Chicago's top chefs take guests on a French culinary journey at Passport to France

To many of us, the third Thursday of November marks the release of the year’s Beaujolais Nouveau. Across the globe, people get together to grab a glass and celebrate the vin premier.

But, to me, the third Thursday of November isn’t just about the release of a new wine. Rather, it’s a global celebration of French food, wine and culture. And, that’s why I can think of no better place to mark the occasion than at the French-American Chamber of Commerce of Chicago’s 30th annual Passport to France.

Credit: FACC Chicago

Credit: FACC Chicago

For one night, Passport to France brings Francophiles and Francophones, foodies and oenophiles together under one roof to raise a glass – and a fork – to France, its wines and its food. And, this year, on Thursday, November 20, more than 850 people came out to do just that.

To me, the main draw is the opportunity to sample French cuisine from some of the top bistros, bakeries, caterers and cafes across Chicago. Across two floors of the Union League Club of Chicago, you could sample sweet and savory dishes from more than 30 Chicago-area chefs.

Credit: FACC Chicago

Credit: FACC Chicago

This year, participating chefs hailed from Bistronomic, Bistrot Zinc, La Boulangerie, Brindille, Chez Moi, TÊTE Charcuterie, Troquet River North, and Vanille Patisserie, to name just a few.

And, attendees could not get enough of their delicacies.

Lines of guests snaked along in front of each chef’s table, with attendees happily talking and sipping while they waited to savor their next dish or dessert.

Mini Troquet burger from Troquet River North

Mini Troquet burger from Troquet River North

At the beginning of the evening, I saw some of the longest lines in front of the tables for Troquet River North, where Chef Tim Davidson served mini Troquet burgers, topped with shallot jam, truffle aioli, and cornichon; Bistrot Zinc, where Chef Tim Kirker sampled squash-based ragout served over a mixed-green salad; and Froggy’s where Chef Thierry Mace ladled up lobster bisque.

Guests also patiently waited to sample assorted cheeses from Pastoral’s Greg O’Neill, charcuterie from TÊTE Charcuterie’s Thomas Rice and Kurt Guzowki, and fondue from Cook au Vin.

Fondue from Cook Au Vin

Fondue from Cook Au Vin

Of course, what’s cheese, charcuterie and fondue without French bread? Luckily, guests could enjoy French baguettes from Chef Vincent Colombet of La Boulangerie.

I found it hard to not get back in line again and again to gain another taste of so many of the savory dishes – especially those mini Troquet burgers. But, I knew I had to save room for dessert.

Macarons from Vanille Patisserie

Macarons from Vanille Patisserie

At the ready to help guests end their evening on a sweet note were Chef Peter Rios of Alliance Patisserie, Chefs Greg Biggers and Leigh Omilinsky of Café des Architectes, Chef Fabrice Bouet of Lockwood, Chef Sophie Evanoff of Vanille Patisserie, Chef Elissa Narow of Perennial Virant, and Chef Sonya Andonov of French Quarter Beignet.

I can never resist a macaron, and the Armagnac-flavored ones from Vanille Patisserie did not disappoint. From posts I’ve recently seen from some Paris-based bloggers, it looks like éclairs are quite en vogue these days, so I felt drawn to the ones offered by Perennial Virant. And, now I understand their popularity.

Beignets from French Quarter Beignet

Beignets from French Quarter Beignet

Guests also seemed to delight in waiting for a “made to order” beignet from French Quarter Beignet. You could choose to have your hot beignet served with powdered sugar, cinnamon and sugar, or Nutella – all wrapped up in paper for you to easily eat as you strolled through the room.

All of the sweets were the perfect culinary punctuation mark on a fantastic gastronomic evening.

But, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the wine.

Beaujolais NouveauFor me, a glass of Beaujolais Noveau is de rigeur at Passport to France. Upon entering the main rooms, it’s hard not to be drawn to the pyramid-like displays of the new wine.

Throughout the event space, attendees also could sample a wide selection of other French wines and liquors, making for a festive celebration.

By the end of the evening, the crowds all gathered together in groups to discuss their favorite dishes, clink their glasses together in celebration, and enjoy being together for the evening.

Eiffel Tower and BaguettesAs I made my way through the rooms, you could hear joyous remarks spoken in French and English – and see smiles on everyone’s faces.

Yes, for one night, Chicagoans came together united in the celebration of French food, wine and culture.

No matter where you come from or what language you speak, it was easy to get caught up in the moment, the food, the wines and the people – and toast another Beaujolais Nouveau release and 30 years of Passport to France.

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