had a great time in milwaukee and helped raise close to twenty thousand dollars for the james beard foundation! the foundation raises money for culinary scholarships and has the mission to “celebrate, preserve, and nurture america’s culinary heritage and diversity in order to elevate the appreciation of our culinary excellence.” chefs come together around the country to host dinners benefiting the foundation. last week i was lucky enough to be invited to cook with three james beard award winners, paul bartolotta, sanford d’amato and adam siegel as well as my good friend hosea, winner of season 5.
i had no idea milwaukee was such a cool place! i live just over an hour away yet this was my first visit. the restaurant scene is great. there are a ton of local brews, and there is a bar pretty much every ten yards. what is not to love? plus it is right on the lake so the beaches are beautiful. now that i know, i am going to have to head up more often.
our visit consisted of eating, drinking, cooking, and more eating. pretty much the norm for me these days. the night before the event we all headed out on an eating tour of the bartolotta restaurants. a little cheese, caviar, pate and bubbles at the lake park bistro… a gigantic seafood platter with the first stone crab claws of the season along with some steaks from the wood burning oven at mr. b’s… then a rich egg yolk and ricotta filled raviolo with fresh shaved white truffles at ristorante bartolotta. thought i would explode once we reached our last destination but there was no way i was turning down a plate covered in white truffles.
the next day we headed to the kitchen at bacchus to get ready for the dinner. i thought we would have our prep done in a couple hours but of course things never really work out that way. had a bit of a freak out as the black olive potato gnocchi we were going to do came out a bit gummy and there was no way i was serving imperfect gnocchi at the restaurant of a beard winning italian chef. plan b would have to take effect, though i had not really figured out what that was yet. our ‘light’ lunch at lake bistro gave me some brainstorming time and also made me want a nap, big time.
we started with scallops smothered in a rich tomato, caper and artichoke sauce; escargot with lovely garlic parsley butter; perfectly steamed mussels and frites. i thought that was lunch but it turned out to be the first of three courses. should have known i guess. next up was chef’s take on the classic lyonnaisse salad with a crisp soft poached egg on top and slivered mushrooms. following that was beautiful trout with butter poached potatoes. wow. absolutely delicious. where is my blue nap-time mat??
my sous chef david and i decided just top keep it simple and make some delicious black olive and yukon potato cakes, just the size of the scallops we were serving so they would be a pleasant surprise. alongside was a small pile of braised rainbow swiss chard… simply braised with red onion, garlic, tomato and a splash of soy. a perfect bed for the smoked goat meat we brought up from chicago—something we have been working on perfecting for the past few months as we get ready to open ‘the drunken goat’…i think we have gotten pretty close. i used the braising liquid along with many layers of flavor to create a beautiful sauce. one trick that i love is to reduce heavy cream down until it is thick and speckled (whisking very often over medium heat) with little brown bits and has a rich brown buttery flavor. it is great for finishing sauces and does not break like butter can. mmmmm i can smell the nuttiness of the cream right now. to cut through all the richness i made a huckleberry gastrique which matched the dark fruit notes of the wine we were paired with. then lastly to tie it all in, a small tapenade of huckleberries, black olives and brunoise of rainbow chard stems added color and freshness to the dish. though we had a couple hurdles as usual i was quite proud of the dish, even next to such accomplished chefs.
looking forward to our james beard dinner on december 21st in new york city at the beard house. something about cooking in a kitchen where so many fantastic chefs have cooked before that just brings out the best in your cooking.