It’s not easy booking nearly 150 musical acts every year — keeping more than half a million music lovers happy. But Welz Kauffman has been doing that for nearly two decades at Ravinia, the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. For those who don’t know about Ravinia, it’s the Highland Park concert venue that welcomes guests to a covered pavilion or acres of lawn space to enjoy a picnic under the stars while also savoring world-class live music.
As president and CEO, Kauffman has made it a point to showcase artists from classical music to hip-hop, from oldies to jazz, from movies to musicals, and everything in between. Ravinia also has indoor recital halls, and along the way, has grown to include restaurants, food vendors, and beverage carts. I told Kauffman that I’ve never bought tickets for the pavilion, preferring to sit out on the lawn. A favorite memory: our family and some good friends, packing our picnic baskets, finding a spot out at the end of the lawn area so our children wouldn’t disturb other music lovers. Suddenly, in the middle of the concert, I realized everyone around us was staring past me and smiling. It was my little girl, dancing to the music! For me, that’s Ravinia.
- A summer night at Ravinia Festival in Highland Park. | Sun-Times file photo
- Welz Kauffman sits back during a commercial break in a WFMT radio preview of Ravinia’s 2009 season. | Provided
- Welz Kauffman, Patti LuPone, and Jake Heggie give a pre-concert talk in 2007. | Provided
- Welz Kauffman and Lang Lang lead a discussion at the Chicago Cultural Center for a group of young artists. | Provided
Kaufmann agrees. He wants people to think of Ravinia as a place to bring their families. That’s why there are plenty of food options on-site, so you can assemble your picnic right on the premises. In fact, food may be as important at Ravinia as the music. Kaufmann related how he cooks in his home for some of the musicians who perform at Ravinia, giving them a chance to relax and enjoy a home-cooked meal.
When we asked him to come into our Sun Times kitchen, Kaufmann thought about making a childhood favorite ice cream sundae. But when he explained why he instead chose to prepare his special risotto, we realized what food means to him: It soothes, it comforts and it just makes him happy. A former boss of his at the J. Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles understood that, and on an occasion when it was just a bad day at the office, she took Kaufmann to a favorite Italian restaurant and introduced him to this yellow pepper and green bean risotto. It made his day wonderful again!
It’s a recipe he’s been making ever since and even serves it to many of the artists who perform at Ravinia.
Welz Kauffman's Yellow Pepper & Green Bean Risotto
- 1⁄2 lb. green beans, trimmed
- Homemade chicken broth
- 3 tbsp. butter (add more to taste)
- 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1 small yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 yellow or red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and diced into 1⁄2-inch pieces
- 1 red pepper (prepared the same as above)
- 1 2⁄3 cups arborio rice
- 2⁄3 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano (a whole cup)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Cook beans in a medium pot of boiling salted water for 2 minutes, then drain. Let cool, then cut beans into 1⁄2-inch pieces. Set aside.
- In a medium pot over high heat bring 6 cups of water to a boil. Reduce heat to low, add bouillon cube, stir until dissolved. Keep warm on low heat.
- Heat 1 1⁄2 tbsp. of the butter, the oil, and the onions in a medium-size heavy pot over
- medium-high heat. Cook, stirring often with a wooden spoon, until onions are pale gold, (about 7 minutes). Add peppers, increase heat to high, and cook for about 1⁄2 minute, stirring constantly. Add reserved green beans and cook, stirring often, 3-4 minutes.
- Add rice to the beans and peppers, stirring to coat with the oil and butter and to combine it with the vegetables. Add 3⁄4 cup of the simmering broth at a time, stirring the rice constantly; wait until almost all of the broth has been absorbed before adding more. Continue cooking and adding broth (you may have some broth left over) until rice is tender but firm to the bite, about 15 minutes.
- Remove pot from heat. Vigorously stir in remaining 1 1⁄2 tbsp. butter and the parmigiano-reggiano, season liberally with salt and pepper. Transfer to a warm platter and serve at once. Options on ways of serving include with arugula or other green salad; with roast chicken or grilled salmon.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this segment of “Food We Love with Linda Yu. Next week, Linda talks to Vicki Reece, a Chicago mother who has created a digital community called “Joy of Mom” that focuses on sharing information & inspiration about all aspects of parenting. We’ll find out how how she jazzes up her morning coffee. #foodwelove