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Nobody goes hungry at Chefs' Fest
By James Kane | Daily Herald Staff

Scott Wegener, executive chef of the Paddock Pub, prepares buffalo chicken burgers as patrons, including Chris Osterhout of Palatine, wearing glasses at right, wait, during Chefs' Fest Tuesday at Arlington Park.

 

Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

Rick Munoz of The Grand Station, Arlington Heights, hands a plate of food to Stacy Gable of Sycamore during Chefs' Fest Tuesday at Arlington Park.

 

Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

Patrons of Chefs' Fest line up at the Pinstripes table, one of the more popular draws during the event Tuesday at Arlington Park.

 

JOE LEWNARD PHOTO

Miguel Sandoval, executive chef of Morton's Steakhouse, and line cook Sergio Araos prepare food for guests during Chefs' Fest Tuesday at Arlington Park.

 

Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

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Published: 4/22/2009 12:01 AM

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As hundreds chowed down Tuesday night at the 16th annual Chefs' Fest, the line grew to more than 50 people waiting to attack the food at Ruth's Chris Steak House.

Brandon Green of Rolling Meadows didn't seem concerned about the wait, having already filled up on offerings of food and drinks available from the 60 vendors that were part of the event at Arlington Park.

"We've heard it's excellent," he said. "We'll save the best for last."

With so many booths to choose from, the lines at most vendors were modest. Steak houses were among the more popular exhibitors, and the line at Ruth's Chris of South Barrington the longest at 6 p.m.

"I think it's going to be worth the wait," said Lynn Duggan of Roselle, sipping a glass of white wine. She was there with some other members of the Four Winds Ski Club in Roselle. One of them, Patrick Clark, raved about a "pork sandwich that was out of this world" at Birch River Grill of Arlington Heights.

The event is staged as a fundraiser for the Woodfield Chicago Northwest Convention Bureau, which spends about $2.7 million annually supporting the tourism industry in the Northwest suburbs.

The restaurants and Arlington Park donate their services in return for the promotional opportunity and to back the tourism group, and people buy tickets for $25 to $30. The event brought in about $40,000 last year.

The number of vendors was down about five and ticket sales were down a bit also this year due to the economy, said Fran Bolson, bureau president. But most places still were willing to participate despite the cost for food and staff.

"Hats off to the vendors," she said, praising them also for their eclectic food choices.

One of the best hucksters at the event was Chef Paul Ferrara of Roselle, who works at Shula's Steakhouse at the Westin Hotel in Itasca. "Look at our $10 lunch specials - excellent, cheap!" he chimed to each patron as he handed out samples of braised steak tips and bacon-wrapped barbecued shrimp. And then he'd speak of the $39 prix fixe menu - "It's unheard of!"

As the evening wound down, the longer lines were at dessert tables such as L'Eiffel Bistrot and Creperie in South Barrington, where many people were choosing the Grand Marnier as a topping.

Jennifer Krieg of Palatine, who had just grabbed a crepe, said she loves "being able to try different things in smaller portions" that you might otherwise be afraid to order at a restaurant. Her personal favorite with the orzo jambalaya at The Meadows Club in Rolling Meadows.

Another tasty dessert was at the booth for the Spring Valley Nature Center in Schaumburg, where manager Dave Brooks was serving up ice cream fresh churned with a hand crank machine and topped with maple syrup from the center's own trees.

"We're kind of the odd ball here," Brooks said. "It's a way to reach a new audience."