The Dine with Design event at the Philip Johnson House in New Canaan was an amazing food tasting extravaganza for people who enjoy spectacular food and architecture. Nestled amongst the architectural brilliance of the late Philip Johnson Glass House estate, five renowned farm-to table chefs shared their culinary talents with several hundred guests.
The preparation for an event of this caliber was a site to behold. The chefs arrived between 9:00 and 10:00 and began unpacking enormous coolers containing the provisions for the day. The “Cook’s Tent” was a 12 foot square tent that contained a refrigerator, a freezer, a four burner stove, an oven and several preparation tables. It was soon to become a flurry of activity. With one oven and a four burner stove, watching the chefs work together to assure everyone’s dishes were completed gave the sense that the five chefs were a team versus individuals. The oven’s first use was for the baking of the breads. This was immediately followed by the chocolate chocolate-chip cookies and the Merguez sausage. What appeared to be an abundance of ice at 10:00 disappeared completely by 11:45. The stove-top was the home to Chef Wagner’s delicious pulled pork and Chef Richard’s BBQ sauce. The other chefs diced herbs, toasted and seasoned breads, sliced fish and meats, tasted and adjusted the final seasonings to the sauces; all in preparation for the final assembly under the Big Tent.
Simultaneously, under the Big Tent, all of the serving stations were assembled and each of the chefs and their assistants prepared for their respective dishes assemblies. Table decorations seemed to magically appear and created a wonderful farm to table atmosphere; utensils were loaned, ingredients were discussed and an overall sense of calm and friendship was evident. With less than 30 minutes prior to the arrival of the guests, the activity level increased significantly. All hands on deck…the assembly of individual portions now became the focus.
When the hundreds of guests made their way down the path they were greeted by culinary nirvana.
The legendary Chef Michel Richard of Central Michel Richard in Washington DC and Michel in Washington, DC and McLean tantalized the guests with a braised short rib served over potato salad and a delicious rich BBQ demi-glace. The tenderness of the meat was incredible. As I walked back from the Chef’s Tent with Chef Richard’s Executive Chef I asked him how they achieved such a fantastic consistency. His reply was “we roasted at a low temperature for 6o hours;” yes two-and-one-half days in the oven. The richness of the potato salad and sauce created an incredibly brilliant presentation.
Chef Lee Chizmar of Bolete restaurant in Bethlehem, PA. and his wife, Erin Shea, created several dishes that included a House-smoked Pocono Rainbow Trout with fingerling potatoes, mousserone mushrooms, bacon, whole grain mustard vinaigrette and trout caviar; a Chilled Carrot Soup accompanied by Jonah Crab salad, local baby carrots and radish greens; plus his final dish that combined a House-made Head Cheese with Pickled Mushroom, pickled shallots and Porcini Mustard sitting atop Black Pepper Crackers. For those who have never tasted house-made head cheese, you are missing one of the great flavors and textures, and Chef Chizmar’s was outstanding. The deep flavors of the meat, combined with the pickled mushrooms and shallots was outstanding. Likewise the fresh, yet smoky flavors of the trout presented a completed different set of flavors, and the carrot soup was divine.
Chef Brian Lewis, who recently announced the fall opening of his new restaurant, elm, in New Canaan, presented a DiStefano Family Farm Burrata accompanied by Garlic Toasts and a sweet pepper coulis; a Maine Lobster Salad “Green Goddess” with Grapes, Cucumbers, Preserved Lemons and accented with a Lovage Mayonnaise and topped with panko; and finally a Grilled House-made Merguez Sausage with Aromatic Stone Fruits, Pickled Ramps and Sweet Pepper Juices.
The lobster salad was perfectly prepared, accented by the sweetness of the grapes and the luxurious Mayonnaise. Chef Lewis added a crunchy texture with the addition of the toasted panko. The Burrata presented a level of creaminess and richness. The delectable flavors were accented by the garlic-paprika toasts and an outstanding red pepper coulis. The house-made Merguez sausage brought just a touch of spice that was cooled by the stone fruit sauces.
Chef Bill Taibe of LeFarm restaurant in Westport presented the “Dirty Carrot” with Bacon and Pumpernickel; a Smoked Foie Gras with Local Berries; a cold Potato and Garlic Soup with “Fronions”; and finally a Smoked Trout Dip with a large whole grain cracker. The “Dirty Carrots” were the most talked about dish at the event. Chef Taibe first dipped the sweet carrots in vinegar and then rolled them in the bacon and pumpernickel crumbs. The smoked trout dish accented the flavors of the trout with a creamy dip and the large whole grain cracker was a perfect accompaniment. The foie gras with fruits is a favorite of mine and Chef Taibe’s presentation was one of the best I have ever tasted.
Chef Derek Wagner of Nicks on Broadway in Providence, RI created spectacular dishes reflecting his Providence roots. His dishes included a Point Judith Seafood and Potato Potage with Crème Fraiche, Chives and Dill; a Baffoni Farm Chicken Liver Paté with an accompaniment of hot mustard and a relish of pickled local vegetables; Point Judith White Fish with a Caraway-Citrus Aioli and Asparagus; and a Barbeque Spiced Heritage Breed Pork with a Chili Sauce and Buttermilk-Cornbread Biscuits. The seafood and potato potage was a delightful and light presentation and showcased the fresh flavors of the fish. On the milder side, the White Fish was so delicate yet flavorful, and the Pork with Chili sauce was perfectly spiced, tender and incredibly flavorful. The Chicken Liver Paté was delicious and also one of the best I have ever eaten.
In addition, Rappahonnock River Oysters from Topping, VA to treated the attendees to three delicious selections of oysters which showcased the wide flavor variation of oysters. The Rappahonock River oysters presented a mild clean flavored oyster; the Stingray oysters presented a variety of flavors plus a touch of brine and the Olde Salt oysters presented a highest level of brininess and flavors.
Likewise Jasper Hill Farms from Greensboro, VT presented three artisan cheeses; Theo Chocolates from Seattle, WA offered three delicious dark chocolate varieties, and Master Baker Mark Furstenberg from Washington tantalized the guests with specialty breads and delectable chocolate chip cookies.
Watching and working with these brilliant chefs increased my appreciation to the genius that is required to meld flavors and textures into an incredibly delicious and beautiful presentation. It was an honor to work with and dine with five great chefs.
[Photography courtesy of Jeff Schlesinger and Amy Kundrat]