FOOD: Winchell’s Graham Waller creates 60-course feast for father’s 60th birthday

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“The last two or three years, we’ve got the idea to express ourselves through the whole menu, not certain dishes…The most important thing is the sequences: five or six dishes that are about the same product or culture that make up a mini-menu. We’re sure this will become a trend in the gastronomic world. The problem is that you have to have a very, very long menu. If you don’t, it won’t make sense.”

Chef Ferran Adria, El Bulli (Bloomberg)

Long time fine-dining fans in Lexington remember Graham Waller’s inspired culinary creations from his tenure at Emmett’s, before he and his partners opened Winchell’s on Southland Drive. He (along with fellow alums like Ouita Michel) has always been one of the stars to watch within Lexington’s emerging food culture.

The C.I.A. (and Henry Clay) grad drew heavily on both his fine dining education and experience when he created a 60-course dinner for the 60th birthday of his father Greg Waller (now at IU, Professor Waller was a longtime icon in film studies within UK’s English department — and a contributing film writer for Ace in the 80s and 90s. His film critiques still turn up on Amazon, e.g., American Horrors: Essays on the Modern American Horror Film).

sweetbread topped with a fried quail egg

The Waller family’s “epic” eight and a half hour feast is the subject of Small Cities, Big Cooks, now airing on KET. (Check local listings.)

Guest Scott Curtis says early on, “It’s going to be like Monty Python,” while Armando Prats (also familiar to UK English students) confesses, “I will not make it.” Another guest is proud to make it to course 37. (The menu was six courses, with ten sub-courses each.) By the end of the meal, five stalwart guests remain.

Early courses include a deconstructed, or “rustic” caesar, cauliflower with pear, butternut squash ravioli, escargot pernod, a salad lyonnaise (with a poached quail egg), and foie gras au torchon. Later courses include paella, skate wing, squab breast, and rabbit tenderloin (alongside braised rabbit leg).

The 60-bite sequencing would be almost over the top at the French Laundry or Per Se or Alinea, much less a restaurant/bar on Southland Drive where the menu winks, “better food — more televisions.”

Chef Waller says his love of cooking is dictated by his passion for food, as “that ingredient will tell you what to do with it.” Professor Waller’s wife Brenda says, “Graham and Greg share this same devotion to craft. (She, understandably, has to duck off camera for a nap, mid-meal.)

Watching the feast unfold, Anthony Bourdain’s advice comes to mind, “If cooking professionally is about control, eating successfully should be about submission.” Even El Bulli reportedly only plans to serve 48 courses for its 2011 season, which will be its last. “Applications” are no longer being accepted, in case you were thinking about going.

The documentary was produced by  George Parker and Kiley Lane of Louisville’s Parkerlane Productions.

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