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An Evening of Chefs, Cellars and Camaraderie

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A member of the NAO team prepares bowls for Chefs and Cellars.

Chef Jesse T. Perez (right) plates one of his dishes.

It’s a fairly simple recipe. Culinaria’s annual Chefs and Cellars brings together a few of the city’s best chefs with some finely aged wines from private cellars. Nothing complicated, right? Yet the end result is a gustatory delight that always gains an alchemical element that comes from the camaraderie that occurs whenever people share common — or in this case, uncommon and exceptional — food and wine.

Kampachi, Uni and Yuzu Kosho from chef John Brand.

Sunday night’s dinner, held in the kitchens at the Culinary Institute of America, San Antonio, featured five teams going all out to create a memorable evening, which may explain why the event was sold out months in advance.

Chef Jason Dady and his crew presented an evening of tapas inspired by a recent visit to Spain and elBulli. Among the more than two dozen small plates he offered were salt-roasted prawns, boquerones, pan tomate, bone marrow tartare, corn pudding on a lime wedge, foie gras-eel croissant and garbanzo bean stew with lobster. Wine merchant Woody de Luna offered a series of Spanish wines including a 1978 Gran Reserva CUNE Viña Real and 2009 Raventos i Blanc de Nit Rose Cava.

Chef Johnny Hernandez plates a dish.

John Brand from Las Canarias and Ostra paired several types of sashimi-style seafood (Kampachi, Uni and Yuzu Kosho) and smoked roe with at 2001 Chablis Grand Cru Vaudésir Jean Paul Droin from Scott Duncan’s collection. He playfully presented a Monterey Bay sardine inside a decorative tin while Oregon sturgeon and American caviar were served in a salt cod box. Red deer striploin and foie gras with maitake mushrooms were paired with 1996 Chateau Cantemerle Haut-Medoc Bordeaux.

Jason Dady (left) slices Jose Andrews’ Jamon Iberico.

Lobster al Pastor was the starting dish from chef Johnny Hernandez, who followed it up with a chile relleno with cochinita pibil, a beef short rib with mole, and a grilled New York strip with plantain tamarind demi and a huitlacoche tlacoyo.

Chefs Jesse T. Perez and James Moore were partnered to showcase two talents who are opening restaurants in the Pearl Brewery this fall. Perez showed off plans for Arcade Midtown Kitchen, which specializes in American fare, while Moore, known for his work at Max’s Wine Dive, will be in charge of the Boiler House Texas Grill and Wine Garden. Among the dishes they served were a fresh lobster soft taco with sweet potato, shrimp and grits, Heritage pork belly with Granny Smith compote, red beet sorbetto, and smoked lamb chop and mushroom. Phil Seelig and Hien Nguyen offered the wines, including Pol Roger Brut Rosé 2002, two vintages of Sassicaia and 1975 Croft Port.

Chef John Brand’s team prepares a dish.

New to the event this year was the team from the CIA’s NAO under the direction of chef Geronimo Lopez. New World flavors and cocktails included honey-sous vide sweetbreads, pan-seared squab, cherry-smoked xuxu salad and wood-roasted wild boar chop. The pair of cocktails included La Entrada, made with cachaça, maraschino and Crème Yvette, and Interludio, a mix of grapefruit, Aperol, Campari and Pisco. Richard and Bunny Becker offered the wines to go with the meal.

It didn’t take much time before the guests started comparing plates and even sharing a few bites or sips — and the real reason this evening is a success each year became readily apparent.

For more information on upcoming Culinaria events, click on the ad at the top of the page. The next event is Feastivàl on Oct. 7.

Red deer striploin with foie gras, spice bread, a parsnip puree and maitake mushrooms from chef John Brand.

