Last year’s inaugural Chicago Gourmet was by most accounts–mine included–pretty much a disaster. While there was plenty of good wine, a shortage of food stations caused long lines. Hordes of hungry, cranky attendees who’d paid $150 apiece found that they couldn’t watch the cooking demos because the gallery was full and they’d have to wait in line for 10 or 20 minutes for each bite of food.

Fortunately the organizers, the Illinois Restaurant Association, seem to have taken those problems seriously and are working on fixing them for this year’s event–and have even managed to show a sense of humor about last year’s snafus. At a press conference today, IRA president Sheila O’Grady commented that they’d “learned a lot from the first year” and vowed that “As God is our witness, let no one go away hungry again.”

This year, she said, they’ll be doubling the number of food stations (you can find a complete list of participating chefs here), adding another cooking demo stage, increasing the number of wineries to 300, and including the daily seminars in the general admission fee (last year they cost extra to attend). There’ll also be about 65 spirits–all products in the portfolio of primary sponsor Southern Wine and Spirits, as Mike Sula previously reported.

Mayor Daley also spoke, saying . . . as far as I could tell, pretty much nothing. There was something about Chicago being an “international global city” and a musing on the past and the future that I couldn’t really follow. Fortunately, though, he’s not in charge of the event.

As part of the effort to have more food, there’ll be “gourmet pavilions” highlighting four different cuisines each day, including Asian, French, Latin, Mediterranean–and, um, “gastropub” and “seafood.” The most intriguing announcement, though, was of the new “Dine Around” program. Between August 24 and September 27, several restaurants will be offering prix fixe menus; if you order those menus five times during that five-week period, you’ll get a free general admission ticket to Chicago Gourmet. How much the menus will cost and which restaurants will participate is still being worked out. The cost for five prix fixe meals will inevitably be more than just buying a ticket–but then, you get five meals out of it as well. So far it’s looking like Chicago Gourmet will be an improvement over last year. I hope.

Chicago Gourmet: Sat 9/26, 11 AM-6 PM; Sun 9/27, 11 AM-5 PM, Millennium Park, $150 per day, $120 before August 1, $250 for both days, $175 extra for Grand Cru wine tastings.