Hail to the Indie Chefs
I arrived just before the first course, mini pretzel bagels with trout-flecked creme fraiche courtesy by Mat Clouser of Swift's Attic. The "pragels and trox" were a tasty amuse, the salt of the bagel complementing the smooth flavor of the trout.
The next few dishes privileged Gulf oysters, with Rachel Dunlap's spicy miso-glazed broiled oysters, which will be an off-menu item at the new Whole Foods Domain location, and Todd Duplechan's (Lenoir) sour shrimp sausage with a squid risotto.
Andrew Wiseheart of Contigo provided some much-needed vegetables with his charred broccoli resting atop fermented mashed potatoes and topped with powdered cheese and a dab of lemon oil. His interpretation of a baked potato with broccoli and cheese was utterly delightful, and I longed for a second helping. As some people have pointed out on social media, these indie chefs are at the forefront of upcoming food trends such as fermentation.
As he introduced Erika Beneke of Max's Wine Dive, Elliott expressed dismay that more women didn't run kitchens in town. Beneke's goat meatballs were fine, but it was the carrot-studded broth that captivated my palate.
The next two dishes were, in my opinion, the two best of the night. John Bates of Noble Sandwich Co. offered up a pork tongue "snack stick," which my friend later described as a hipster Slim Jim, but it was so much more than that. The stick, which Bates claimed came from Cherokee influences, did indeed taste like smoked, dried meat, but more succulent and satisfying.
Mat Clouser followed with a "red cooked" strip loin, a high-end gesture to the kind of cuisine he'll be turning out at Wu Chow later this year. Topped with a radish salad and lots of fresh ginger, the steak was tender and richly beefy and paired beautifully with the William & Chris Vineyards Hunter's Blend red wine.
The meal, served on custom pottery by Keith Kreeger, wrapped with three desserts from pastry chefs Monica Glen (Qui), Erica Waksmunski (Congress, Second Bar+Kitchen), and Rosie Shipman (former pastry assistant at Foreign & Domestic). While all of the desserts were delightful, my favorite was Shipman's sweet potato pastry cream in a tiny butter-pastry shell paired with a spicy ginger ice cream and an aji and meyer lemon marmalade made with ingredients from Shipman's own yard.
The chefs participating in the remaining dinners this week, culminating in a $250, 20-course blowout, represent all corners of the country, from Miami to Missouri to Portland. (There's even a Canadian in there!) While tickets are sold out, be sure to follow the #indiechefsweek hashtag on Twitter to watch from home.