click to enlarge The First Annual Springfield Oyster and Beer Festival will be held Sept. 11 at the Inn at 836.
The First Annual Springfield Oyster and Beer Festival will be held Sept. 11 at the Inn at 836.

My husband, Peter, is a bit jealous. He’ll be camping with friends at a music festival in Kentucky this weekend. But ever since Peter heard about the trio of food events scheduled for this Saturday, he’s been wishing he could stay in Springfield as much as he’s enthused about his trip.

I was initially concerned about having to choose between events. I’m fascinated by cheese and cheesemaking (subject of last week’s column).The Hope School Celebrity Chef Benefit has long been an annual calendar highlight. I’m also enthusiastic about the ever-expanding number of American artisanal/craft beers and breweries, and how excellently they pair with foods ranging from haute cuisine to humble comfort. And I love oysters.

Fortunately, my concerns weren’t valid, and Peter can look forward to experiencing one event, though not here in Springfield. We’d read last fall about Merryl Winstein’s home cheesemaking classes in the monthly St. Louis paper, Sauce, and both wanted to take one. Since we’re always up for a St. Louis trip, we’ll register for one of Winstein’s classes there. And the other events don’t overlap: the Springfield Oyster and Beer Festival takes place from noon-4 p.m.; the Hope School Celebrity Chef Benefit doesn’t start until 6 p.m.! Peter will just have to wait until next year for those.

The First Annual Springfield Oyster and Beer Festival is the brainchild of two members of the local homebrewing club, The Prairie Schooners. Both do much more than dabble in beer: Kevin Brown is the Great Lakes regional editor and Illinois columnist for The Ale Street News, the largest beer-based paper in the U.S. And Court Conn, scion of one of Springfield’s oldest restaurant families, is CEO of the Inn at 835. He has the perfect venue and the experience necessary to create a successful event.

The two began talking about starting an annual Springfield Beer Festival some time ago: “Every other town is doing it – having festivals that highlight craft beers. Why not here?” they asked themselves. The oyster tie-in was a natural. “Oysters come back into season in September, so the timing was good,” says Conn. Brown adds, “And oysters and some beers – especially stouts – are perfect pairings.”

Putting on events requires a staggering amount of planning and effort; it’s clear Conn and Brown have undertaken the task because of their love of craft beer (and oysters) rather than money: any profits from the festival will be donated to an as-yet-undetermined charity.

Brown’s craft beer contacts have come in handy; at least 15 breweries and brewpubs will be offering samples of their beer, each with two-four different brews. (Breweries package and distribute their beers for sale in stores and restaurants; some have on-premise eating establishments. Brewpubs make their own beers, but generally don’t distribute them for sale elsewhere.) The beers will come from all over America, but Brown worked to get as many Midwest beers at the festival as possible.

One brewery especially interesting to craft beer enthusiasts and locavores won’t be offering samples at the festival, just information. Rolling Meadows Brewery will be opening soon a few miles north of Springfield. It’s close to production, but waiting for final licensing. Rolling Meadows will not only be making its beer locally, it will be growing its own ingredients, and growing them organically – hops, barley, wheat and other flavorings.

In addition to Rolling Meadows, other participating breweries include:

John S. Rhodell Brewing – Peoria
Crown Valley Brewing - St.Genevieve, Mo., and Honey Bend, Litchfield
Brickstone Brewery Restaurant – Bourbonnais
Flossmoor Station – Flossmoor
Schlafly - St. Louis
Square One Brewing - St. Louis
Big Muddy Brewing – Murphysboro
Hill Brewing – Ferguson, Mo.
Left Hand Brewing – Longmont, Colo.
Sierra Nevada – Chico, Calif.
New Belgium - Fort Collins, Colo.
Boston Beer Co – Boston, Mass.
Spoetzel Brewery – Shiner, Texas
Wood Chuck Cider – Middlebury, Vt.
Inn at 835 chef, Zack Holston, will offer four oyster preparations: on the half shell, fried, grilled and an Oyster Bloody Mary. Non-bivalve options included beer-braised and grilled bratwurst, hot dogs and nachos.

