A James Beard Celebrity Chef series wrap-up from the World Equestrian Games
BY TOM YATES
On a warm autumn Saturday early evening, James Beard celebrity chefs gathered to cook alongside the highest caliber local chefs for "Cookin' in the Bluegrass," as part of the James Beard Celebrity Chef Series for the World Equestrian Games.
From the very first sip of wine and nibble of food to the last toast with dessert, the evening was a tremendous success.
Precisely at 7 p.m., the corks popped on the front lawn for a Kentucky Wine Tasting, featuring Elk Creek Vineyards and Equus Run Vineyard and Winery.
We sipped cocktails and mingled with the crowd while servers glided in and out with trays of passed hors d' oeuvres. Chef Dean Corbett offered local Kentucky Bison Tartar served on on tiny crisp crostini. It was highly seasoned with flecks of fresh herbs, very lean, and rich. Happy Jack's Savory Pumpkin Beignet with Sapori d' Italia Aged Goat Cheese came nestled on tiny china plates with bite sized deep fried pumpkin beignets topped with a specks of tangy goat cheese. It was a fascinating flavor profile.
Our favorite server of the evening, Marie, carried a long rectangular china serving platter with individual tasting spoons of House Cured Guanciale (cured pork jowls), with Maker's Mark 46 Bourbon and Green Apple. The crisp tartness of the apple provided crunch and acid for the Italian bacon. I loved the delicate fresh chervil garnish that enveloped the pork jowl bites. Marie hawked them as "the best bacon you'll ever eat." I ate seven.
Ouita Michel is famous for her shrimp and grits. Saturday night, she prepared a deconstructed passed hors d' oeurvres version of it with Kentucky Raised Freshwater Shrimp and Grits. Perched atop tall shot glasses of grits essence was a skewered ham cube, scallion, perfectly cooked shrimp, and fried cheese grits cubes. It tasted like a bowl of shrimp and grits in one bite-shoot-and-swallow motion. Salty and sweet with major corn impact. I wanted more.
As the sun began to set under a gorgeous Kentucky sky, we were called to dinner. We made our way into The Farmhouse, through the lobby, out the back door, past the Governor's Garden, and into the glassed-in dining room. Each table had 64 pieces of stemware for eight guests. I know. I counted.
First Course: Diver Sea Scallop Sashimi
Butternut Squash, Endive, Green Apple, Pumpkin Seeds
with dollops of chilled pureed butternut squash, green apple, endive, and Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale. Toasted pumpkin seeds added crunch while tender greens provided freshness. Sporting a nod to molecular gastronomy, the individual pockets of jellied flavor exploded when sliced. Individually, they didn't make sense and were too intense. But, when swirled together like a Jackson Pollack painting with bits of scallop shashimi, they became a unified whole. The buttery soft briny sea scallops soaked up the vibrant endive, tart apple, and velvet squash. It was smart and clean. A perfect beginning.
Second Course: Bluegrass Moussaka
Socca Crepes filled with Bourbon County Pulled Lamb, Eggplant Caviar, Cream, and Fresh Tomato Coulis
In complete contrast to the first course, the bluegrass moussaka was earthy and deep. Socca crepes are made from ground chickpeas forming light-as-air pancakes. The crepe had the texture of a soft thick corn tortillas. It was an utter surprise with its fluffy texture perfectly draped over fork tender braised local pulled lamb mixed eggplant caviar. Napped with cream and fresh tomato coulis, it was sophisticated comfort food. Fried chickpeas tumbled by the side added crunch and earthiness.
Kentucky Farm Raised Striped Bass
Cannellini Beans, Okra, Smoked Bacon, Gallrein Farms Corn Broth, Corn Fritter and Popcorn Shoots
Fourth Course: Roasted Breast of Kentucky Squab
Maker's Mark 46 Infused Squab Jus, Sweet Potatoes, Collard Greens
A Selection of Ripened and Aged Chevres from Capriole with Pear Compote
The three cheese selections represented the finest from Capriole. Served in a ripening succesion from soft and tangy to to aged and nutty. Splendid. Pear compote was passed as an optional topper. It was a nice respite with calming flavors accentuated beautifully with sparkling dry Veuve Cliquot.
Individual Apple Stack Cake with Scott County Hickory Nut Brittle and Maker's Mark Bourbon Caramelized Evan's Orchard Apples.
The guests chefs came out to thunderous applause and were introduced and presented with traditional James Beard Cerificates honoring the celebration, nurturing, and preservation of America's diverse culinary heritage and future.
We were honored and fortunate to be a part of The James Beard Celebrity Chef Dinner Series: Cookin' In The Bluegrass. The food was impeccable, the people were joyous, and the atmosphere was electric. We will never forget the evening, the meal, the service, the hospitality, or the experience.
Michael gave me a James Beard Foundation Culinary Professional Membership for my birthday. Last night, we were invited to stop by the James Beard House the next time we are in New York. We will.
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