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The Official Publication of the Illinois Restaurant Association
august 2016

Chicago Gourmet Champions Local Charities


In its ninth year in 2016, Bon Appétit presents Chicago Gourmet has become one of the nation’s largest and most prestigious culinary celebrations. Along with title sponsor Bon Appétit magazine and presenting sponsor Southern Glazer's Wine & Spirits, Chicago Gourmet unites hundreds of restaurants, chefs, and beverage experts for a weekend filled with food and drink tastings, special events, entertainment, cooking demonstrations, book signings, interactive seminars, and so much more.

Another key aspect to Chicago Gourmet is the emphasis the Illinois Restaurant Association places on raising funds for various charities whose missions share an underlying theme: to educate, inspire, and preserve the future of the hospitality industry. In 2015, Chicago Gourmet raised more than $100,000 for charitable beneficiaries.

“Between Chicago Gourmet’s ancillary events, the Main Event and our hugely popular, annual online auction, giving back to the community has always been a fundamental pillar of Chicago Gourmet,” said Sam Toia, President & CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association. “We continually strive to enhance programs that build knowledge, create opportunity, and preserve the industry for generations to come.”

Bid on the Future: Illinois Restaurant Association Educational Foundation
In September, Chicago Gourmet will launch an online auction benefiting the Illinois Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (IRAEF). A 501 (c)(3) dedicated to building the Illinois hospitality workforce through career exploration, workforce development programs, and scholarships, the IRAEF has provided over $2.5 million dollars in scholarships to qualified students since 1973.

The IRAEF administers ProStart® – a national school-to-careers program that prepares high school students for careers in foodservice and hospitality management – to over 4,000 students at 62 schools in the Chicagoland area. Students have the opportunity to earn industry-recognized credentials and articulated credits for college while in high school. The Foundation provides work readiness training and connects students with industry professionals through job shadowing and internships to help hone their skills in the foodservice industry.

Each year, Chicago Gourmet’s online auction features an impressive array of highly-sought dining experiences, wine and spirits packages, sports excursions/memorabilia, and travel opportunities. Online bidding will open mid-September – so bid early and bid often!

A raffle will also take place onsite at both the official kickoff event – the Hamburger Hop on Friday, September 23 sponsored in large part by Buckhead Beef and Blue Moon Brewing Co. – and at Chicago Gourmet’s Main Event on Saturday and Sunday, September 24-25. Attendees can purchase tickets from one of the many staffers onsite, and will be entered to win a state-of-the-art wine fridge, provided by Thermador or an ultra-premium outdoor ceramic grill, provided by Big Green Egg.

Eating Tacos to Support the Frontera Farmer Foundation
Chicago Gourmet’s first-ever Host Chef Rick Bayless developed the Frontera Farmer Foundation in 2003 to support local Midwest farmers by providing them with capital development grants. The organization is committed to promoting small, sustainable farms the serve the Chicago area. Rick and his wife Deann created the Foundation out of concern for struggling local farmers, and are committed to protecting and supporting local and organic produce in the Chicago culinary culture.

“Our relationships with small Midwestern farmers date back to the opening of our first restaurant—decades before anybody had uttered the word ‘locavore,’” said Chef Bayless. “When we made our support official by starting the Foundation, our hope was that our ability to support our farmers would grow. And just like a stalk of heirloom corn in the Illinois countryside, it has.”

This year, Chef Bayless has curated a new and exciting Chicago Gourmet event the evening of Saturday, September 24 that would take one of his favorite foods and open it up to a world of influence: The Tao of Tacos. At this vibrant event – sponsored in large part by Cazadores Tequila and Lagunitas Brewing Company – guests will enjoy unique taco preparations by 12 leading chefs with diverse culinary backgrounds.

A portion of the evening’s proceeds will benefit the Frontera Farmer Foundation.

Rise & Shine with Pilot Light
Rise & Shine Gourmet, presented by UnitedHealthcare and KIND Snacks on Sunday, September 25, unites food and wellness with morning yoga sessions by CorePower Yoga and healthy brunch bites. Chefs presenting food at Rise & Shine Gourmet are affiliated with Pilot Light, a non-profit, chef-founded organization focused on empowering children to make healthy food choices by integrating food and nutrition education into classroom curriculums. The charity will benefit from a portion of the proceeds.