The First Annual Springfield Oyster and Beer Festival will be held Sept. 11, 2010, rain or shine, 12-4 p.m. at The Inn at 835, 835 S. Second St. Mike Burnett and Brooke Thomas, recent winners of Springfield’s Blues and BBQs duo competition, and Frantic Sky will provide music.

Tickets are $15 in advance; $20 at the door. They include admission, a tasting glass, and five drink tickets. Additional drink tickets will be available.

 Tickets are available at The Inn At 835, Robert’s Seafood, FriarTuck’s, The Brewhaus, and online at

There will also be an after-festival party at The Brewhaus featuring cask-conditioned 400 lb. Money Ale from Left Hand Brewery.

click to enlarge Chicago chef Curtis Duffy will be attending Hope School’s Celebrity Chef Benefit.
Chicago chef Curtis Duffy will be attending Hope School’s Celebrity Chef Benefit.
Hope School’s Celebrity Chef Benefit: It happens every year. Driving home from the benefit, I think, “They’re sure going to have a tough time equaling this one. But they always do, and this year’s event, on Saturday, 9/11/10, will undoubtedly continue that tradition.

It’s hard to imagine a more impressive resumé than Curtis Duffy’s, chef of Chicago’s four-star Avenues restaurant. His high school food service vocational program included restaurant management courses and culinary competitions that garnered him scholarships in some of America’s best culinary schools, including Johnson and Wales and The Culinary Institute of America. Instead Duffy chose an Ohio State program featuring one day of classwork per week; the rest spent working in restaurants. Like many top chefs, Duffy feels the best culinary education is actual experience: “Formal training isn’t something I require from my chefs,” he told me.

After college Duffy cooked exclusively in top-rated establishments; first for Chicago’s Charlie Trotter, a notoriously difficult taskmaster, then under Grant Achatz in Evanston’s Trio. Achatz was a rising star – a supernova – on America’s culinary scene. When he left Trio in 2005 to open his own Chicago restaurant, Alinea, the press buzz – before a single plate was served – was unprecedented. Less than a year later, Gourmet magazine declared it America’s best restaurant. And Duffy was Achatz’s chef de cuisine, his second-in-command.

By 2008, when Duffy became executive chef at Avenues, he had the experience to maintain its four-star rating. But he’s far more than an imitator of his mentors, with his own individual style. “I wanted to come in and paint a picture of what I could do,” he says. “I call my cuisine thoughtful progressive. By that I mean the amount of time and research – thought – that it takes to develop dishes that are unique. But they can’t just be unique. Most important is that they taste good.”

His summertime sweet corn soup is a good example. “Everybody makes corn soup,” he says. But Duffy’s version marries complementary ingredients that taste fantastic, utilizes innovative techniques and is stunningly beautiful to boot. Some (not all) of the ingredients are a thin hemisphere of coconut cream, created with a ladle frozen in liquid nitrogen, dinosaur egg plum purée, corn sponge cake, raw sweet corn, popcorn, corn shoots, ginger jelly, and charred corn husk powder – all in addition to the corn soup itself.

Duffy will be preparing a braised beef short rib dish on Saturday. The rest of the benefit menu – appetizers, salad and dessert – is being made by Chip Kennedy and Josh Sonneborn, chef/owners of Springfield’s 5Flavors Catering. 5Flavors emphasizes local ingredients and contemporary, innovative cuisine, as is evident in their Hope School offerings, such as goat cheese quenelles (dumplings) with local honey and berries, piquillo pepper toasts with oyster mushrooms, prosciutto and olive arancini (rice fritters) with truffle oil, a trio of root vegetable salads, and a strawberry hazelnut dessert. They’ll also offer a burger bar with Kobe beef sliders and a coffee bar after the meal. Kennedy and Sonneborn are donating their time and effort, as well as the tables, chairs and table settings. Their staff is also donating their services.

This year’s Hope School Celebrity Chef Benefit is sold out; call 217-585-5437 to be placed on a waiting list or to be sent information about next year’s event.

Contact Julianne Glatz at

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