Wednesday, March 05, 2008
StarChefs Rising Stars Gala, Palm Beach
Monday night found me in Palm Beach, at a sprawling Trump resort with its own faux lake and foliage. The occasion? The StarChefs Rising Stars gala honoring the men and women who toil in hot, frenetic kitchens in order to produce beautiful food and beverages. The "rising stars" included chefs but also beverage specialists like top sommeliers and mixologists working in the food industry. Honorees included Michael Bloise of Wish, Azul's Clay Conley, Johnny V's pastry goddess Malka Espinel, sommelier Roberto Colombi of Cielo (in Boca Raton), and Cafe Boulud mixologist Ame Brewster. Each chef and sommelier was given a station where they cooked and served eclectic dishes that highlighted their culinary prowess. From foie gras to coconut tapioca, it was quite a tasting odyssey.
This being Palm Beach, everything was served on actual plates, like the fine china below. No plastic mini-spoons here. Quite a departure from the disposable bacchanalia at the Sobe food fest. Below is Mar-A-Lago's Jeff O'Neil's magnificent banana brulee (lately banana desserts have been wooing the reluctant banana lover in me) and next to it a slice of frozen black plum tomato with yuzu emulsion, micro coriander and chili oil powder. In general there were lots of foams, gelees, emulsions and powders employed by most of the chefs. Despite the back-to-the-basics trend we've been seeing in locavore dining circles, there's still a desire to go molecular. Or at least, those who go molecular seem to get recognition for doing so. (And I'm all for experimentation, after all, have you ever thought about what it takes to make jello, or cheese doodles?) But I digress.
Jeffrey Brana was serving up cheesy goodness in the form of a Wisconsin Pleasant Ridge reserve cheese with pear, arugula and truffle.
Malka Espinel presented a three berry pot pie and a Spanish parfait with layers of cinnamon cake, rhubarb compote and flan mousse topped with churro. Thank goodness for this woman and her way with sugar.
Kurtis Jantz from Neomi at Trump Sonesta presented a salmon with seared onigiri, fermented soy, enoki mushrooms, and pea tendrils. Japanese Dashi broth was then poured on each plate cooking the salmon, dissolving the soy powder and creating something delicate and delicious.
In terms of savory dishes best in show was courtesy of Alberto Cabrera (formerly of Karu and Y). He presented what amounted to a gastronomic tsunami with a dish of boquerones with heirloom tomato tartar and black olive sorbet. Black. Olive. Sorbet. Loved it. The dish was just one huge taste after another. But you had to be ready for it. And Nobu's pastry chef Joel Lahon blew my mind with his desserts. One was a carpaccio of mango, topped with chocolate caviar with yuzu cheesecake. The other was a coconut tapioca accompanied by red thai tea foam, kaffir lime emulsion and lemongrass ice cream. Couldn't get enough of the lemongrass ice cream, so citrusy and creamy. Brilliant. He's got to work on the presentation of the coconut tapioca, though. It sort of looked like rice pudding. One well-coiffed Nan Kempner-type woman walked up to the table, stuck her nose in my plate and asked, "What's that? Cottage cheese?" Yes, my dear, cottage cheese. You paid $150 a ticket and this chef is serving you cottage friggin cheese.