Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Dinner of the Critics

I had my first experience with the Charleston culinary elite this past week.

My usual day off is on Wednesday, however this past week I was told on Tuesday night that all of the back-of-house staff were required to be at the restaurant by 9am Wednesday morning in order to prepare for the Critics Dinner. The Critics Dinner is a four course culinary spectacle in which five chefs are selected by the top food critics of Charleston in order to delight and indulge the rich foodie patrons of the low country for the reasonable price of $300 a person.
In a town this size, reputation means everything and who you know means just as much as how good your food is. Therefore the usual suspects were in attendance: Sean Brock of Husk and McCrady's was the highlight for most diners, offering gastronomic wonders such as fish fume foam and flounder "head cheese"Jacques Larson of Wild Olive totting along a cacophany of black truffles.
Mike Lotta of the highly acclaimed Fig restaurant, and my Chef, Chef Ken Vedrinsky of Trattoria Lucca. I accompanied my chef and leader, Chef Ken Vedrinsky and we put out what I and many others considered the best course of the night, a thrice-smoked deckle steak with a peanut potato and grilled lobster salad on a puree of parmeggiano reggiano fonduta.There were so many talented chefs at this event I felt more than honored to be able to meet all of them and more importantly to meet their sous and line chefs. After all, the line chefs of the world are ones that really keep things running. I found a great connection with a guy named Mick, the line chef that accompanied Chef Jacques Lawrence from Wild Olive to the event. They prepared a fantastic salad of barley, rabbit confit, and black truffle. the combination was earthy, seductive and aromatically intoxicating. The rabbit was unbelievably tender and it was by far my favorite of the night besides Chef Ken's deckle, of course.The whole event took place on Fort sumpter, a mysterious and desolate island off the coast of the Charleston harbor that reminds us all of the turbulent past of the south and of America as a united nation. The location itself was less than beautiful, a brick facade filled in with black concrete in order to create the illusion of a fully established space. The night went off without a hitch and everyone praised us all for the unbelievable meal that was put before them. For my part, I felt undeserving of any praise , for after all I am only a lowly prep cook and student of masters.
The most amazing thing that came out of the night was the opportunity to get to know some of the biggest names in the Charleston food scene. I got to meet and talk with Sean Brock, who is obviously the wonder boy of low-country food and who is likely to be up there with David Chang and Wiley D. in the next few years. It was a perfect place to let people know who I am and that I am a force in the world of food, little package, pony-tail and all.