For a chef, one of the most coveted cooking spaces in American is the tiny kitchen that sits in the belly of The James Beard House on West 12th Street, NYC. The ancient copper pans, the elegant dining room, and the chef's whites that hang on the wall bearing the signatures of accomplished chefs from around the world, carry with them a lineage that celebrates the prolific food writer, cookbook author, and teacher, James Beard. Today, The James Beard house provides culinary inspiration, education, and scholarships, but at the heart of this narrow townhouse is a “performance space” for visiting chefs, the gold standard for any culinary career. Last week, six Fairfield County chefs paid The Beard House a visit, and the meal that resulted was a celebration of CT talent, seasonal ingredients and camaraderie.
The "CT Invasion" was blazed by Matt Storch (Match), Bill Taibe (Le Farm & The Whelk), Arik Bensimon (Napa & Co), Tim Labant (Schoolhouse at Cannondale), Lisa Storch (Catch a Healthy Habit), and Fritz Knipschildt (Knipschildt Chocolate and Chocopologie), with wine and cocktails provided by Saugatuck Grain and Grape.
The menu was simple. Each chef prepared a single passed hors d'oeuvre and a single entree. Several meetings preceded the event to align the courses and flavor profiles making sure ingredients were not duplicated for the guests. The complete menu can be seen below.
On a perfect spring night, diners arrived at The Beard House at 7pm, but the chefs had been prepping and cooking since 11. We walked in as the group was having their final meeting before service. It's hard to even imagine, but 6 chefs, each with their sous chefs worked side by side in a kitchen that couldn't have been more than 15 square feet. What's more remarkable was the relative calm despite the intensity of creating plated courses for 80 people that all had to make it out of that kitchen in perfect unison.
While the chefs were finishing up their first courses, guests were ushered into The Beard House's back garden, tucked away from the busy streets, and ployed with Negroni cocktails that had been barrel aged for 4 months by Jeff Maron of Saugatuck Grain & Grape. This was the first of many expertly paired cocktails, wines, and beer served throughout the evening.
In fact, SG&G was so inspired by this event that they traveled to Portland, Oregon to partner with craft brewery, Widmer Brothers, to create a custom beer perfectly complimenting Taibe's smoked fish entree, titled,“Smoke on the Lager.” This ingenuity and passion was present in every course.
At the end of the evening, after Fritz had served the final plate, it was hard to discern who was more elated, the guests or the chefs. For those who didn't make it into NYC, you can enjoy these talented chefs at their local CT haunts.
James Beard House Dinner Menu
Crispy Sweetbreads, Milk Chocolate-Hazelnut Crunch, Pate de Fruits from Fritz Knipschildt
Warm Buttered Copps Island Oysters, Caviar, Sea Urchin from Bill Taibe
White Asparagus & Hazelnut Soup served in beautiful colored eggshells from Tim LaBant
Hot & Cold Hudson Valley Foie Gras from Matt Storch
Spring Lamb Tartare from Arik Bensimon
Vegetable ‘Rosti’ Cake, Saffron Aioli, Kelp, Spring Onion Rings from Lisa Storch
2009 Raventos I Blanc Cava Reserva Brut "L'Hereu"
Saugatuck Grain & Grape Barrel-Aged Cocktail - Negroni
Widmer Brothers, Rotator IP Series: “Shaddock IPA”
Spring Rolls…Shaved Spring Veggies, Coconut Wrapper, Chipotle, Micros - Lisa Storch
2010 Abbazia di Novacella Kerner
Pea Carbonara, Soft Egg, Capellini, Guanciale - Matt Storch
2008 Domaine FL Savennieres "Chamboreau"
Hot Smoked Pollack, Middlins, Spring Pickles - Bill Taibe
Widmer Brothers, “Smoke on the Lager”
Squab, Quinoa, Baby Onions, Beets, Morels & Cauliflower - Tim LaBant
2010 Domaine Marc Roy Gevrey-Chambertin "Clos Prieur"
Lamb Saddle, Black Garlic, Favas & Radish - Arik Bensimon
2001 La Rioja Alta Rioja Reserva Especial "Vina Ardanza"
Goat Milk-Rhubarb Parfait with a Strawberry Lemon Thyme Jus - Fritz Knipschildt