Pilot Light was founded in Chicago in 2010 by four notable chefs – including Paul Kahan, Jason Hammel, Matthias Merges and Ryan Poli – who wanted to teach Chicago students about food—where it comes from, how it’s grown, and how their eating habits affect their health. In partnership with Chicago Public Schools leadership, Pilot Light works to integrate lessons about food and nutrition into daily lessons.

By attending Chicago Gourmet, and participating in the online auction and raffle, attendees have the opportunity to contribute to a world of expanding possibilities for future generations of culinary and hospitality professionals.

Chicago Gourmet is produced by the Illinois Restaurant Association along with title sponsor Bon Appétit magazine and presenting sponsor Southern Glazer's Wine & Spirits. For additional information, please visit


Flavor Profile

Meet Chef Matthias Merges

Matthias Merges boasts an impressive culinary career. In addition to working with the esteemed Chef Charlie Trotter for many years, he eventually came to own award-winning concepts in Chicago and Las Vegas. Merges is also a co-founder of Pilot Light, a non-profit organization created and led by chefs focused on building in-school curriculum around food and nutrition. We caught up with the chef this month to talk shop and all things Chicago Gourmet.

  • Tell us a little about your history. How did you get where you are today?
    • I found my passion for the food world at a young age while cooking for my parents. I started working in restaurants at age 14 and continued on to the Culinary Institute of America to hone my skills. I spent more than 15 years at Charlie Trotter’s Restaurant, working as an integral part of Chef Trotter’s numerous projects, helping to organize all aspects of culinary, service and strategic operations.

      Now I’m the owner and chef of Yusho Restaurant, A10 Hyde Park, Billy Sunday, The Finch Kitchen and Old Irving Brewing.
  • What is your biggest reward working in the restaurant industry?
    • To date, my biggest rewards have come from the outreach I have done in the community, from working with children in Chicago Public Schools through our non-profit organization Pilot Light, to working within the Cook County Correctional Facility assisting with the garden program. Giving back has definitely given me the greatest rewards.
  • You’re involved in Chicago Gourmet, coming up later this month. What’s your favorite thing about the annual celebration?
    • I love when September rolls around! Chicago Gourmet is a wonderful event for the city and I think even more so for chefs and food service professionals. I would have to say my favorite part of the experience is sneaking away and taking advantage of the Grand Cru! I can’t think of a better setting to taste some of the world’s greatest wines.
  • What impact do you feel Chicago Gourmet has on the industry?
    • Chicago Gourmet offers a great venue for chefs, wine professionals and lovers of the industry to gather and share experiences. It has definitely made the Chicago food community more tightly knit, and even more vibrant.
  • Tell us a bit about Pilot Light and its role at Chicago Gourmet.
    • I am a co-founder of Pilot Light, a non-profit, chef-founded organization with a mission to advocate for child nutrition, health and wellness by actively engaging educators, students and parents in the classroom and in their communities. We believe in empowering children with information using a hands-on approach to nutrition education, allowing them to make informed decisions on their own health.

      For the second year running, a portion of proceeds from this year’s Rise & Shine Gourmet event on Sunday, September 25 will benefit Pilot Light. Several participating chefs will provide brunch bites at the yoga and wellness inspired event. It’s an honor to have our Pilot Light serve as the beneficiary while raising further awareness of our mission.

  • What do you see as being the most valuable resources/service that the IRA provides you?
    • Being in the restaurant community in Chicago since 1987, I’ve noticed that one of the challenges for a young cook who wants to open a new business is navigating the new business process at City Hall. The IRA has been invaluable in understanding that process and providing assistance in that area.
  • Do you have any advice for aspiring restaurateurs?
    • Young, aspiring restaurateurs should be very self-critical; know what you’re good at and what you’re not. Surround yourself with the best and most passionate people you can… and never become distracted!



Soda Tax on the Horizon


As the City of Chicago and Cook County address significant budget shortfalls for Fiscal Year 2017, a potential soda tax will likely be on the table in budget discussions. The IRA needs your help to defeat a tax on soda and other non-alcoholic beverages under consideration.

The IRA is a proud member of We Deliver in Chicago, an initiative of the American and Illinois Beverage Associations, and a coalition of more than 1,000 community groups, small businesses, labor unions and chambers of commerce who are local partners of America's non-alcoholic beverage companies. The non-alcoholic beverage industry plays an important role in restaurants – large and small – in every area of Chicago, Cook County, and Illinois.

