to avoid the obvious jealous comment and simply beg you to please, oh please, become my BFF. Perhaps inviting you over for a cocktail and sending you home with vats of raspberry butter would help?

    Ahem. I digress.

    Bistro Campagne’s special menu lamb chops. Le sigh.

  12. Bobbie says:

    My latest food fave is the truffled mac & cheese from smith and wollensky. YUM. And the giant grilled shrimp with chili-soy glaze. (I know they're known for their awesome steaks, but I am not really a big steak girl.)

    There's also this wonderful little Mexican restaurant in Oak Park called New Reboza that has pumpkin mole and other amazing deliciousness…

    I am living vicariously through your food sampling…

  13. cavy says:

    ohhhh i am totally all about the risotto – and any type of seafood! scallops, salmon, shrimp, mmmmmm.

    what an amazing night! :)

  14. Andhari says:

    oh my god lucky you! I likeee food sampling and see people cook although I cant :P

  15. Mandy says:

    Color me jealous! What a great opportunity for you. I love trying new things when I go out.

  16. Blaez says:

    i must say i am extremely jealous!! you go girl :D

  17. Sarah says:

    So jealous you got to meet Top Chef people. I’m such a fan of that show. And refuse to do things on Wednesday night when its on.

    I hate having the same things over and over. There are so many things out there, why not try something new or someplace new? Other than the comfort foods, I always try to ad a new twist to everything I eat.

  18. Can I have two?
    Volare – ANYTHING
    La Gondola (looks like a total dive in the strip mall by the Jewel on Ashland and Diversey but is soooooo not) – their pumpkin squash ravioli or their Rigatoni 4 Formaggi… yum yum yum yum yum!

  19. Maxie says:

    anything with mushrooms, wine sauce, alfredo/cream sauce…

    If seared tuna is on the menu I usually get it. It’s my fave.

  20. SoMi's Nilsa says:

    I love Top Chef. So does Sweets. So much so that he bought us t-shirts from Bravo that say I HAVE A CULINARY BONER. Love them!

    My favorite dish when eating out is something new. I hate getting into ruts or rituals. Each restaurant has their own specialty. I love discovering what talented chefs have to offer. Not what they cook just to satisfy the masses.