Chicago foodie Raquel Salgado walked away from the Smoke Daddy barbecue, scarfing down a juicy, nutritious pulled-chicken sandwich.
She sat down in the shade with her lunch, talking to friends and other foodies, while enjoying the upper 60-degree weather.
Salgado attends the Taste of Chicago in July every year in Chicago, and like most people visiting the preview of the Taste on Wednesday at the Daley Plaza, she was impressed by the food selection.
“It’s so great that they’re introducing healthier options,” Salgado said. “This is really delicious.”
Eight restaurants and food trucks, all set to be featured at the 34th Annual Taste of Chicago festival in Grant Park, set up camp by the Picasso statue to make a splash with their food. The preview is a quick event that showcases a few vendors and their new items. The Taste will be held from July 9 to the 13.
“Well if I told you my secret recipe I’d have to do something,” Charles Robinson said with a laugh. “It’s the quality of meat that we buy and it’s the barbecue sauce that’s been around 14 generations, a 200-year-old recipe that makes a big difference along those lines of other folks products.” Charles Robinson is the creator and owner of Robinson’s No. 1 Ribs.
Humana, a health care provider, has sponsored the Taste for seven years. At the preview, Humana was working closely with a couple vendors in order to showcase their healthier option.
“When you see a ‘green apple’ next to a menu item, then you know that’s a healthier choice,” said Cathryn Donaldson, spokeswoman at Humana. “We’ve partnered with 29 restaurants this year at the Taste, with 52 healthier items.”
Zoila Sierra Gonzalez from CBS News Chicago headed over for lunch and indulged in some rigatoni ala vodka. “I haven’t had [Italian food] in a while and I thought I’d splurge and it’s a small portion,” Gonzalez said. “I’m limited because I don’t eat beef, pork and poultry.”
Aaron Wolfson, owner of Chicago’s Dog House, a former communications and advertising student, decided to move into the food business instead in 2009 after graduating, offering up gourmet sausage selections with unique flavors like smoked alligator.
“I’ve always had a passion for culinary arts and whatnot,” Wolfson said. “I transferred my creativity [from Columbia] into food.”
Jay Sebastian, of Bridgeport Pasty, showed up bright and early at 5:15 a.m. to promote “the original ‘convenience food,’” on TV. Sebastian discovered the pasty, traditionally beef, potatoes and rutabaga baked into a flaky crust, while biking around London six years ago with wife and Bridgeport Pasty chef Carrie Clark. Together they opened a food truck business in August 2011 and a restaurant in July last year. They now have a Twitter following of 3,522 and 1,547 likes on Facebook.
“It’s a handheld potpie from Cornwall, England. It’s the food of tin miners,” Sebastian said. “The miners had arsenic and lead on their hands so they were able to hold them by the crust and throw the crust away.”
The Taste preview was not only a first for restaurateurs like Wolfson and Sebastian. Taste of Chicago has now opened its doors to locals in the merchandise business according to Director of the Fashion, Culinary and Design program Tonya Gross. Nineteen designers in the industry of jewelry, accessories, apparel and more were selected to broaden the experience horizon for Taste visitors Gross said.
“We wanted to offer a shopping component to showcase the creativity,” Gross said.
While he’s not graphic designing, Jay Byrnes focuses on the next step for his street wear clothing brand Fourth Is King, which he is the founder for.
Although Fourth Is King has had various Pop-Up Shops, this will be the first year that it participates in The Taste of Chicago. “Building a brand slowly, we feel like that’s the best way. Just building an audience organically while being apart of Chicago,” Byrnes said.
Items such as shirts, hats, pins and skateboard decks will be available for sale. “I am excited because give us more exposure and we will be more recognizable,” said Josh Woods, Fourth Is King employee.
Specific Chicago-themed shirts have been designed for sale during the Taste of Chicago.
Fourth Is King is one of the 19 nonfood vendors set to be at The Taste of Chicago this year.
The two vendors present at the preview with a healthier option, Smoke Daddy and Lawrence’s Fish and Shrimp, offered one item each as a “taste test.”
Josh Rutherford, owner of Smoke Daddy, said it offered the pulled-chicken sandwich, with lower calorie and fat content.
Dan Griffin, third generation owner of Lawrence’s Fish and Shrimp, said it will be offering shrimp cocktails with wild-caught shrimp, marinated with spices from their family recipe.
Donaldson also said that Humana gives out these “healthier choices” passports, where visitors can get stamps for eating healthier options and have the chance to be entered in a raffle at the end of Taste of Chicago.
Humana will also be working with the Android and Apple app, Charity Miles. The app counts how many steps a person will walk, run or bike and Humana will give up to 25 cents for every mile and a stamp on their passport.
This kind of approach offers more interactivity for foodies like Salgado to have a better experience at the Taste.
Rich Rogers, a visitor of the Taste for over a dozen years, grew tired of eating fried food and heavy carbohydrates each year. “This is a good idea, everything is mostly fast food each year,” he said. “I don’t know how many new options will be available, but I’m ready for a change.”
Contributed by Molly Hess and Victoria Street.