Not satisfied with his own media ascendence – nor with the critical acclaim for and personal satisfaction of pushing boundaries of what can be done with exotic edibles and what new and tasty twists can be visited upon traditional culinary tropes – Executive Chef Ned Elliott of Foreign & Domestic has a new Indie Chefs series going on.
The series features up-and-coming chefs from across the nation, invited to present a multicourse meal at the intimate and elegant venue Elliott runs there on North Loop.
The night I attended, the first of this series, the guest chef was Jason Vincent of Chicago, the man who's led the Windy City's award-winning Nightwood restaurant for five years, and the seven-course meal featured alternating courses from Vincent and the F&D chefs. The results of this presentation of fancy victuals … well, if anything could make a tongue's phalanx of taste buds rise up and shout "Hallelujah!" this would've been that thing. Not a bad way to spend a Monday night, right?
Read you now a brief description of the specifics:
Chef Vincent brought the Gulf of Mexico to our plates in the form of chilled shrimp with peanuts, basil, cucumber, and chili arbol. He crumbled a 6-year-old Wisconsin cheddar and stuffed it into casoncelli pasta, presented it with tiny peas, morsels of Gulf hake, and tomatoes. He conjured up (with seven days' worth of simmering and reducing, he told us) a Galician cocido that was like some mole tapped from the veins of Hispanic seraphim – and covered it beneath a verdant jumble of asparagus, sorrel, green beans, and radishes.
Those Vincentennial dishes tag-teamed with the Foreign & Domestic offerings of radish and turnip carpaccio(!) with ramp oil and pinhead drops of squid ink; okonomiyaki pancakes with asparagus, trout roe, lime pickle, and a sauce of yolks; and a ballotine of duck (manifest as a delectable series of concentric layers of meats and mixtures) with pickled cherries and bits of that herb claytonia.
Yeah, I'm telling you: The stuttered parade of flavors and textures was revelatory. It was the sort of eclectic and surprising and delicious experience you'd expect from an event called Indie Chefs Table at Foreign & Domestic, and it was highly satisfying.
Well, except for one thing: the dessert.
The diverse meal's finale was a poppyseed cake with lemon balm and creme fraiche and strawberries. And that cake, while tasty enough, was … well, I thought it was too dense, like a pound cake in drag as a neutron star, and just a skoshie too dry. (It was created, we were told, by the current F&D chef du cuisine – who's soon abdicating for a job in Dallas. And so maybe there's a reason dedicated pastry chefs are the ones who most often handle the dedicated pastries? Something, maybe, about the elusive subtleties of baking?)
Anyway. Not going to end this post without mentioning the question-and-answer exchange that began the evening. Because, as complex and particular as his style of cuisine can sometimes be, Jason Vincent came across as a solid and sensible gentleman-of-cooking, a man who's labored in the food-service trenches and has learned his trade from the bottom up, who appreciates the power of culinary simplicity and the virtue of treating fellow toilers with human decency.
"What's the most important thing you've learned in your career?" someone asked before our night of excellent noms began.
"The importance of the words 'Behind you!'" said Chef Vincent.
No wonder the man's so successful.
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