The July installment of Lexington’s ongoing Women Chefs Dinner Series was themed World Cuisine, and hosted at Brasabana, Lexington’s newest Cuban/ Caribbean fusion joint from the culinary crew behind Azur. Chef Jeremy Ashby and Sylvia Lovely of Azur were on hand to welcome guests, and to applaud the series, founded by their day chef, Shannon Wampler-Collins. She was inspired to light this culinary fire when she read Time Magazine’s “Gods of Food” highlighting influentials in the food industry and found the list to be largely dominated by men.
The June 2014 entry offered A Taste of Thai, but July’s entry broadened the scope a little further. A portion of the proceeds of each evening in the series are donated to charity (tonight’s was Children’s Advocacy Center of the Bluegrass). Brasabana remained open for dinner service while the Women Chefs program occupied most of the rear dining room, and while that had to have been murder on the kitchen and the staff, the seasoned pros pulled off an ambitious evening and menu without a hitch.
The first course was prepared by Jill Schrank, line chef at The Lexington Diner. Her light and airy Asian mini pizza with peanut sauce, chicken, peanuts, mozzarella, bean sprouts, carrots, cilantro, lime and sweet chili sauce had a crispy, almost cracker-like crust that set the stage.
Next up was a salad course by Sullivan chef and culinary instructor, Libby Allen – French lentil and arugula salad with bacon, goat cheese, tomatoes and lemon-chive vinaigrette.
For our third course Chef Ranada West-Riley (owner of The Lexington Diner), was able to improvise when her micro-basil disappeared, garnishing her Mediterannean watermelon gazpacho with a sprig of mint instead. The lime limoncello on the side was also homemade and, if she were to make it in quantity, would be the envy of every trendy craft cocktail bartender in town. Liquor laws being what they are, there’s no point in asking for a doggie bag of vodka, but she has a prize commodity on her hands with this. And as a point of regional pride, Lexington has long been in need of a good watermelon gazpacho to rival Jack Fry’s in Louisville; this one gives it a run for its money.
Azur’s line chef, Vanessa Willhite, served Moroccan couscous with chermoula-marinated swai and sweet date vinaigrette. Swai is a mild and delicate Asian catfish.
Amy Harris was identified on the menu as the sous chef at the now-defunct Jonathan at Gratz Park, but surely she has been snapped up by some hot shot restaurateur in the intervening weeks since that institution closed its doors. She produced an incredible standout dish, Peruvian papas rellenas that were stuffed with sweet potatoes and spicy pork and quinoa, perfectly complemented with a light shred of jicama and carrots in a citrus marinade. Papas rellenas are typically a “potato ball” — meat stuffed inside potatoes that are breaded and fried. The choice of sweet potatoes and pork was a welcome twist, and the high degree of difficulty could’ve been missed, the flavors were so subtle and the execution so perfect. Harris knocked it out of the park with a dish that so easily could’ve gone wrong at so many turns, but the exterior was crisp; the textures all worked together; and there wasn’t a trace of spare oil or grease to be found on the plate. We went home and dreamed dreams of an “Amy’s Papas Rellenas Food Truck” pulled up outside the office every Friday.
But not before Azur’s day chef Shannon Wampler-Collins, the series founder, wrapped the evening successfully with her Irish chocolate Guinness cake topped with Bailey’s icing. The crumbles of bourbon-infused brown sugar on top elevated this dessert to a level that Pearse Lyons himself would surely weep big salty tears of joy if he were to try it.
The evening served as a kind of amuse bouche to Lexington Restaurant Week 2014, which begins on Thursday. It would be inclusive and reflective of Lexington’s emerging culinary culture if an array of tastings, chef’s tables, food truck fiestas, and programming such as this could be coordinated and worked into a future Restaurant Week.
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