A soda tax would drive up costs for thousands of restaurants and increase prices on diners, shoppers, and families. Such a tax is also an ineffective way to address public health and obesity issues. Partnerships and education are more effective and productive ways to achieve the goals of a soda tax without burdening families and businesses.

Click here to join the free coalition and add your name to the growing list of opponents to a soda tax.

Click here to send an email in opposition to your Cook County Commissioner and City of Chicago Alderman.

Stay tuned for more opportunities to get involved with this issue. Please contact Matt Quinn, IRA Government Relations & Communications Manager, at (312) 380-4122 or with any comments or questions.


A La Carte

Reinhart Foodservice Offers Full-Service, Innovative Solutions


Reinhart Foodservice is a sponsor of The Tao of Tacos at this year’s Chicago Gourmet. From providing added resources like industry training, menu development and operations solutions, the Reinhart team is dedicated to going above and beyond for their customers.

Today’s restaurant operator faces challenges that reach far past food. The industry is evolving, consumer demands are changing and staff members are in dire need of training. That’s where Reinhart comes in.

The Reinhart Foodservice team is dedicated to providing timely & innovative solutions to their customers. When a restaurant operator chooses Reinhart, they’re choosing a distributor that will go far beyond grocery delivery and will help their customers manage food costs, innovate on the menu, improve operations and market their business to consumers. Reinhart knows that running a successful restaurant takes focus and resources. This is why Reinhart’s vast array of value-added services includes industry-leading restaurant management software, quick & easy ordering on mobile devices, menu development & menu management systems, POS systems and more!

Reinhart is dedicated to the success of each and every one of their customers, from casual bar & grills to upscale eateries to the pub or pizzeria down the street – and everyone in between. Reinhart’s brand promise, Get it Right From Us, is more than a tagline.

As a sponsor of the annual Meet the Experts event hosted by the IRA, Reinhart knows that operators have questions. That is why on August 30, Reinhart Milwaukee is hosting one of a national series of business-building seminars that provide customers with actionable insights so that they can add more to their bottom line. These “Manage my Restaurant” educational seminars help operators increase average check size, improve customer service, enhance wait staff training, drive guest frequency and more.

For information on Reinhart’s “Manage My Restaurant” seminars or Reinhart Foodservice, visit or contact Michael Schwind at



Bittersweet Pastry Shop: Satisfying ‘Sweet Tooths’ Since 1992


For nearly 25 years, Bittersweet Pastry Shop has set the standard for fine pastry in Chicago with specialty desserts and custom cakes for every occasion. Founded by 2015 James Beard Outstanding Baker Award nominee Judy Contino, Bittersweet also offers European-style pastries and breads, as well as breakfast and lunch in a bright, busy café.

Last fall, Contino passed day-to-day operations on to new managing partners Mindy Gohr and Esther Griego. Chef Gohr has been at Bittersweet for more than a decade and she and Griego continue Bittersweet’s tradition of beauty and excellence with support from Contino, who remains a partner and guiding influence for the shop.

Located just west of the Belmont CTA stop in the Lakeview neighborhood, Bittersweet’s café features a rotating menu of house made quiches, soups, salads and sandwiches as well as house blend coffee, specialty teas and signature drinks, including a decadent hot chocolate, spiced ciders, handcrafted sodas and other seasonal delights.

Bittersweet’s display case is stocked with an assortment of signature desserts, including staples such as its vanilla bean sour cream cheesecake, flourless chocolate mousse cake, apple bistro tart and baked brown butter custard tarts. There also are a variety of brownies, biscotti, French macaroons and hand-designed cookies in addition to scones, muffins, croissants and breakfast breads baked fresh each morning that customers can enjoy in-house or take to-go.

The shop is best known for being one of Chicago’s leading wedding and celebration cake bakeries. Bittersweet offers wedding cake consultations to help couples create custom cakes or personalized dessert displays from their unique selection of pastries.

Bittersweet also partners with an exclusive list of restaurants for wholesale desserts. Chef Gohr works directly with each restaurant to develop a customized pastry program to complement their menus.

The shop will participate in The Tao of Tacos at this year’s Chicago Gourmet, serving up a unique dessert taco.

For more information, please visit

Bittersweet Pastry Shop
1114 W Belmont Ave| Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 929-1100
Follow on Facebook: @bittersweetpastryshop
Follow on Instagram: @bittersweetpastryshop
Follow on Twitter: @bittersweetpst

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