Partying with the Picnic—Men who Bring Food and Fun for Ravinia

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve lived on the North Shore for nine years and I have yet to organize a picnic at Ravinia.

I’ve gone to other people’s picnics and eaten in Ravinia’s restaurants, but mostly we just get seats in the pavilion and go before the music starts.

Which is so not right.

I know I’m missing the whole point. But I see people with their candelabras and crystal, and I think, “Too much work.” But it doesn’t have to be fancy to be good. So to inspire me (and all of you who are determined not to let another summer go by without organizing a picnic dinner at Ravinia, Millenium Park or Gillson’s Wallace Bowl), I talked to the experts. People who love Ravinia and do it in style.

Be Adventurous
Leslie and John Carothers of Northfield have been going to Ravinia for 30 years. And not just attending a concert here or there—they’re regulars.

“We sit in almost the same place every time, so friends can find us,” says Leslie, treasurer of Ravinia’s Women’s Board. “We love all kinds of music.” So they go to all kinds of concerts.

But when the topic turns to what to pack for dinner, she turns me over to her husband, “a wonderful cook” who has been putting together their picnics for many summers.

“I start with the parameters,” says John, who’s a lawyer when he’s not cooking for his friends and family. “Everything has to be portable—room temperature or cold—you’re not going to start a fire there and grill.”

His list of favorites include: roast leg of lamb, which they pre-slice at home; seafood salad, which is a favorite of their guests; and deviled eggs.

“I know everyone considers deviled eggs to be déclassé,” John says. “But I’ve never brought home any leftovers.”

His trick: He brings the eggs unstuffed and has the filling cold in a piping bag and assembles on site. For the filling, he recommends being adventurous—perhaps adding chipotle for a smoky, southwestern kick or mincing smoked salmon and scallions. If you follow his advice, I forsee no leftovers at your picnic, either.

Keep It Casual
Todd and Emily Berlinghof, who also live in Northfield, use Ravinia as a great excuse to get together groups of friends.

“I just bring the food,” says Todd with a laugh when asked how he coordinates the evening. “And lots of good wine.”

His dining partners bring the folding table, plates and gear. It’s a good gig, because his friends know that Todd will come ready to feed with vichyssoise, a traditional cold soup made with leeks, potatoes and cream; tenderloin sandwiches with an interesting mayonnaise or sauce; a salad and then cheese and fruit for dessert.

Todd’s party isn’t burdened down with candelabras. He says they like to keep it casual, with the emphasis on great food and their friends.

Summer Comfort Food
Dale and Sue Pelletier of Winnetka——are also not polishing the silver before a picnic. But Dale, who is an award-winning chili cook, likes to focus on the food.

“I’ll make fried chicken at home and then bring it cold,” he says. “Or smoke ribs and then cut them into individual ribs, so they’re finger food.”

The Pelletiers also like to meet friends and have everyone pitch in. But if Dale offers to bring his tabouleh salad, I recommend you let him and offer to bring the wine. (Don’t forget the corkscrew!)