After five years at the Park Avenue Armory, with that venerable venue unavailable for this one, StarChefs had to shift to a new location. They chose one, that like most of their previous sites, was a tad rough around the edges, but well situated and very, very cool as it was set right on the Hudson River at the Super Pier on 15th Street and 11th Avenue. The site afforded amazing views of the iconic new Freedom Tower, the Statue of Liberty, New Jersey and the river itself.
Inside, there was the usual array of sponsors, most offering various delectables, competing for attention. At any other time, each one would be a great draw in and of itself, but as always, it was an embarrassment of riches with such unfettered delights as freshly hand sliced Cinco Jotas Iberico hams, Craig Rogers’ Border Springs lamb jerky, wines from various parts of Europe, Australian wagyu beef cooked by the people who invented sous vide at Cuisine Solutions and the most delicious American cured ham that I have ever tried, from Jay Denham of Woodlands Pork in Louisville, Kentucky, who was there along with the fine folks from Winston Industries, the makers of my beloved CVap oven. In addition to all of these wonderful bites, the days are filled with treats prepared from some of the best and hottest chefs and mixologists from around the country and elsewhere to create a veritable cornucopia of culinary experience. In addition to the small plates available, StarChefs put together daily savory and pastry pop-ups for more extended meals. On this fist day, these featured Chicago’s Bill Kim of Belly Q for savory and Austin’s Philip Speer of Uchi for pastry. Though I didn’t sit down at either pop-up, Chef Speer prepared one of his plates for me to sample. Based on Thai Tom Yum flavors, it was a Modernist dessert of impeccable balance and brilliant, delicious flavors – I’ve not had a more delicious dessert this year. To me though, the most important sponsor was Vera, a water treatment system for restaurants that supplies both clear and sparkling waters for consumption. I was there so much, I kept a cup marked with my name on it.
With all the food, drink and equipment at the products fair, there was plenty to inspire, including the latest cookbooks and food magazines presented by Kitchen Arts and Letters. I was particularly looking forward to finally seeing the new Maximum Flavor: Recipes That Will Change the Way You Cook from Alex and Aki of Ideas in Food. Kitchen Arts and Letters was offering the book at the ICC a full week before its general release. I was happy to have purchased the very first copy!
Not all of the food in the Products Fair was there to be eaten. Pastry chef and artist Janice Wong of 2am dessertbar in Singapore brought a number of her beautiful and edible paintings and sculptures for display. The arguments may rage regarding food on a plate as art, but there was no question that this food was indeed art with a more widely accepted definition.
As wonderful as the Products Fair at ICC is, the raison d’etre of the event is the presentations by the best in the biz, either by hands-on workshop, panel, competition or main stage demo. In the early days of the ICC was able to provide a fairly comprehensive and detailed report of all that went on. Alas, it has got too big for me to provide the level of detail that I have strived for in the past. Instead, I will limit my reports to a recounting of personal highlights with the occasional remembered bon mot thrown in for good measure. I have, however, continued to document the event via photographs, which will be shared here both directly and via links to my Flick’r account.
As at every ICC for the previous three years, each day started early with The International Pastry Competition. Keegan Gerhart once again assumed the emcee duties, keeping a remarkably informative and entertaining running commentary, while the judging was again led by the inimitable Johnny Iuzzini. Other judges on the first day’s winnowing competition included David Burke, Elizabeth Faulkner, Francisco Migoya and Jeffrey Steingarten. Twenty one extremely contestants started the day with only ten advancing to the next day’s semifinals.
Along with the competition, the mornings are reserved for hands-on workshops. These were well attended, informative and delicious with each workshop offering tastes of dishes made by masters. Andy Husbands of Tremont 647 in Boston was responsible for the SMOKE@ICC competition a day earlier, shared his own techniques for making barbecue brisket the Boston way. At the same time, carnivores were torn because Elias Cairo of Portland, Oregon’s Olympic Provisions was delving into his way of making his famous charcuterie products. For those less passionate about meat, there was a food photography for chefs session featuring Todd Coleman and a Cookbook Boot Camp with Matt and Ted Lee.
