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A Foodie in Chicago

When food journalist/connoisseur Heather Sperling ’05 left New York four years ago and became editor of the Chicago edition of Tasting Table, an online daily for food enthusiasts, she fell in love with the creative energy of Chicago’s artists and chefs. But Sperling felt they lacked a proper platform to show off their wares.

Late last year, she and two journalist partners launched Fête Chicago, a series of curated pop-up markets and events featuring the city’s talent. Fête debuted in December with a holiday market— described by Martha Stewart Living as “a nighttime celebration honoring Chicago’s stellar food and design artisans”—whose goal was to “let shoppers who care about the people behind the products mingle with the artisans themselves.”

That first Fête drew nearly 700 attendees and led to a long weekend in April of more events, kicking off with a Thursday night market that saw crowds lined up around the block of a West Loop loft space before the doors opened. The days following, at sites throughout the city, featured a food storytelling night, talks with designers about the creative process, conversations with chefs, and a studio tour of a local designer who does tableware for Chicago restaurants.

With an admission price of $5 (including a free local craft beer or cider) or $15 (including cocktails from locally produced spirits), the markets are accessible; talks are similarly priced and include samples of a specialty food or drink being discussed.

“At its core, the markets are a place for commercial exchange, much like a farmers’ market,” explains Sperling, who’s been passionate about food since she was a child and checked out cookbooks from her local library in Bethesda, Md. “But the thing that makes Fête special is that it’s about more than commerce. It’s about getting a firsthand look and direct interaction with some of the city’s most creative, passionate and driven people and learning about what they do.”

Sperling discovers the best and most unusual in Chicago’s food culture through her work at Tasting Table. “I’ve written about everyone involved in Fête at some point or another. It’s mine and my partners’ personal connections that make the events successful.”

A favorite from the April nighttime market included burnt-honey ice cream from Dana Cree, pastry chef of Chicago’s famed Blackbird restaurant. The hand-packed pints were so well received that Cree is launching her own ice-cream line—just the kind of growth Fête hopes to foster.

Other vendors included local wine, beer and spirit producers, small-batch fruit-preserve makers, ceramic, jewelry and dinnerware artists, and a variety of pop-up restaurants serving everything from empanadas and ramen to duck pastrami and doughnuts.

Next up is Fall Fête, which Sperling and her partners want to expand to more venues and a fuller schedule. “We’re toying with including dinners that bring together designers and chefs, film screenings with exciting food components, and more focused conversations between innovators, a la The New Yorker Festival,” Sperling says. “I’m passionate about and inspired by Chicago’s innovative, creative chefs, designers and artisans, and Fête is a way of shining a light on them.”

—Anne E. Stein

 

 

 

The ramp from Magill Library with Ryan Gym and Sharpless Hall in the background.

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