There are quite a few perks to having a pastry chef in the family. Besides the obvious “hey I made this for you” delicious treats that just show up sometimes, and the free baking help whenever I mess something up, there are the cool events that come my way thanks to Leigh’s connections to the foodie world.
When she told me about the annual Bûche de Noël contest happening at her hotel to benefit Share Our Strength, I was excited to be able to attend. First, to answer a question that this Jewish girl didn’t know about: what the heck is a Bûche de Noël? In layman’s (a.k.a. not French) terms, it’s a Yule log. Usually rolled up with some sort of filling and decorated to look like a log, a Bûche de Noël is a Christmas tradition from Northern Europe. (Teacher hat off.)
The event took place at the Sofitel Chicago Water Tower, and was hosted by Chef Greg Biggers and my sister, Leigh Omilinsky and threw a truly amazing event! Leigh and her pastry cook, Ashley, created a remarkable Bûche de Noël recognizing local Chicago candy companies. The cake is inside the chocolate box, and each candy piece was painstakingly made out of fondant, pulled sugar, and chocolate.
The cake itself was, by far, my favorite. I’m not just saying that because she’s my sister, but because the flavors were my perfect idea of what a dessert should be. Just rich enough, chocolate-y enough, with just a little something “different” to keep me interested. It was a chocolate cake with Baileys and Valrhona Caramelia filling and crunchy pearls.
After enjoying Leigh’s cake, we went from table to table on a seven-cake tasting tour of the ballroom, eating our way through dozens of layers of deliciousness from seven different Chicago pastry chefs. Some of the cakes I remember the details vividly, while others I only remember bits and pieces. My apologies!
This cake, by Chef Thomas Raquel of Acadia , was an amazing mixture of a caramel cake with black truffle and candy cap mushrooms. I know it sounds like a savory dish, but the end result was complex, earthy, sweet and savory all at once.
Chef Dana Cree of Blackbird created this beautiful büche de Noël which ultimately won both the people’s choice award and the entire contest! It featured chocolate, coffee, and was made to somewhat resemble the German baumkuchen.
This beautiful büche was made by the Elissa Narow at Perennial Virant, and featured a persimmon custard, spiced cake, clove marshmallow, and an oat crumble. The persimmon was simply delicious!
This adorable büche made by Cindy Schuman from Sepia, in addition to featuring fondant gnomes, was a graham cake with chocolate filling, wrapped up in a toasted marshmallow: s’mores indoors!
This cake was in my top three, for sure. Made by Amanda Rockman from Balena, flavors of coconut and passionfruit were blended with mascarpone for a not-too-sweet and rich cake, which was as delicious as it was beautiful.
This bûche from RM Champagne Salon by Nate Meads was described as “Büche de Noël de San Tropez.” It was quite tropical, and had adorable meringue mushrooms.
Chef Meg Galus from NoMi Kitchen created this incredibly rich gingerbread and chocolate büche which was as flavorful as it was beautiful. I loved the intense ginger flavor!
In addition to the intense amount of sweets at the Rock-and-Roll event, there was a fantastic band who played a medley of music from Les Miserables to Wilson Phillips to Violent Femmes, all while wearing ugly Christmas sweaters. Rod Tuffcurls and the Bench Press was probably the best band I’ve heard in a long while!
There were also some phenomenal savory bites including hamachi ceviche with jicama kim chee by David Dworshak from Carnivale, a spicy slaw on salami from Chris Curren of Stout Barrel House & Galley, and a duck mousse and red onion bite from Perry Hendrix of Maison.
There was a savory büche of sorts from Chef Greg Biggers: a fois gras stuffing-filled porchetta served with cranberry sauce. It was carved for each person and simply phenomenal.
It was such fun enjoying so many different bites from so many different chefs, and it was just amazing having cake for dinner. I’m so proud of my sister and what she’s accomplished in her career so far!
And with that, my countdown to winter break begins!