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Tag: Chef Val

Midwinter is Coming – Part 3: The Event Nears

With a little over a month to go until the convention, it’s clear. Midwinter is coming. I’ve spent some time over the past few months talking about Midwinter Gaming Convention’s origins and growth with the convention’s founder, Anne Holmes. As I look forward to attending for the first time, I decided to find out what makes the con worthwhile for some of the regular attendees.

“Everyone affectionately called it ‘gamer prom,…”

I’ve learned that gamers still tightly associate the con with the World of Darkness. “It was for a long time solely a Vampire event,” one gamer related to me. “Everyone affectionately called it ‘gamer prom,’ since it was kind of THE showcase for costuming and crazy national political plots.”

The commitment to One World by Night, the international organization of World of Darkness LARPs, drew storyteller Curt Goble to his first Midwinter in 2015. “I came in to play OWbN werewolf and vampire. I had great fun at the werewolf game, so much that I ended up skipping playing vampire to continue to play werewolf afterhours and at the OWbN Mage game that was running in the evening.”

Curt, a frequent storyteller at the nation’s largest gaming convention, GenCon, also appreciates the intimacy and structure of the smaller con. “At Gen Con, most events are single session games, and classically they haven’t been national-level plot – though there is the occasional fallout from a game that happens there.”

Midwinter allows for multi-day gaming sessions. “… there is more time to get into the swing, and the plots we deal with there are usually fairly large in scope and have effects on OWbN as a whole for years to come.”

However, this strong connection between Midwinter and One World by Night put off some people.

Chef Val remembers going to the con about six years ago. “I wasn’t particularly fond of the venue/hotel and I wasn’t that into the variety of games the con provided,” she told me. “I started back up 2 years ago and it had changed significantly. It has a much bigger variety of games and vendors, which always keeps me interested with stuff to discover and do.”

“It’s a beautiful Hilton that loves having us,…”

The venue also made an impression. “It’s a beautiful Hilton that loves having us, lovely spacious venue and guest rooms, and the location provides for nice dining/drinking in-house or you can venture out into the city on foot and explore all that beautiful downtown Milwaukee has to offer. It’s really a whole new con now and my personal favorite!”

The con’s diversification appeals to other, more long time attendees. Mike Surma started to attend back when it only targeted World of Darkness, specifically Vampire, players. “Over the years, it’s morphed from a targeted LARP gathering to a full blown convention. What keeps me intrigued is the continual addition of tabletop RPG games – where my heart lies – in which the creators show up and run sessions for players.”

“I’ve sat at tables with Ivan Van Norman, Eddy Webb, and this year I’ll be at a table run by John Wick.”

The closeness and intimacy of Midwinter speaks to Mike’s passion for tabletop RPG’s. “… these games are typically new releases and Midwinter is one of the few venues you might get to see them before they’re released. I’ve sat at tables with Ivan Van Norman (of Geek & Sundry), Eddy Webb (author of the Pugmire RPG), and this year I’ll be at a table run by John Wick (Author of 7th Sea, a swashbuckling RPG). It’s a fairly unique experience, and one that I look forward to each year in a less crowded (than GenCon, for instance), more personal venue where I don’t have to pay extra to play.”

As a storyteller and franchise owner of the LARP Dystopia Rising, Mike takes advantage of the format to spread love for his ongoing game. “First, it’s a medium sized venue that attracts a variety of people. With its initial posture supporting LARP, it still draws a strong crowd, many of whom like new options. Second, the events are free for the most part, and by offering a free short module, indoors, without a full weekend long commitment, people can get a ‘try before you buy’ concept of what the game (Dystopia Rising) is about.”

“Running a game, for me, is a good opportunity for exposure to something that people would potentially be hesitant about, or have never heard about before. We love what we do, and we hope others will join us and find that they love it too.”

The expansion has left some long term attendees doubting if they will go this year, however.

“Honestly, it’s kind of the variety that has decreased its appeal for me.”

“Honestly, it’s kind of the variety that has decreased its appeal for me,” a gamer said to me. “So many people have so much fun at the event now, but not much of its offerings justify the expense for me. The vendors are cool, but I have little need for their paraphernalia. I don’t dislike board games, but I don’t like them enough to need a whole event for them. And while there are options for LARP, most of them are lost among the sheer quantity.”