Choices got even more difficult with the next session with Michael Toscano of Perla using a CVap to roast a veal head to perfection, Phillip Foss of Chicago’s El Ideas working with microgreens to add beauty and flavor to artfully composed dishes (I should have watched this closely!) and Jeff McInnis (formerly of Yardbird in Miami) employing a pressure fryer to make sensational fried chicken second to none that I have ever tried. McInnis will soon be opening Root and Bone on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. I am already craving more of that chicken.
Time quickly passed to the point of Main Stage demos. After the usual welcome and introduction by Will Blunt and Antoinette Bruno, the dynamic duo at the top of StarChefs.com, the mike was handed over to The Italian-American wit of Chef Joe Isidori of Arthur on Smith in Brooklyn. Perhaps because of my own Italian-American Brooklyn upbringing, I got and enjoyed all of his jokes. Truth is, if the cheffing thing doesn’t ultimately work out for him, he could have a career as a stand-up comedian. Isidori got the ball going and kept it rolling throughout the day, accomplishing the rare feat of keeping everything essentially on schedule.
First up on the main stage was David Myers of Hinoki and the Bird in Los Angeles. Myers tale was one of dealing with the both the highs and lows of a culinary career as he has experienced both to extreme degrees. Once the deep thoughts were out there for all to ponder, he prepared several appetizing dishes including his take on a lobster roll with a charcoal brioche and flavors borrowed from a Vietnamese goat curry.
The legendary Michel Richard followed Myers to the stage. Given all of his success as a savory chef, it is easy to forget that Richard came to the United States from France and started his career as a pastry chef. His demonstration served as a reminder as he prepared his ” Lemon Eggceptional” a dessert of a thin white chocolate egg shell filled with meringue and microwaved lemon curd. He confessed that he is a big fan of the microwave and uses it all the time.
With a break from the Main Stage for food and networking, I got to try even more delights including a fabulous spiced baby goat sandwich from Mike Isabella and a Champagne Mojito cocktail, The Old Cuban, mixed and poured by the stellar Kenta Goto of the classic NYC cocktail bar Pegu Club following a workshop with Dale Degroff and Audrey Saunders, two cocktail legends if ever there were two. The cocktail and the food were extra special and totally delicious!
Fred Dexheimer took advantage of the spectacular weather and the marine setting to lead a seminar on working wines with coffee. His outdoor seminar showed how well Bulleit Bourbon and espresso worked together. The flavors really did work well together, but then Bourbon seems to work with almost anything.
The return to the Main Stage to finish out the afternoon brought Adam Fleischman, who discussed the history of his unique and growing Umami Burger chain. As the name implies, each burger is built around the concept of incorporating as much umami as possible. While his restaurants do indeed build beef based burgers, they are notable for all of the other imaginative burgers they create. Fleischman built both lamb and duck burgers on stage. His duck burger incorporated meat from throughout the bird as well as duck fat. It is flavored with a blend of Chinese Five Spice. His lamb burger, off the restaurant’s “secret” menu used Moroccan spices along with lamb shoulder and merguez sausage. One secret he did not pass on was how to get one of these burgers without waiting in long lines at his popular restaurants. The solution to that will hopefully be more restaurants available, with at least two more currently slated for NYC.
Dale DeGroff and Audrey Saunders came to the Main Stage to regale the audience with tales of the rebirth of cocktail culture, giving much credit to the late Joe Baum for having the vision to do things right. Cocktails were passed through the audience including one of tequila mixed with avocado. Saunders told of the plans she and her husband Robert Hess have to create a cocktail school at their Seattle property Ravenwood. This bodes extremely well for the continued growth of the cocktail culture.
April Bloomfield did an amazing job presenting at StarChefs a few years ago when she took apart a suckling pig on stage. This time, she stepped back and let her crew do the presenting and they too, did an amazing job. This time, though, instead of a suckling pig, they took apart and cooked the most beautiful striped bass I had ever seen. Fished off the coast of Long Island, it was a stunner.
The final presentation of the day belonged to Danny Bowein, the Oklahoma born master of the Szechuan chili pepper. Bowein and several friends started their now famous Mission Chinese by having a restaurant within a restaurant. Korean by genetics, Bowein had no clue about cooking Chinese food before the original San Francisco restaurant, but he and his crew learned from the Chinese restaurant that they inhabited as well as through visits to China and have come up with their own fiery brand of Chinese-American cooking.
For many more photos from this day at StarChefs ICC please see my Flick’r Photoset.