Sunday, May 13, 2012

Celebrity Chef Tour

Last month, I went to one of those “once in a lifetime” kinds of dinners that I just had to take advantage of because something like this is somewhat rare for St. Louis. The Celebrity Chef Tour came through town thanks to a couple of local chefs, Gerard Craft (Nice), Kevin Willmann (Farmhaus), and Josh Galliano (formerly of Monarch) who received James Beard nominations this year. Finally…we are on the map!

This was definitely my most expensive dinner I have ever gone to, although we got lovely parting gifts from the sponsors: a Mercedes-Benz credit card holder and a Stella Artois glass with velvet pouch. The Stella glass is SO beautiful!

The Celebrity Chef Tour is a fundraiser to benefit the James Beard Foundation, an organization that supports events and programs in the culinary world, along with the annual awards for naming top restaurants and chefs.

The dinner was held at Sidney Street Café and consisted of an eight-course meal with a top chef in charge of each course. I wondered how the courses got assigned to eat chef…did they draw straws? A different wine was paired with each course so I knew I was going to seriously have to pace myself and leave a lot of wine behind to make it through the night. The restaurant staff was just incredible keeping up with the wine pouring with each course and clearing away dishes and glasses as the night went along.

Not only were there eight courses, but the evening started off with hors dourves, including a charcuterie table. I may have tried a few different items, but I’m sure they were mostly salami and pickled vegetables. We were also served a complimentary glass of Stella Atrois after sitting down at our tables. I was seated with a gentleman who had recently graduated from Le Cordon Bleu cooking school and another couple who were enjoying a birthday present.

Here are the courses along with a few notes:

1) John Shields (Philadelphia, PA): Oyster seasoned with the new spruce, spinach, and infusion of fresh seaweeds, black radish paired with Segura Heredad Brut Reserva.

Chef Shields actually got his start at Cardwell’s so he was happy to be back in St. Louis. His oyster dish had very rich, bold flavors so the sparkling wine helped cut through them.

2) Josh Galliano (St. Louis, MO): Illinois asparagus, stinging nettle cavatelli, local pecans, bottarga, purslane paired with Chase Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2012.

The white asparagus (from Freeburg, IL) was actually covered from the sun in order to get its ghostly appearance and tasted so much lighter and less earthy than regular asparagus. This helped to not overpower the wine, which actually tasted more like an overly creamy Chardonnay. I now think all asparagus should be white.

3) Gerard Craft (Nice, St. Louis, pictured at the top): Cauliflower, lamb, ramps, mint, and lemon paired with Rodney Strong Russian River Reserve Chardonnay 2009.

I wish all cauliflower side dishes could be served this way: cooked with braised lamb and served with a crispy lamb topping and a side of mint sauce. This Chardonnay was not oaky and had a crisp flavor to it but overpowered the lighter cauliflower dish.

4) Kevin Willmann (Farhaus, St. Louis, pictured on the right): Grilled wild caught Gulf Cobia filet with ramp and its belly “bacon”, golden raisin chutney, sauce soubise paired with Bethlehem Valley Chardonel 2009.

This light fish went well with the crisp wine to help mellow out the creamy sauce and chutney topping that came with it. The Chardonel is actually made from a hybrid of Missouri grapes and had a fruity finish.

5) Debbie Gold (The American Restaurant, KC): Mackerel, ramps, morels, sake miso paired with Domaine Serene “Evanstad Resrve” Pinor Noir 2007.

Besides the St. Louis chefs, I was most looking forward to Debbie’s course due to her prescense as the only female chef of the dinner. The pickled mackerel was very rich and so I was glad to have a fruity Pinot paired with it. I finally figured out that a “ramp” is a type of onion!

6) Martin Rios (Restuarnat Marin, Sante Fe): Crispey Newman Farm pork belly, roasted tenderloin, cherry-soy caramel, celery root, polenta parchment paired with Hirsh Vineyards Pinot Noir 2008.

I really enjoyed the tenderloin in this course, especially since it was cooked just right and paired very well with a drier Pinot Noir. I am sure the same could have been said for the pork by those who are fans, but I did not enjoy the fatty bite I took.

7) Alex Lee (Glen Hill Country Club, NY): Roasted Eieio Acres lamb loin and pulled shank with Moroccan spices, olives, spring turnips and radishes paired with Ethos Reserve Syrah 2008.

I learned that Alex is the former executive chef at Danielle. The lamb was delicious but there was still a hint of gaminess to it so the drier red wine was a good pairing. Since the meat was tender and soft, it didn’t exactly match up with the crunchy nuts that came with it.

8) Kevin Nashan / Robert Zugmaier (Sidney Street Café, St. Louis): Green strawberries, black sesame cake, balsamic, dill, buttermilk sorbet paired with Chateau Ste Michelle Late Harvest Riesling 2008.

This was my least favorite course since both the food and the wine were way too overpowering. The green strawberries were very tart and dessert wines are often overly sweet. Even the sorbet was too much instead of being light and palate cleansing. At this point I was ready to be done eating and drinking so I didn’t mind leaving behind some leftovers anyway.

I had definitely paced myself well with the wine but was very tired after four hours of nonstop eating and drinking. This is probably not something you’d want to do every day, but definitely a great experience.

Resources:

James Beard Foundation = http://www.jamesbeard.org/

Sidney Street Café = http://www.sidneystreetcafe.com