Notes from the's Rising Stars Revue and Gala at Fairmont Chicago | Photo gallery

  • Yellowfin Tuna, Prickly Pear from Boka

  • Chris Pandel of The Bristol

  • Rabbit Liver and Kidney Lyonnaise from The Bristol

  • Paul McGee of The Whistler

  • Scallop-Crab Motoyaki by Shin Thompson

  • Blackbird's Panna Cotta

  • Stephanie Izard

  • Jimmy MacMillan's chocolate cake, white and dark mousse, gooseberry sorbet and choclota jam

  • Zimmerman and Bannos

  • Jimmy Bannos and Jimmy Bannos, Jr.

  • Terry Alexander and Jimmy Bannos

  • Terry Alexander and Andrew Zimmerman's Rising Stars competition/revue might sound like a recent concept, riding on the coattails of the emergent celebrity chef adoring culture, but as managing editor Will Blunt explained to me within a few minutes of my arrival at the Chicago gala/revue last night, the industry publication was doing its thing back when chefs were "chopped liver" in popular culture. "We like to think we've been a catalyst," he says, for a new kind of recognition for the chef in our culture. Blunt also made the case Chicago's culinary scene spirit was not unlike that of Spain, where locals have supported and put their money into the rise of a chef/mixologist driven food-and-drink culture with significant local pride to show for it.

The Rising Stars revue, therefore, is less about competition (a word I never heard used over the course of the night) and more about the cameraderie of a creative life in the restaurant biz. The chefs invited to the event are chosen not just from thorough in-person tastings many months ago, but from interviews and for their commitment to "the culinary community." The Rising Stars tag is meant to have a national scope as big names in Chicago might some room to rise on the national scene. After about 8:30pm, the StarChefs editorial crew took the stage and the participating chefs brought out their mentors for a major feel-good session. At heart, Rising Stars was an industry feel-good session for Chicago, a culinary city that has a lot to feel good about at the moment.

While it was billed as a tasting event, attendees treated it like a judging as they circled the ballroom at the Fairmont nibbling from dishes served on small plates (made from, I kid you not, pressed palm leaves) from a roster of Chicago's Rising Stars Award Winners—many bold name local chefs (Stephanie Izard, Jimmy Bannos Jr., Dirk Flanagan, Andrew Zimmerman, Jared Van Camp and Chris Pandel among them), comparing notes, deciding on favorites and voting on a scorecard. They drank of Spanish wines, tasted portions of Belgian ales and tumblers (or cocktails made by Paul McGee from the Whistler) of Highland Park single malt (which two Scotch brand ambassadors toted around the room) in between bites as a jazz pianist beebopped his way around the keys. 

There were many winning dishes to my mind—nothing, honestly, that I didn't truly enjoy:

Jimmy Bannos Jr. did a milk-braised pork shoulder that was not unlike getting a nighttime tuck-in from the gourmet Italian grandma we never had. Can I sleep in, nanah?

Chris Pandel's Rabbit Liver and Kidney Lyonnaise was the kind of dish I didn't expect to take to—a balance of earthy game punctuated with a frisée that made for more than a one note experience. Release the hounds, Nigel, we're hunting hare this morning.

The most sophisticated bite I had all night was Andrew Zimmerman's Pheasant Agnolotti—which felt slightly a cut above the meaty plates that most were putting out—I should have snuck back for seconds. The dish was good enough that Zimmerman took home the $5000 award check.

Dessert lovers seemed to conclude that the Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Panna Cotta from Patrick Fahy was the jam to end all jams—it was definitely among the most adventurous sweets on offer. Though the Buttermilk Blue Cheese Semifreddo from Beverly Kim Clark was pretty out there if you thought about it. 

But richness and fattiness ruled. Shin Thompson of Bonsoirée took home honors for his Scallop-Crab Motoyaki which was served oh so dramatically in a scallop shell—sourced from a land far far away. It was one of my last bites of the night—I somehow missed it on my first go around—and it was pretty fantastic.

The Gala Tasting Menu

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)