When I first heard about the All Star Chef Classic, the one thing that immediately jumped out at me was the French Masters Dinner, but $300 for five courses sounded a bit steep even for me. Two days before the event my friend Mike calls me asking if I could go with him as his first two options flaked and not wanting the ticket to go to waste I "reluctantly" agreed. The event, part cooking lesson, part dinner took place at the LA Live in a venue called Restaurant Stadium which featured a large open kitchen surrounded by eight sections of stadium seating.
Canape 01: American Sturgeon Caviar - Smoked Crème Fraîche
The event started with a welcoming reception serving bottomless champagne and a selection of canapes. First up was a contemporary caviar canape with a potato chip replacing the venerable blini. The chip comes topped with a dollop of dense smoky creme fraiche and caviar. Classically nutty salinity is augmented by the saltiness of the chip, a natural compliment to the bottomless champagne.
Canape 02: Beet Sushi
This was the weakest of the snacks, bland with a disconcerting blend of beet, herbs and vinegar. The texture of the rice was equally disappointing cold dense and tacky. The one interesting facet of this snack was a slight floral herbaceousness that comes through at the end.
Canape 03: Parmesan Tapioca
The cube looks like a butter cookie but the flavor is totally savory. The texture combines crisp fried savor with a slightly sweet gummy texture from the tapioca and the semi-runny mixture of melted Parmesan and even more tapioca fills the mouth with a creamy cheesy goodness reminiscent of a gougere; an unconventional but undeniably effective bite.
Canape 04: Kusshi Oyster - Sea Water Gelèe
Along with the caviar chips the oyster was the standout of the welcoming reception, the sea water gelèe highlights the oyster's normally subdued salinity.
01: arlequin de légumes en aigre-doux - sweet and sour harlequin vegetables | Alain Passard (L'aperge)
2010 Pouilly-Fumé, Pocheronnes, Marc Deschamps
The meal got off to a strong start with a course from Alain Passard chef of the legendary L'aperge. Playing to his strengths, Chef Passard offered up a dish that highlighted the versatility and complexity of vegetables from tender carrots to crisp leafy greens and bitter radishes. On the base of the plate is a thick tangy honey vinaigrette ties the palette of vegetables together.
02: crabe, agrumes, herbes sauvages, beurre noisette - dungeness crab, citrus, wild herbs, brown butter | Iñaki Aizpitarte (Le Chateaubriand, Le Dauphin)
2011 Riesling, Sussenberg, Bechtold, Alsace
Next up was a seafood dish from one of Paris' hottest current chefs, Iñaki Aizpitarte. This dish announced its presence from afar, filling the entire stadium with the tantalizing smell of warm brown butter. The heady caramelized richness of the butter intensifies the crab's natural flavor which is subtly tinged with the aromatic elegance of the wild herbs. I loved the astringent contrast from the crisp asparagus spears and while the citrus was a natural accompaniment for the crab, I found the mound of fruit a bit excessive.
drôlerie végétale - wild crayfish, amusing vegetables | by Marc Meneau(L’esperance) and Pierre Meneau (Crom'Exquis)
2011 Chablis, 1er cru, Vaulorent, William Fèvre
This course was something of a combination of the previous two dishes but had none of their flair or flavor. The tiny crayfish were disconcertingly bland and the vegetables while crisp tasted like something out of a frozen dinner or third-rate steakhouse.
04: poitrine de canard, choux, raifort, amandes fumées - duck breast, skin purée, grilled cabbage, horseradish, smoked almond | Ludo Lefebvre
2010 Beaune, 1er Cru, 'Clos de la Mousse', Monopole, Bouchard Père & Fils
The thinly sliced duck breast reminded me of a similar preparation I had at Trois Mec. The breast wasn't quite as tender this time around, though I suspect this had more to do with the format of the dinner than anything else. The bitter char of the cabbage and the toasty crunch of the crumbled fatty duck skin both pair beautifully with the smoky relish of the duck breast. The light whipped twang of the horseradish adds a racy sour focus that cuts through all the dark weighty flavors of the dish.
05: millefeuille au citron vert - lime scented napoleon | Florian Bellanger
fresh brewed coffee by LAMILL
The composed dessert was a brilliant mix of airy puff pastry and bright bright fruity flavors. The combination marries the satisfying butteriness of the pastry with a vivid fruity acidity to keep things light. My friend called it the best dessert he had all year but he is diabetic so this might very well be the ONLY dessert he had all year.
We were also provided a selection of classic sweets to end the meal that were all quite good.
I've never been a big fan of these organized food events but with most of the chefs hailing from France this was an efficient way to sample their food without taking a Trans-Atlantic flight though to be honest I probably would have passed if my friend wasn't covering the cost of the ticket. Thanks again Mike. Let me know if you need a guest for next year too.