“The last few years I’ve gone almost exclusively for the Werewolf: the Apocalypse LARP, but the games that used to be the foundation of Midwinter have been largely sidelined to small, crowded rooms among dozens of other small, crowded room filled with other LARPs. It doesn’t really feel like an ‘event’ anymore, so much as a regular Werewolf game played where it’s OK to be in-character in public and then drink a lot and hang out with friends.”

For myself, even after all these conversations. I find myself looking forward to attending Midwinter and finding out if it’s a good fit for me.


Midwinter Gaming Convention 2017 will be held January 12-15, 2017 at the historic Hilton Milwaukee City Center and will include more events than ever before. 

Photos by  C.Wenzel Photography

Geek Weekend Guide for October 21, 22, & 23

zombie-225x300Lot’s of scary and fun stuff to do in this Geek Weekend Guide. Halloween approaches and one of my favorite films is celebrating its 30th anniversary. Personally, Trinity and I will be searching the stalls for bargains at the Wheaton Haunted Flea Market Saturday afternoon.  One of our favorite CCG interviewees, Chef Val, will be there selling her wares. Trin and I have even put together comfortable costumes.

Highlander Featuring an Introduction by Nick Offerman

The Music Box Theater is offering a special showing of the Queen music fueled, sword fighting extravaganza that is Highlander.  Actor, comedian, writer, musician, and carpenter, Nick Offerman will be on hand to introduce the film.

Music Box Theater, Saturday, October 22nd, 11pm; for tickets 3733 N. Southport Avenue, Chicago, IL 60613

The Skywalker Cycle

EDGE Youth Theater is presenting The Skywalker Cycle, a light Shakespearean adaptation of the holy trilogy. Three casts, three directors, three movies and all the sword fights, shootouts, and laser battles you could hope for, all  in 90 minutes.


The Skywalker Cycle;  shows on October 21st 7pm, October 22nd 2pm, October 23rd 7pm; $12; Devonshire Theater 4400 Greenwood St, Skokie, IL 60076

Nightmare on Chicago Street

From the web site:

On Saturday, the city of Elgin is calling for help to battle the zombie horde. The event promises that every human will have a good time with 4 stages of entertainment, bands, food and merchandise vendors, drinks, live graffiti artists, and guests like SVENGOOLIE.

As with all viral infections that occur, some people will undoubtedly FREAK OUT and destroy some of the businesses and buildings in the safe zone.  Expect some of the businesses to be boarded up, trash everywhere, burning tires, some of the left over cars may be damaged and overturned, as well as ZOMBIES being caged up. Do not fear! Your safety is guaranteed by military presence, concerned citizens and our Zombie Defense Initiative. Some of the businesses will be open for you to get food, shelter (YWCA Warming Station), medical treatment (an ambulance will be there with doctors on hand), and many more food and drink stations throughout the safe zone.

As with all groups of people (or things), some have a kind heart to them and will feel bad for the undead. Expect protesters there fighting for ZOMBIE RIGHTS and several ZOMBIE MARCHES may occur.

This may be your last shot at survival, so

In order to maintain some sort of economic health after the apocalypse we are asking for a nominal safe zone entrance fee. This will get you into the safe zone to partake in all of the entertainment, but more importantly it will guarantee your survival! Online tickets can be purchased on our website or at the entrance gates.

Nightmare on Chicago Street; Elgin, Illinois – Chicago Street, between Douglas and Villa; October 22, 7pm til 11pm


Cooking for the Apocalypse! An Interview with Chef Val

Cooking and LARP. Chef Val is no newcomer to either game. She started in both fields 22 years ago and has been making an impact ever since. I had a chance to catch up with her and get her thoughts about overlapping what seem like two very disparate pastimes.

CGG: What is your background in food preparation?

Chef Val in civilian gear.

Chef Val in civilian gear.

