Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Chicago and Back: Food & Nutrition Expo (FNCE) Lessons Learned

San Diego—cool crisp mornings and warm, arid days with a subtle ocean breeze
Chicago—Windy (yes, it is called the Windy City for a reason), wet, and snow flurries
After living on the East Coast I had a general idea of outerwear to pack: gloves, hat, warm coat, but what I failed to think about was sensible shoes. My favorite red and black heals were not the ideal footwear favorites for the weekend. Although my toes were not chilled to the bone I did feel every step as the girls and I headed down Michigan Avenue in search of some dinner treats.

Emma Fogt & Wendy Jo

Knowing that my aim was to represent the Nutrition Entrepreneurs Dietetic Practice Group with professional flare I again selected my favorite black and red heals to stand around and greet fellow ADA (American Dietetic Association) members at our booth. BIG MISTAKE! I loved the fun compliments for about 2 hours, and then I had to trek a ½ mile around the McCormick Convention center, due to poor directions, to attend a meeting. After that my “dogs were barking,” as some of my favorite NEDPG Executive Board Girls (EBG) echoed my feelings. The backpacker in me would not allow me to over pack my luggage; thus, I limited my shoe selections to 3 pairs—the hot and sassy red pumps, the stylish and classic blacks, and my tread-worthy running shoes! Many of my fellow EBG’s laughed as they reflected back on to their years when they once wore the stylish versus sensible shoes. Lesson learned!

Food and Chicago mesh fabulously well together! Unfortunately, I planned poorly and failed to realize the culinary glories of Chicago until my last night. I did however, save the best for last! As a couple of us ventured out after our last session to feast before famine we decided to hit up a Chophouse for steaks. Much to our dismay our cabbie pulled up to an empty and dark building—obviously closed on Sundays! As we sat and discussed, with our meters still running, our cabbie finally offered up a couple of suggestions that were just around the corner from our barren location. With a couple of questionable looks we decided to take nibble on his lead. Our next stop—Avec—a gastro-delight with a wine list to match. This place had style, although narrow, the wooded walls and exposed-beamed ceilings added warmth and clean lines to the establishment. The back wall was lit up with…look once—lights, look twice…wine bottles laid down on the side with their bottoms facing the crowd. It projected a jade-effect for the eyes. As we waited for a much sought out table Paul or wine guy brought us a wine with a few words of suggestions: not dry, not sweet, and with a favorable (meaning low end) price. This was my first clue that Avec had panache! Paul surpassed all of our expectations with a smile to boot! After about 30 minutes, all the while enjoying conversation, aromas, and the occasional cool air coming from the front door, we were seated. Our table was reminiscent of a picnic table with heavy, wooden chairs. Our waitress, Sontra, bestowed upon us seasonal menus that had fresh, warm ingredients reflective of the fall season. Plates at Avec are served family-style with a hint suggestive of tapas. With her suggestions we started our night with a cheese platter (crusty bread, grapes and parsley salad, and 3 goat cheeses), creamy, stuffed foccacia bread, and a roasted beet & fennel salad. Are you salivating yet? Next, she brought us an excellent bottle of red to match our tastes again. We sipped and laughed as we enjoyed our rustic dishes of sausage-stuffed dates, roast beef over butternut squash puree, and pheasant sausage with lentils. Beyond the flavor explosion that occurred on our tongues our hearts were warmed by the hospitality bestowed on us from the time we entered the front door until they hailed a cab for us, and wished me well by first name. Who are these people in the middle of downtown Chicago? Native Chicagoans! I had to ask.

Let’s reflect a bit for next year…
Pack the right shoes for walking the town at night
Find sensible shoes that have style so my poor feet don’t hate me for weeks after
Plan the culinary tour in advance