CHICAGO – Chef Scott Conant wasn’t having a good day.
Food Network’s “Chopped” personality and restaurateur had just added a rather large splash of salt (more like a 1/4 cup) to the boiling water which he tasted, before discovering it was already salted.
“Don’t let it taste like that, whatever you do,” Conant said, laughing as he cringed, speaking to a packed audience at the USA TODAY Wine & Food Experience at Soldier Field United Club in Chicago Saturday.
And then he asked (screamed) for someone to grab him two bottles of water, which he dumped into the water as a desperate attempt to save the dish.
The riveted audience didn’t mind at all. They were there to partake in a food alternative reality, where $65 ($85 the day of) got them unlimited samples of food from some of the top Chicago restaurants, along with wine and liquor tastings plus access to demos by celebrity chefs.
Essentially, it was a day of decadence, and the food, wine and celebrities didn’t disappoint.
Conant cooked gnudi (pronounced noo-dy), which are basically the inside of a ravioli sans the pasta. He cooked it with two cups of cream and about 2 pounds of butter – along with plenty of salt.
“Fat and happy, that’s my motto,” Conant said.
It seemed to be the motto of the other chefs as well.
On the tasting menu was a truffle risotto from Fig & Olive. The Signature Room at the 95th showcased fancy champagne macarons. And there was a creamy pumpkin soup topped with bacon and creme fraiche from The Bristol.
The food and drink tables were packed but what the guests appeared to be really excited about were those celebrity judges, who seemed compelled to show everyone that they were just.like.us.
“I’m pretty much going to burn the food, but it’s going to be very fun,” said chef Katsuji Tanabe, who operates a string of restaurants across the country including Barrio Restaurant in Chicago (and who’s also appeared on “Top Chef,” “Chow Masters” and “Food Fighters”).
“I don’t take myself seriously at all,” Tanabe said, explaining that he’s in the entertainment business. He forgot the salt, and remembered halfway through the dish but he still cooked a clam chowder perfectly. He did, however, burn the stove and needed some technical back-up.
Conant also created the most delicious gnudi, despite his multiple mishaps throughout the process.
So maybe Conant and Tanabe are like us when we cook. At least in the first portion of their sessions.