During the past several months, chef Sam Dickey from the Granite Cafe has been opening his kitchen to chefs from around the state. He calls the experience the Distinguished Chef Wine Dinner. Here's how it works: Sam picks a city (Dallas, in this case) and brings in three chefs that he respects and admires. Then, along with Sam, each creates a course for the meal. A local wine person then matches wines to foods. Sam loves the idea, not just for the obvious publicity, but because the chefs are synergists for each other, competitively powering the whole dining experience up a level. Chefs on board this time were Marc Cassel from the Green Room, Garreth Dickey (Sam's brother) from Jeroboam, and Shannon Swindle from Abacus. These chefs are all from fine Dallas restaurants with excellent reputations.
We started with Marc Cassel's Seared Sea Scallops in Lemongrass Coconut Shiitake Broth. Lightly browned scallops sat on pasta with a great sauce. It was smoky from the mushrooms, spicy from red chilé sauce, but still fresh-tasting and rich thanks to the coconut and lemongrass. Next up, we had Garreth Dickey's Maine Lobster Bisque with Cayenne Essence, featuring unbelievably intense lobster flavors with some cayenne picante. Everybody's favorite part of the dish was the fresh tarragon floating on the top, which lended a little licorice-like aroma and flavor that took the dish from excellent to divine. Sam's dish was Squab with Foie Gras, Sweet Peas, and Pine Nuts. The squab was medium rare nestled in a tostada shell with slivers of foie gras scattered around the plate. Earthy, intense tastes from the meat and sauce blended with sweetness from the corn tostada and the licentiously rich flavors from each little bite of foie gras. Finally, Shannon Swindle finished the night with one of the best desserts we've had in quite a while -- Devil's Food Bread Pudding with Cardamom Kumquat Ice Cream. A round of Devil's Food topped with a butter-coconut cookie and a scoop of delicious ice cream that was simple and straightforward, tasting of nothing but cardamom and kumquats.
None of the old stories about too many cooks spoiling the soup apply here. There was an atmosphere of open camaraderie and spontaneous creativity. The crowd loved it. I saw three of the top chefs in Austin dining at the Granite that night, always a good sign that something special is going on in the kitchen. Cost was $75 for food and wine and worth every penny. Sam's next foray with his Distinguished Chefs series will be Austin chefs. It should happen in June.
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