The final day of a StarChefs ICC is shorter than the others and is always filled with ennui as the Product Fair starts breaking down right after lunch. That said, it is again stuffed with great content as well as the culminations of each of the competitions. This one, more than most, offered its share of real magic too – literally. The Foodie Magician, Josh Beckerman was the day’s Main Stage emcee. He started the Main Stage sessions with some truly amazing tricks, which I got to participate in and see (as well as photograph) front and center. Deft of hand and wit, he did a great job keeping the audience entertained and the stage on track.
As with the previous days, the final round of the pastry competition started early, but this time, the judging occurred around them rather than having the judges sitting at a table and sampling plates as they were brought. It was clear that each of the finalists, Thomas Raquel, Meg Galus and Sean Pera deserved to be there as they were displaying serious focus and technique.
Since it was the last day and it was shorter, it was snooze or lose. Joe Isidori, Justin Bazdarich and John Lawler composed a Business Panel to discuss self-funding restaurants with plenty of sweat and resourcefulness and very little cash. Each of the chefs leaned on their own personal experiences to give tips on setting up a restaurant with as little cash outlay as possible, while preparing it to be as successful as possible. From Isidori’s scoring wood pallets from Home Depot to use as building materials to advice to read everything about starting a business to Lawler’s recommendation to find a space that is already set up as a restaurant to reduce build out costs to Bazdarich’s suggestion to pay attention to local zoning laws and more, the trio covered a lot of ground for would-be chef owners.
Early morning workshop kitchens were revved up too. Former Bocuse D’Or USA candidate, Richard Rosendale, in a workshop called “Smart Sous Vide” deluged the audience with a boatload of information on using the technique. A man used to cooking under significant time pressure, Rosendale whipped through preparing dishes featuring salmon, carrots, short ribs, lamb rib eye and more. For short ribs, Rosendale browns the meat first, then lets it cool before he seals it and cooks the ribs at 62ºC for 48 hours at which point it is shelf stable and only needs to warm it for service.
Iron Chef Marc Forgione prepared a foie gras butter to go with his bread service at his restaurant, a process that enriches the spread beyond my imagination. He first poaches foie gras sous vide and then combines it in a Vita-Mix blender with heavy cream, black truffle oil and Cognac. The liquid combination is then filtered into small jars and chilled with more foie gras fat layered on top. Forgione also praised the merits of foraged foods, suggesting that the flavors, stressed from wild conditions are more profound than conventionally grown similar products. With a noted forager, Tama Matsuoka Wong, beside him, he also emphasized that foraging could be a tricky and dangerous business not to be undertaken lightly or without significant expertise.
Though it was only 10am, it wasn’t too early for wine and food pairings. I’ve been noticing a lot of buzz recently on Hawaiian restaurants and was intrigued with this session featuring pairings to go with the cuisine. Chef Ed Kenney of Town on Oahu showcased the ancient Hawaiian staple made from taro root, Pa’i’ai, in a dish with fresh Long Island bluefish that was paired by Chuck Furuya with a Malvasia Bianco. Good stuff!
It was a rich time for seafood as Peru’d Hector Solis led a workshop on making ceviches. Typically, Solis makes his ceviches with whatever fish is available on a given day, though the fattier the fish the better. I was surprised to learn that for at least some of his ceviches, he cooks the fish with heat. For this workshop he cooked grouper on a plancha using a green corn husk between the plancha and the fish, both to protect the fish and to ultimately act as a serving vehicle. Solis finished the barely cooked fish with a sauce centered on aji amarillo. Later in the day, Solis made ceviches at the Peru booth using the traditional leche de tigre. Not only was the actual ceviche delicious, but the leche de tigre was dynamite. I managed to get a couple drafts of that sacred nectar, instantly transporting me back to Peru.
The Main Stage presentations commenced at noon with Francois Payard preparing his version of a Rice Krispies Treat. As one might imagine, it was a bit more involved and a bit more incredible than the iconic home treat. Payard combined the breakfast cereal with roasted hazelnut paste, milk and white chocolates and peanut oil. Of course, the dish was not left at that. He gussied it up a bit with caramel nuts, chocolate mousse, caramel sauce, powdered sugar and crisped phyllo sheets that had been painted with clarified butter and cocoa powder.
