Chicago hosts first ever Poutine Fest

Charitable event pays homage to Canada’s national delicacy

zorbs / Flickr

In a recent editorial, the Chicago Tribune mused that Canada, “boring, eager-to-please Canada, is taking Chicago by storm.”

It seems they were right.

This Sunday, the windy city will be paying homage to our national delicacy with the debut of Poutine Fest.

The charitable event, which features the slogan “Fry away with us, eh?,” will set 11 of Chicago’s best chefs against each other to see who can whip up the most delicious fry-gravy-cheese-curd combination and take home the title of King of Poutine. Tickets sold out within half an hour.

“It’s kind of a new craze in the U.S. right now. . . . From what I understand they’re trying to say ‘Hey, we can do poutines too. It’s not just for Canadians’,” says Calgary chef Cam Dobranski, who is flying in to guest judge the event.

Dobranski, who serves fois gras and other poutine variations at his restaurant Brasserie Kensington, says he’ll place value on originality above all else.

“I’m more or less looking for something unique and well-executed. A poutine is a poutine is a poutine but I think that’s what will make one of these different from the rest.”

Crispy fries and good seasoning are also crucial, he says.

But it’s unclear whether or not some of the chefs will even be serving fries.

“We’re letting them do whatever they want,” says Rebecca Skoch, food writer and organizer of the event. Skoch says she wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a dish or two that incorporate molecular gastronomy.

“They have free rein to just have fun with it.”

A love for poutine has been growing steadily in Chicago over the past few years. The hearty comfort food goes over well in the city’s cool winter climate, says Skoch.

It also pairs nicely with beer, so it’s fitting that Poutine Fest will take place at Haymarket Pub and Brewery.

“It’s possibly the best late-night drunk food ever,” says Skoch, who recently chowed down on Caplansky’s smoked meat poutine while doing “research” in Toronto.

Not all Canadians are taking kindly to Poutine Fest, however. Some have even been trolling online write-ups about the event, expressing anger that authentic ingredients will not be used.

“A lot of people are really serious about cheese curds. It’s a charity event — I’m not spending thousands of dollars to fly in cheese curds in from Canada,” says Skoch.

In addition to bragging rights, Sunday’s winner will be taking home a glittery gravy boat trophy. Proceeds will go toward Common Threads, an organization that teaches underprivileged kids about the value of nutrition.

Twitter: @ManishaKrishnan

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