Chef Val: Like every teenaged kid, I started in fast food, and that’s where I learned the importance of speed, sanitation, and consistency.  I then moved on to working at a resort in Lake Geneva WI in a fancy restaurant where I learned about food prepping in volume for both restaurant service and banquets. They even paid for half my culinary tuition in exchange for a two-year commitment. I decided to do the school and stick in the profession. I was quite good at it and the field was filled with my kind of people: everyone swore, had tattoos, and partied every night. It was high pressure and high stress, but simultaneously an art form that insisted on precision, camaraderie, and an attention to many details. A professional kitchen allowed me the perfect balance of being a rogue, an artist, and a mastermind.

CGG: What would you say are your greatest professional accomplishments?

Chef Val: I was the first executive level female chef in the world famous Palmer House hotel and started a trend of chefs doing rooftop gardens and beehives in Chicago. I got a lot of media attention for that, which allowed me to relaunch a campaign for Midwestern food and old world cooking methods such as preservation, pickling, wildcrafting, etc. I worked with the National Honey Board and had a number of internationally published articles on my work with honey and Midwestern ingredients. Having multiple television shows trying to cast me on shows was kind of fun. Despite the fact I chose not to; I considered that sign I had done made significant impact in the field.

CGG: Let’s talk about your history of LARPing. When did you first start? What attracted you to the hobby?

Chef Val: I started LARPing 22 years ago in a Vampire game. My friends talked me into going. I was hooked and have been LARPing consistently ever since. I have always loved the escapism, costuming, and epic storytelling.

CGG: How did the two interests start to merge?

The Victorian Chef Val

The Victorian Chef Val

Chef Val: The first time I cooked for a LARP was a one-shot 10 course dinner commemorating the 100th anniversary of sinking of the Titanic. That was insane but a blast.

When I started playing Dystopia Rising I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. I made the character creation easy by playing a cook. I made genre appropriate meals for our crew and all the other players totally dug what we were doing. Soon after, I started doing the meal plan for the whole game on top of cooking for our ever-growing apocalyptic crew.

In my grand finale at the Indiana Chapter, I cooked 250 meals for the game, 100 meals for my crew, and a 5 course fine-dining meal for a fancy scene. That weekend was pure insanity, but it went off without too many hitches. Now that I ST for the Wisconsin chapter of Dystopia Rising, I make the menus, delegate the cooking tasks, and cook about a fourth of the meal plan (on top of cooking for my crew). It may not sound like it, but it is less work than I was doing before.

CGG: How did you get roped into Last Dinner on the Titanic?

Chef Val: Well, all those years of making custom menus for weddings, parties, etc made for an easy transition. Dig & Gail (of Fete Fatale and Castle Whately fame) wanted to do the one-shot LARP and we all researched the meals together. I modernized it for our palates and ease of service.

I like my LARPs to be highly immersive, and food really helps with that. If done correctly, it can really add to the overall experience.

CGG: How does approaching a menu for a LARP differ from say, a wedding?

Chef Val: Not as much as you would think. When approaching a wedding menu, you take into consideration the cultures and traditions of the client, as well as the theme and setting of the event. I also think about the logistics of making easily portable hors d’ oeuvres that won’t ruin someone’s tuxedo.

When cooking for a LARP, it’s about genre (culture), ambience (setting), and how portable the food can be without ruining someone’s costume.

They’re not really that different at all. They’re both performance pieces where food can be an expression of culture and enhance the ambience of the event.

CGG: Can you describe an event where you absolutely nailed it?

Post Apocalypse Chef Val

Post Apocalypse Chef Val

Chef Val: I’m my own worst critic, so that’s a rough one. Probably the last time I “nailed it” was the post-apocalyptic 5 course meal for a bunch of fancy muckety-mucks at Dystopia Rising. We had a gorgeous table setting, mismatched china, and 5 beautifully executed courses, all served by a caravan of rovers armed to the teeth with boffer weapons (in case things went south). In-character, I “hired” combat waiters and guards to protect the diners from zombies and other dystopian threats. The food was timed and plated perfectly and I brought a lot of players into the scene to help it go off without a hitch. I think that’s the best way to measure LARP-catering success: immersion is never broken, lots of characters get involved, and the food is precisely genre. Oh, and everyone said it was delicious and they had fun!


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