While Payard was plying his pastry prowess, the other two principal competitions of the ICC were pressing on. The Vitamix Challenge pits a number of competitors trying to present perfect plates patterned on purees prised from a series of purposefully purring Vitamix Blenders. The dishes all looked gorgeous and delicious. I actually managed to taste one, from Jonathan Cichon of Lacroix in Philadelphia. Based on lobster, it turned out to not be the winner of the contest, but it was pretty damn delicious. I can only imagine how good the other dishes must have been.
Somm Slam, like the Pastry Competition, involves a two day winnowing process prior to the last day’s competition between the three Finalists. The survivors included Julie Dalton of Wit & Wisdom in Baltimore, Scott Cameron of NYC’s Atera and Yannick Benjamin of Le Du’s Wines in NYC. The object is to test the knowledge and palates of each sommelier with trivia tests, blind tastings pair a wine from a large and diverse list of bottles present on site with freshly prepared food deliberately difficult to pair wines with. In the case of the Finals, the food came from Justin Warner and George McNeese of Do or Dine in Brooklyn.
The indefatigable and ever entertaining and illuminating Dave Arnold brought a truncated version of the Puffer Gun, the cereal making centerpiece of the upcoming Museum of Food and Drink, to demonstrate as the real thing was banned secondary to concerns regarding using it in a less than ideal space. Unfortunately for Arnold and his stage side companions, Nastassia Lopez, Peter Kim and Piper Kristensen, the downsized attempt proved to be a dud. Despite the lack of fireworks both real and virtual, Arnold made his points in demonstrating the desirability of such a museum.
One of the most fun aspects of the ICC is the ability to taste a variety of quality food products prepared by a wide variety of chefs from around the country and indeed the globe. I thoroughly enjoyed the previously mentioned ceviches and leche de tigre from Hector Solis at the Peruvian display, but they also made wonderful causas too. Right next to their stand Shola Olunloyo was plating pastas at the Arcobalena booth. One should never miss an opportunity to try Shola’s cooking and I didn’t. Nearby, Shuna Lydon made a variety of breads using NY State grown heritage grains. The chefs from Cuisine Solutions were making their usual magic with meats cooked sous vide and there was still plenty of great hams to be had. I was excited to finally try some bites from David Santos of Louro in NYC., who made Warm Fall Lamb’s Tongue Salad with Chilled Portuguese Horchata. I look forward to trying a full meal from him some time soon. There was just too much food to try it all. Both Jeff McInnis and Michael Laiskonis did full scale pop-ups, but as good as they looked, I didn’t get to try them.
Time was beginning to wind down on the Congress. During lunch, I had to pop in on Sam Mason’s ice cream workshop. It was a more intimate and hands-on version of what he did on the Main Stage.
Prior to resuming the last of the Main Stage presentations, the various winners were announced. They included Yannick Benjamin in the Somm Slam.
Sean Pera was the winner of the Pastry Competition.
Evan Hennessy of New Hampshire won the VitaMix Challenge with a dish of Rockweed & Fish Skin Crusted Scallop Mousse, Heirloom Tomatoes, Encapsulated Castelveltrano Olives, Boston Marrow Squash Custard, Tarragon, Agretti, and Aqua Pazza.
Dominique Crenn and Juan Contreras were the penultimate presenters of the Congress. Crenn stepped aside for Contreras, her pastry chef, to do the bulk of the presentation. Using a series of videos, Contreras was able to demonstrate their approach to creativity. He made an egg yolk pasta without flour and they also showed how they make a carrot “jerky”. Based upon their demos, it appears that Modernist cooking remains alive and well in the kitchen at Atelier Crenn.
The honor of the final demo of the ICC was given to the Peruvian giant, Gaston Acurio, who when not building his vast global restaurant empire based on Peruvian cuisine, is organizing or involved with some of the biggest food events in the world including the massive Mistura in Lima. Again using videos, but plagued by AV malfunctions, Acurio and his team attempted to demonstrate their vision of cuisine. To their credit, they still managed to convey their passion despite the glitches. With that another year of StarChefs ICC has passed.
Please see my Flick’r Photoset for my full collection of photos from Day 3.