In November, more than 35 local restaurants and organizations participated in the first annual À la carte Chicago. An 11-day celebration of French food, wine, and culture, with menus and events designed to excite and inspire, and A Cook’s Canvas was invited to cover several of the events.
Restaurants across the city, most but not all specializing in French food, offered special À la carte menus created just for the event, giving diners an opportunity to sample both classical and contemporary French cuisines at fixed menu prices. There were also cooking workshops, wine tastings, a recipe contest hosted on social media, and activities for the whole family. The 11-day event was timed to close with the French-American Chamber of Commerce’s 31st annual Passport to France event, an evening of French wines, spirits, food, and culture.
I had the opportunity (and great pleasure!) to cover several of the events and to work with the incredibly friendly people at à la carte Chicago, the Alliance Française de Chicago, the Consulat Général de France à Chicago, and French-American Chamber of Commerce of Chicago.
The highlights for me were of course the fantastic French foods and specially crafted menus, so here is a summary of my experiences.
Café des Architectes at SOFITEL Chicago Water Tower – Executive Chef Greg Biggers, Executive Pastry Chef Anna Young
Artisan Charcuterie Cured Meat with Mustard and Toasted Baguette
Burgundy Escargot: Escargot, Beech Mushrooms, Maitakii Mushrooms, Eggplant, Red Wine Jus
Braised Berkshire Pork Belly: Pork Belly, Beer Mustard, Quail Egg, Cauliflower, Thumbolina Carrots, Beech Mushrooms, Baby Brussel Sprouts
Seared Lake Superior Whitefish: Lake Superior Whitefish, Winter Squash, Pepperonatta, Celery Root, Baby Marble Potatoes
Roasted Duck Breast: Duck Breast, Duck Confit, Roasted Butternut Squash, Shaved Radish, Celery Leaves, Telaggio Cream, Baby Parsnips, Thumbelina Carrots, Cauliflower, Carrot Gastrique
Brioche Bostock: Compressed Pears, Pear Sorbet, Almond Cream, Vanilla Cranberries
Chocolate Cremeaux: Preserved Berries, Shortbread Crumble, Mixed Berry Ice Cream, Dulce Tuile
Amuse Bouche of Chestnut Provision Cheese (made in-house) Mignardises
Macaron with chocolate
Shaw’s Crab House – Yves Roubaud Executive Chef/Proprietor of Shaw’s Crab House Division
Smoked Salmon with Crème Fraîche
Bibb Lettuce and Herb Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette
Pan Roasted Atlantic Cod with Celery Root Puree and Red Wine Sauce
Sauteed Sea Scallops with Braised Leeks and Lobster Sauce
Chez Moi – Executive Chef Dominique Tougne
Lobster Bisque with Clams and Croutons
Brie en Croute with Petite Salad
Events: Being a chef with Chef Madelaine Bullwinkle at Alliance Française de Chicago
The Alliance Française de Chicago is a wonderful organization dedicated to the study of French language, cultural exchange, and friendship between Americans and French speaking peoples. Not only for Francophones, the Alliance is open and welcoming to anyone who is curious about French language and culture, and hosts a busy calendar of events each year to bring together our two cultures.
I had the pleasure of attending a cooking class hosted by Chef Madelaine Bullwinkle, where she prepared three traditional French classics dating from the time of the revolution, which were featured in the 1987 Dutch film Babette’s Feast; Immediately following the class was a screening in the Alliance’s auditorium of the film, a feast for the eyes and the soul that recounts the hardships of a young woman Chef from Paris who was displaced by the war and relocated to a dreary remote seaside village in Denmark, where she opens the eyes and the minds of her hosts with a sumptuous Parisian feast normally reserved for royalty. Chez Madelaine has run a French cooking school for more than 30 years, and regularly organizes trips to France to help her students uncover the mysteries of French cuisine.
À la carte is truly a chance to indulge in French cuisine. Many of the participating Chefs have trained under the world’s most renowned French Chefs providing a level of authenticity that would be hard to experience without a passport and a plane ticket.
Although I didn’t have a chance to visit all of the participating restaurants, the quality and effort put into planning the events and creating the À la carte menus is quite impressive, providing diners with a chance to sample world-class culinary artistry at fixed menu prices making it one of the best values on the Chicago culinary calendar. I look forward to many more years of enjoying À la carte Chicago and can’t wait to see what next year’s festivities have in store!
Please visit À la carte website for all participating chefs, restaurants, and events.