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17 Responses to “An Evening of Chefs, Cellars and Camaraderie”

  1. Chris says:

    Hi – I enjoy your site so please read this as a query as opposed to a dig, but do you guys pay the $300pp to attend this event? If so, since you have good taste and appreciate value, it would be insightful to hear if you found it to be a worthwhile expense (given that some of the wines mentioned sound nice and others are from less-coveted vintages or retail for $20/bottle – and the sheer impossibility of savoring the small pours in contrast to the onslaught of flavors in all of the accumulated dishes). If you were comped, that’s cool too (and certainly standard practice in the food blogosphere) but would be good to know too, at least for this reader – who appreciates your efforts but also values an objective critique of places and events that may be perceived differently when one has to spend $600 to attend with a date. I went once and thought it was nice-enough to try one time but otherwise sort of a schmoozy waste given all the better ways you could blow $600 on wine and/or food (two omakases at Uchi instead of few small plates from a guy who ate at elBulli once, two bottles of better Burgundy than anything listed in your entry, an entire weekend of eating well in New Orleans, etc..). Just curious on your take – and either way, keep up the good work!

    • John Griffin says:

      Thanks for writing. It’s a great question, and the answer is, at least in my opinion, one that can come from numerous levels. The event is a fundraiser for a nonprofit group, Culinaria, that supports educational programs and community efforts. So, the money is going toward scholarships among other projects. Is that amount of money too much for community support, even with dinner included? You have to be the one to answer that.

      If you are a foodie, what would you pay for anywhere from five to 25 courses of food from the city’s top chefs? All were given the chance to play and had a willing audience who wanted to try new dishes and culinary techniques that there probably isn’t a broader audience for in San Antonio. These were meals that, if you had them in Chicago, New York or San Francisco, you’d might be paying close to the ticket price without the wine included. As for the wine, most of the selections were not what you’d find at any of the local wine merchants without doing some previous homework and special ordering.

      Some people think $10 is too much to spend on a meal out, others don’t think twice about spending $300 for such an event. So, the value of the ticket in and of itself is hard to answer. I don’t know how much you have to spend or want to spend.

      I did not buy my tickets and I did not receive a comp. I was fortunate enough to receive them as a gift because someone who had paid for them couldn’t make it. My budget is not large enough to have bought them. So, I was indeed fortunate to be able to attend.

  2. Chris says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply! My head would explode if I processed of all the other ways I’d rather spend $600 in one meal in New York, SF, or Chicago, but I agree that if you’re going to rationalize the expense, its best to consider it a donation to a non-profit organization that will divert some of the proceeds towards scholarships, etc and just enjoy the evening.

    I’ll ask you one more question that would be good to know: Did you discover any non-“cellar” wines in the mix that you’re going to seek out for yourself on your budget? Thanks.

    • John Griffin says:

      I have friends who have spent much more on meals in those cities. That is their passion, and they have the money to enjoy it. I once would have paid something like that to eat at the French Laundry in Yountville, Calif., because it has long been considered the finest restaurant in the county. But the rudeness of the staff proved so unbearable that you couldn’t give me a comp to get me to eat there.

  3. Chris says:

    That’s awful. I’m a French Laundry enthusiast (2x) but I can’t think of anything worse (dining-wise, at least) then making that journey and spending all of that money to be disappointed or feel mistreated. Since you’re a professional food writer as opposed to some histrionic Yelp reviewer, I hope you sent Thomas Keller a letter detailing your experience – he strikes me as someone who cares about everything.

    • John Griffin says:

      No. We simply went to Ad Hoc and had a great meal. We were treated as if we were welcome into their establishment, unlike their pricier older sister and unlike the blandness of Bouchon, which was a disappointment on two visits.

  4. Jason Dady says:

    A few small plates from a guy who ate at el bulli once.
    I’ve been called worse.
    28 small plates with 6 different wines for $300 is a reasonable price anywhere you in the world.
    On a side note, I love me some uchi too.

    • John Griffin says:

      I had several tastes from your table, Jason, and the flavors were most exciting. I did miss the bone marrow tartre and the foie gras-eel croissant. Hope to have either of this real soon.

