While Chris Finck was focusing on a vocation in business, the Naperville resident discovered an avocation in food and wine.
Finck took an international business course at Loyola College in Baltimore, Md., that included a four-week whirlwind tour of European culture.
“The professor and I connected so well that I was invited to come back and help lead the course when I completed my MBA,” Finck says.
For more than seven years, he took an annual four-week trip to Europe with the class.
“After going back to the same places for several years, I began to know the restaurant owners, and I fell in love with European food and wine,” he says.
He was invited to visit private homes, farms, cheese caves and wine caves to sample some of the top gourmet selections from each country the class visited. The experiences helped him develop a discerning palate as well as an impressive wine collection.
Although the demands of his business career no longer allow him to travel with the class, he still enjoys cooking gourmet food and pairing it with fine wines for his friends and family.
And they more than appreciate it — so much so that they encouraged him to cook for others. He was hesitant to take that step until he was asked to donate a dinner for auction as a fundraiser for Naper Elementary School. The dinner for eight brought in more than $3,000. And he had a fabulous time planning and preparing the gourmet meal paired with wine.
Since that first dinner 15 years ago, Finck, 46, has done about a dozen other fundraising meals. Finck offers suggestions, but he will fill requests, too. Most meals have six courses. Finck meets with a sommelier to pair wine for each course.
“I take my guests on a wine and food journey from the very light to the more robust,” Finck says.
He spends several days getting the ingredients and at least a day preparing ingredients. He then brings in his favorite pans and all of the ingredients into the host’s home.
After slipping into a starched white chef’s coat, he prepares the meal. Two Naperville friends — Scott Barczi, a homebuilder, and Paul Stein, an IT sales executive — assist Finck in the kitchen. His mother, Sandy Finck, takes charge of organization and cleanup. Finck says that for three hours his guests “are romanced by food and wine.”
Finck has raised more than $100,000 for organizations through the dinners. The highest price paid for a dinner was $8,100. He personally covers the cost of the wine and ingredients, which usually total between $1,600 and $2,400.
The most enjoyable aspect of the dinners for Finck is allowing people to experience new flavors and wines. He has introduced many beer-only drinkers to fine wine and encouraged non-seafood eaters to give crab a try.
Finck is always looking for that unique flavor to add to his creations. For example, he learned how to make smoked ice cubes that turn an ordinary Bloody Mary into an amazing beverage.
“I first smoked water, but the smoke was only on the surface,” he says. “Then I smoked ice cubes for about 15 minutes. As they melted, they took in the smoke evenly.”
He froze the water to make dark, smoke-flavored cubes, which bring a new dimension to the Bloody Mary.
Finck also has access to some unique serving pieces from wife Sue’s downtown Naperville shop, Little Luxuries.
“She has several unique items that accentuate the serving of food and wine,” he notes. The store also offers a range of home furnishings and gifts.
His passion for food and wine is so apparent that dinner guests often want to be in the kitchen helping. Finck freely shares his recipes and knowledge with others.
“I do a formal presentation before each course,” he says. “I talk about the food and the wine, and tell everyone what to look for as they eat and drink. It makes the evening more magical.”
He says watching his hosts is fun, too.
“The hosts feel like it is their meal since it is prepared in their kitchen and served in their home,” he says. “Watching people entertain people is entertaining for me because each person does it differently. I enjoy bringing food and wine joy to others.”
Finck shares two simple yet full-flavored first-course recipes. He smokes the corn for the chowder in his smoker but notes that it can also be done on an outdoor grill or even indoors in a frying pan. Smoked chicken can be used in place of the crabmeat if desired.
The scallop recipe calls for tiny champagne grapes, which are not always in season. Halved black grapes are an easy substitute. He includes wine pairing suggestions for each dish.