— While there will be hectic and tense days ahead as Chicago prepares for the NATO summit in May, Thursday was a day of good feelings for an Illinois delegation as it introduced the city to NATO officials and others here.
From a rousing party at NATO headquarters to mark the opening of an exhibit about Chicago to the warm greeting afforded Gov. Pat Quinn at a trade event, the Windy City had an easy time selling its charms.
"You have been so welcoming," Chicago's first lady, Amy Rule, told NATO diplomats and their wives at the start of an evening dinner reception. "We look forward to reciprocating when you are back in Chicago."
The Brussels visit, aimed at familiarizing the defense organization's 28 member nations and their partners with Chicago, was co-led by Rule, acting as stand-in for her husband, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and by Quinn. Emanuel was on vacation in Utah with the couple's three children.
"Over one-third of the people of Chicago trace their roots back to one of the NATO countries, it's like a microcosm of NATO," said Ivo Daalder, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, who hosted the dinner with his wife, Elisa Harris. The city's diversity makes it an excellent choice for the summit, he said.
The evening took place at Truman Hall, a country estate that is Daalder's official residence as ambassador. Guests were seated at crystal-laden tables in the gracious home, cream drapes framing the windows and long-stemmed calla lilies in vases on the sideboards. Among the guests at the head table were Quinn, Rule and Lori Healey, executive director of the Chicago host committee. Also at the dinner were about 130 NATO dignitaries and their spouses.
When Chicago chef Stephanie Izard, of the Girl & the Goat, stepped forward to introduce her menu to the guests, she joked, "This isn't intimidating whatsoever."
The menu included mussels with goat sausage; scallops in a scented goat broth, goat belly with lobster in bourbon sauce and a cake made of Belgian chocolate.
"It's the best version of this cake ever," she said.
A cocktail, dubbed Chicago Rocks, was served, featuring a combination of Belgian cherry beer, bourbon, ginger and basil.
Later in the evening, Chicago's Lonnie Brooks Blues Band performed.
"Usually I say to an audience, 'Give me two hours to help you forget about the world,'" Wayne Baker Brooks, Lonnie Brooks' son and a member of the band, told the NATO dignitaries. "But I can't say that to you-all."
While summit organizers have pitched the summit as an event that will turn the world's eyes toward Chicago, there remain concerns about the scale of political protests that are expected and other disruptions.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO secretary-general, expressed confidence in the city during an interview with the Tribune. "My expectation is that Chicago will handle security excellently," he said. "It is a big city that is used to hosting international events."
On Thursday morning, NATO headquarters was transformed into party central as Chicago and Illinois officials unveiled an exhibit showcasing the Windy City.
A military band played the blues, including, of course, "Sweet Home Chicago," while NATO personnel chowed down on Eli's cheesecake, Lou Malnati's pizza, Ann Sather cinnamon rolls and Garrett cheese-and-caramel popcorn mix, all washed down with Berghoff's root beer.
"We brought you some of our greatest hits," said Rule, in her first major ambassadorial role for Chicago. The city's trip was paid for by private donations to the NATO summit host committee and World Business Chicago, the city's nonprofit economic development agency.
Quinn urged NATO personnel who will be at the Chicago summit to explore the state, perhaps by taking a drive on old Route 66, which he referred to as "the mother road."
As many as 600 NATO personnel swarmed the exhibit, which featured images of the city's skyline, beaches, museums, theaters and restaurants as well as a timeline of its 175-year history.
Some of the foods were eye-openers for guests.
NATO staffer Bo Ascot said, of the Garrett popcorn mix: "The cheese ones are quite a surprise. ... In Brussels, our staple is frites (fries) and we serve them with 20 sauces. We do with frites what you do with popcorn."
Philippe Van Exem, another NATO employee, said the bash was eating into his work ethic.
"I don't have the feeling to go back to work," he said. "This put me into a different mood."
In the afternoon, Quinn, who coupled the visit with business meetings, found himself warmly embraced by an international business organization. An American Chamber of Commerce to the European Union audience erupted in laughter at many of his quips, including a tongue-in-cheek offer to let visitors sleep in President Abraham Lincoln's bed if they did a little shopping first.
"You never know when someone will hear you and the next thing you know, they have to make a location decision," Quinn said after the lunch. "You just have to till the soil."
He talked up the state as a place for business investment, citing its diverse population, its moves into clean energy development and high-speed rail and its first-rate universities. And he cited cooperative arrangements with other global regions, including "sister river" pacts.
"I'll do that with any river you've got," Quinn told the Belgium-based business people, triggering more laughs.
The luncheon happened to be co-sponsored by Peoria-basedCaterpillar Inc., whose top executive, Doug Oberhelman, has been outspoken in his criticism of Illinois' business climate.
A Caterpillar representative at the luncheon said Quinn made a good first impression.
"I think he sent a good message ... but he has to build something strong behind this," said Olivier Renson, personnel manager for a major Caterpillar factory in Belgium, noting the competition for business investment is fierce worldwide.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times