    • F. de Luna says:

      Jason,
      It was actually 9 wines with your wonderful 28 small plates: 3 aperitifs (Cava Rose, Txakolina, Fino Sherry), 2 Godellos (2010 & 2008 from Valdeorras), 3 Riojas (R. Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Reserva 2001, La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 1997, and Cune Vina Real Gran Reserva 1978), and a dessert sherry (El Maestro Sierra).

  5. Elizabeth says:

    I sincerely doubt you went to Chefs & Cellars Chris or you would ‘get it’. It’s the setting, the giving, the experience. You seem to be incredibly short minded when it comes to your own dining community. This is exactly what’s wrong with San Antonio – it’s own community not supporting culinary genius in it’s own back yard. And don’t get me started on the charitable component.

    As for the guy who ate at El Buli, thank you for bringing Spain to us! And in such a creative way!

    • John Griffin says:

      It’s an evening in which the chefs get to do what they can’t back in their restaurants, get playful and entertain on a scale that does not exist, even when people go out for a special occasion.

  6. Chris says:

    Jason – No offense…rhetorical flourish only. I should have left you out of it and instead written “a few slices of Jose Andres’ Iberico ham instead of buying an entire 16 lbs leg directly”, although that sounds snarky too – and props for slicing it by hand. I’ll reverse my karma by getting some 2Bros tonight (and would love to please see some smoked eel & foie sans croissant there sometime!).

    Elizabeth – Its conceivable that someone isn’t into an experience that most people otherwise enjoy, just as John found The French Laundry unbearable while most people, including me, consider it one of the finest dining experiences of their lives. “Getting it” is subjective (just like the notion of value and one’s preferred ways to allocate dining or charity dollars), which was why I was interested in John’s perspective in that respect relative to my own (circa 2009, fyi).

    Obviously, the discussion illustrates why I’m better off skipping these things in favor of Jason’s brisket to-go plus a nice bottle of white Bordeaux served in my kitchen.

    • John Griffin says:

      To clarify, I have not eaten at the French Laundry, but I would not because of the way I was treated by people at the front of the house. There was no way they were going to get a cent of mine, nor would it have been possible for me to have enjoyed the meal.

  7. Chris says:

    Oh – did you have a reservation? If so, that’s equally awful…if not, you wouldn’t have been able to dine there anyway, at least on that trip (although they ought to be practiced at telling people that politely).

    Jason will hopefully be glad to hear that I completed my karma cleansing this morning by pairing his leftover brisket (spot-on last night, btw) with the fried eggs Jose Andres demonstrated in yesterday’s NY Times. A Spanglish breakfast?

    And for the suggestion box at 2Bros: there was a big blank space on the wall for “Today’s Specials” that would be nicely filled with a rotating protein plus a side or two inspired by a trip to El Bulli. Think, “What would Ferran Adria smoke?”…or, “If you smoke it, they will come”…and photograph it for Garden & Gun (and then put it on all the arbitrary NYC-published “best” BBQ lists that otherwise begin in Austin and end in Lockhart).

  8. Elizabeth says:

    Chris, I’m afraid you have missed my point. To quote you, “a schmoozy waste”, I understand that you perceive value in other markets more than your own. However, I hope that should you have a charitable interest of choice with a worthwhile cause, someone doesn’t blantantly call it a “schmoozy waste” because they thought a different market could prove more entertaining.

  9. Chris says:

    Elizabeth – Totally agree. One person’s “schmoozy” is another’s “camaraderie” and, as I said in response to John’s initial reply, I hadn’t considered the charitable aspect. I meant “waste” only in terms of my perceived bang for the buck the time I went. I applaud all others and their right to eat & drink merrily and give as they wish..and we do some of the other Culinaria stuff so presumably support them in smaller doses elsewhere.

    And yes, I’d take exception too if someone called giving to Oxfam or the SA Food Bank or wherever a schmoozy waste, although since they simply accept donations without providing a feast of acorn-fed pig and vintage Champagne in the process, that seems unlikely. (Read that as written with a smile, please)

  10. Jason Dady says:

    Chris— i want a spanglish omelet myself now….. thanks for the support.

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