[March 24 update: Here’s the link to the album from the event itself. Is it wrong to feel smug when I see a “What Item Do You Wish You Could Try?” poll having been to the preview?]
So I lucked out and heard about the all-star team of Vermont chefs rehearsing the meal they were fine-tuning for their upcoming trip to Manhattan’s James Beard House just before it sold out. It was a heady line-up:
A little giddy with my score, I called my mother, who certainly deserves to get an occasional call from me that doesn’t end up with her baby-sitting her wild grandsons. We made plans to go, and before I knew it the day had arrived.
So we got dressed (even in a dress, even eyeshadow, even lipstick):
And off to Richmond we went. We got there just ahead of the crowd, and caught sight of the prep going on in the kitchen, all looking both energetic and calm.
I had been tweeting with Chef Mark Timms, who had nicely told me to pop in to the kitchen to say hi. Since it seemed safe, I ducked my head and did, and caught a picture of the first course he was preparing:
I scooted out to the reception, where these soon appeared – Chef Timms’ take on the Caesar salad, with the rolled wafer with a dab of shredded romaine, anchovy foam, parmesan ice cream, and parmesan cheese tucked into the bottom. Though I heard one person refer to it as “ice cream from the fish shack,” I was taken by the whimsy, the presentation, and the juxtaposition of the strong and soft flavors, and thought it was both fun and interesting.
Though I didn’t have the light to get a good picture of it (don’t worry: a Free Press photographer was there and I hear they’ll be publishing photos in a week or so, when I’ll link to them here), another hors d’ouevres stand0ut was crostini with Red Hen bread, Jasper Hill blue (Bayley Hazen, I assume), thick-cut bacon, and a drizzle of honey. There was also a lovely little take on the BLT:
And this amuse bouche, with beef tartare (or was it carpaccio), topped with a fried cornichon:
Then we sat down for the meal, right after the batteries in my camera (allegedly freshly charged) completely died.
I probably shouldn’t even post the pictures, which are so terrible. Maybe you could join me in pretending they’re relics from a 1960’s newspaper society section. Or if you could just back up from your computer 5 or 6 feet and squint, I think you’d see that they’re pretty reasonable.
Anyway, this was Chef Steve Atkins of the Kitchen Table Bistro‘s Heirloom Squash Soup with Roasted Sun Chokes, Misty Knoll Chicken, and Spiced Cream. I’ll admit that I had stifled a yawn when I saw a winter squash soup on the menu, but I found it revelatory, subtle, just lovely. The squash was sweet and deep and delicate, the chicken a perfectly light and tender addition, and the sliced sun chokes added just the right touch of tooth to the dish.
And Flounder, Rutabaga Puree & House Cured Guanciale by Chef Rogan of Verde (Chef, if you’re reading this, we didn’t spot the turnip greens mentioned on the menu). The guanciale was delicious, and the rutabaga puree was delicate and sweet. I would have gladly eaten a plate of the two of those.
Though I’m not a crazy lobster buff, I was excited about the next course: Maine Lobster with Hen of the Wood Mushrooms, Winter Squash, and Cider Brown Butter by Chef Eric Warnstedt of Hen of the Wood. And it was sumptuous, with each ingredient perfectly shown and in the barest bit of the sweet brown butter broth. When we had finished the course, I had to sit quietly for a few minutes to think about what I had just eaten. Oh my.
Next up was Cavendish Quail with Pork Belly, Greens, & Cider Glaze by Chef Sean Buchanan of Solstice. Mmmm … pork belly.
And then Deconstructed Beef Wellington that Chef Mark Timms of Topnotch was presenting with Pickled Tongue, Oxtail, a Demi Cube, and Virtual Egg. I couldn’t imagine what the virtual egg would be, and wondered if they had forgotten to do some kind of substitution because the dish clearly had a wedge of hard-boiled egg on it. But Chef Mark is a wizard of molecular gastronomy, and the egg turned out to be a white made of various cheeses, and the yolk a frozen tomato foam. Really nice, though maybe more “trompe l’oeil egg” than virtual. Beneath the egg garnish were layered duck liver pate (the chef told us he couldn’t get the beef heart he had wanted to use for this part), thin savory crisps, pickled tongue, oxtail, and a cube of demi glace on top.
Even for meat-eaters, there could be an ick-factor with this offal that we don’t normally eat. But as I explained to my boys when I was telling them about the meal today, the more we eat all the parts of the animals who die for our consumption, the fewer animals get killed. Is it really grosser to eat all the parts that we safely can rather than throw out everything that we can’t turn into chops or stew? Of course not.
I know Chef Mark will be tweaking this one, and I’m looking forward to learning what the final version will be like.
And then we ended with the Kitchen Table Bistro‘s Chef Lara Atkins’ Open Faced Coffee Chocolate Sundae, Candied Almonds, Vanilla Anglaise. We didn’t know if we’d be able to eat one more bite after all the rest, but yes we did rally, and ate every bit of this. Though it might have been nice to end with a simple citrus sorbet to follow all those flavors, Chef Lara put the bracing coffee flavor in front of this, and it really did shine.
It was a fun and convivial evening. The Kitchen Table staff were terrific hosts, and the fact that Team Vermont donated the proceeds from the event to the Vermont Campaign to End Childhood Hunger made it all even better.
Vermont’s an awfully fun place to be in the food community, with a prestigious (maybe proto-prestigious) event like this is open to the public, and priced accessibly, and with the chefs coming out to meet the diners and even seek feedback. If there’s one thing I would change, I would have liked to have seen local ingredients highlighted on the actual printed menu. It would have been fun to have any farmers or cheesemakers introduced if their items were featured, especially since we Vermont localvore types so appreciate that farm-consumer connection.
Stay tuned as the team prepares for their trip to Manhattan on March 22. Oh, to be the onsite blogger … and with a camera that works.