Charleston, SC. Anyone who knows me, knows it is my happy place. From the historic downtown that is as walkable as anywhere to the amazing food and Kiawah Island, I love coming down here. Christy and I had the chance to fly down for a dinner celebrating ‘Notes From a Kitchen’, the amazing book that is one of my favorite Christmas presents ever. This two-volume book is an artistic look into several chefs’ notebooks, kitchens, ideas and creative process, which in and of itself is an inspiring thing to see.
Christy and I sat at a table full of people we did not know who were all locals, which is always a great way to learn something new about a place where you have spent so much time. We discovered new places to try, local favorites that are hidden treats and new neighborhoods to explore.
And then there was the food – oh the food. These chefs clearly had fun – they hung out and celebrated the Super Bowl (or possibly just drank in support of the Super Bowl!) and created a culinary experience that reflected their unique perspectives, passions and some local, seasonal flair.
The dinner featured six courses, two by each of the following chefs: Sean Brock of McCrady’s and Husk in Charleston, SC, George Mendes of Aldea in New York City and Johnny Iuzzini, former executive pastry chef for Jean Georges and head judge for Top Chef: Just Desserts. Here is the menu:
After a fun little crab starter with bubbles, the dinner started with George Mendes’ two dishes – the first was a lovely mussel soup with a broth that was light and yet creamy. The chestnut and fennel combo was a perfect start to the meal and the sausage did not over-power the rest of the dish. I captured the soup start and the broth pour-over.
Course two was one of the ones I was most excited about – cured foie gras with radish, pear and maple syrup. This dish did not disappoint – it was the perfect balance of flavor and texture – and the wine with this course really made the flavors stand out.
Course Three was Wild Sturgeon – the dish was a great follow to the richness of the foie, with a light broth to complement the delicate fish.
Course 4 was another dish I was excited to try – less for the beef, and more for the cauliflower. Not that the beef was not delicious but the whey-poached cauliflower was so intriguing. It was rich and creamy but also earthy, which made for a great dish. The wine paired with dish also worked quite well.
All of the deliciousness was about to get even better with not one, but TWO desserts. Now, when I read the first dessert, I thought, who thought that up and how is it going to work? Well, let me tell you, it worked and then some. My next kitchen project is to figure out how to replicate this dish because it was one of the best desserts I have ever eaten. I mean, my mouth is watering right now just thinking about it. Oh, and before we ever had dessert, Christy had declared her love of Johnny Iuzzini. After dessert, I think we were ready to battle each other for his affection.
Last, but not least was the chocolate dessert – with some roasted beets, chocolate in many ways, it was a playful, fun and delicious end to our night.
While this dinner was a once in a lifetime special event for us, it also reminded me that having fun and loving what you do can ABSOLUTELY be tasted and should never be underestimated. These guys are not only bringing their extraordinary talent to the plate, but also all of their passion and creativity. And that was inspiration that I will keep with me for a long time.