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Lollapalooza's Chow Town Chefs Prepare For Busy Weekend

By Janet Rausa Fuller | August 1, 2013 8:31am
 Chefs prepare to feed the crowds, see some bands at Lollapalooza's Chow Town.
Chow Town at Lollapalooza 2013
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CHICAGO — There's nothing quite like your first Lollapalooza, especially if you're the one feeding the sweaty, hungry masses.

"It's a big deal. We're scared s---less, to tell you the truth," said James Gray, managing partner of Glazed and Infused, the gourmet doughnut shop.

"The doughnut just makes the best sense for Lollapalooza," Gray said, since doughnuts are portable and pair well with booze. Gray anticipates selling upwards of 4,500 glazed doughnuts and mixed berry fritters during the music festival Aug. 2-4 in Grant Park.

"It's definitely a huge increase in our production, so we're going to try to figure out how to make this happen as best we can without affecting the operation in a big way," Gray said Wednesday, minutes before heading into a staff meeting to talk Lollapalooza logistics.

Glazed and Infused is one of several vendors added to the marquee this year by chef Graham Elliot, Lollapalooza's culinary director for the fourth consecutive year.

Under Elliot's direction, the food lineup, called Chow Town, has become an attraction in itself, an assemblage of eats both humble and upscale, organic and vegan — sometimes all at one booth.

Chef groupies are in for a treat this year. Acclaimed pastry chef Gale Gand, assisted by Gio, her 16-year-old music-loving son, will dish out ice cream floats featuring her own root beer and cream sodas right next to her good friend Eddie Lakin, chef and owner of Edzo's Burger Shop in Evanston and Lincoln Park.

Joining her at the booth Sunday will be her ex-husband, chef Rick Tramonto of Restaurant R'evolution in New Orleans — but only because he wants to watch The Cure perform.

"He said, 'How do I get passes?' I said, 'You've gotta work for me.' So he'll be there from 10 to 2 Sunday," Gand said.

Spiaggia patriarch Tony Mantuano, meanwhile, is bringing a mobile, wood-burning pizza oven that will fire Bar Toma's margherita and "smoke and cure" (pepperoni/smoked garlic) pizzas to order. Each pie should take about 90 seconds in the 800-degree oven.

The oven has already seen action at the Ryder Cup in September and the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival in November.

"We're ready for the Lolla crowd," said Mantuano — who doesn't want to miss seeing Queens of the Stone Age.

Other newcomers this year include the hardly new Billy Goat Tavern, which will sling its famous "cheezborgers" and ribeye steak sandwiches, and the Salsa Truck, which holds the distinction of being the city's first licensed mobile food preparer.

Elliot's signature lobster corn dogs and truffle popcorn are returning for another year, as are hometown classics such as Connie's deep-dish pizza, pulled pork from Robinson's No. 1 Ribs and The Original Rainbow Cone.

Absent this year: Kuma's Corner, the metal-heavy burger bar in Avondale.

With the recent opening of Kuma's Too, a second location in Lincoln Park, "we would just be spreading ourselves too thin," said manager Ron Cain. "It's kind of a bummer." (But those with Lollapalooza wristbands should watch Kuma's Twitter and Facebook accounts in the coming days for word of dining discounts.)

Even for a veteran such as Gand, the prospect of working a food booth at Lollapalooza is daunting.

She and her son volunteered at the festival the past three years, the first two years at the Seedling fruit stand and last year at Edzo's. That was so much fun, Lakin persuaded her to share his booth this time around.

"The volume is really exciting. It's fast-paced. Sometimes, you don't even have four seconds [to help a customer]," said Gand.

Thus, the ice cream for her floats will be prescooped and held in a freezer and the sodas portioned out from kegs. Gand is aiming to sell 4,000 floats daily in addition to chocolate-dipped bananas — and to see The Lumineers and The Cure, if at all possible.

Gand has gotten a fair amount of coaching from Lakin, who sold some 3,000 burgers a day last year and as many batches of fried-to-order fries.

Still, you can only prepare so much. Lakin said he overdid it last year, budgeting for 5,000 burgers a day. He got his share of apathetic customers.

"They didn't care that the beef was from Slagel Farms. They didn't care that the potatoes were fresh-cut," he said.

And then there was that pesky storm prompting the evacuation of the entire fest Saturday afternoon.

"We weren't selling from 3:30 to 6, and that would've been our peak time," Lakin said.

And yet, Lakin's back and "honored to be part of it." He expects to sell about 4,000 burgers a day this time around. He'll manage that by cooking the burgers on the flattop, wrapping them in foil paper and keeping them warm in a holding box.

"The burger kind of benefits from being held warm for 10 minutes," he said. "The cheese gets melty. The bun gets steamy."

The other crucial detail in Lakin's game plan: stealing away to listen to retro-soul crooner Charles Bradley "while everyone else watches Mumford & Sons," he said.