It was a hot summer’s day as guests arrived at last Sunday’s benefit for Stu and the Kids. The inside of the Vibiana cathedral was cool and welcoming, tables laden with fresh salads, icy cocktails and handmade ice cream. The aroma of barbecue wafted across the large patio as a bevy of chefs bent over their grills. There were a lot of familiar Thai flavors, like lemongrass, galangal and curry, but the multitude of dishes showcased the variety of Thai cuisine.
One of the first salads we tried was a healthy and tasty combination of little heirloom tomatoes and grilled corn tossed with a Thao Farms basil and lime vinaigrette from Akasha. Everyone’s favorite family of chefs, Brooke Williamson, Nick Roberts and Hudson served an original Thai chicken salad with cucumbers and shrimp chips from The Tripel/Hudson House. Right next to Brooke was her Top Chef competitor, Shirley Chung, with Mussels in curry from her new restaurant, Steamers Co. If you read my last post, you know that I was never a fan of mussels, but thanks to Chef Jerry Su and Shirley Chung, they are now one of my favorite things!
Jet Tila once again graced us with his presence and his addictive Northern Thai Pork Chili Dip with Lucky Purple Sticky Rice. He provides a cucumber slice and a chicharron to dip into the pork chili. It is thick and delicious enough though, that I would eat a big helping of the chili dip on rice. The Wallace built little log cabins out of asparagus, filled them with an egg yolk they charred with a blowtorch, and seasoned them with a Togari vinaigrette.
Jitlada always has something spicy and delicious. Their Southern Thai Curry Noodles outdid anything they have ever served me, and I was happy to burn my tongue. Another scorcher was a fresh shrimp ceviche from Broken Spanish, and again, it was worth it.
We were sad to see that Chef Vartan Abgaryan wasn’t able to come, but his team did him proud with charred octopus, hearts of palm, watermelon, and Thai vinaigrette from 71 Above. Out on the patio, Chef Gilberto Cetina of Chichen Itza was not only grilling up octopus for what was perhaps the most instagrammable dish of the day, he was also giving a little boy lessons on the anatomy of the octopus. I kind of freaked out when he pulled out the beak because I have nightmares about that.
Master of the House, Neal Fraser, was grilling curried shrimp skewered with sugar cane, which felt very tropical. Oh, did I mention we were all drinking out of coconuts? My island fantasy culminated with a sighting of Jeff Probst. One of the auction items involved tickets to the next “Survivor” finale, and both he and “Survivor Caramoan” winner John Cochran showed up for the raffle, which was very cool and philanthropic of them. Of course, after trying some of the food they will probably beg to come back every year.
Barbara Jean’s fried chicken with curry was crisp and perfect and now I must go there immediately. I was hesitant to try the lobster/shrimp corn dog created by Tetsu Yahagi and Spago Beverly Hills, because I once had a very unsuccessful iteration and that kind of thing stays with you for a long time. They were, however, flawless, and the talk of the event.
Besides a “slider” on squid ink buns, Porsche 917 served chocolates made with sesame and banana. They made sure to add a nitrogen-frozen caramel corn garnish at the very last minute so I could experience “breath of the dragon,” blowing smoke out of my mouth. Saints and Sinners offered a delightful spread that was also tailored for special diets, including passion fruit berry tarts, macarons, gluten-free tres leche cake and vegan/paleo-friendly coconut crack balls.
Pastry Lab had baked addictive mango sticky rice creme puffs. The texture of the sticky rice created a fun gooey filling. For me, the best dessert was a roasted coconut budino from chefs Daniel, Erez and Richard of Savore Cuisine and Events. The custard was rich and thick like butter, and the liquid nitrogen-frozen bits on top were a salty surprise, tasting of Tom Kah Gai.
Another great dessert came from Sherry Yard, now at The Tuck Room, presented a twofer of delicious mango pudding and a coconut snowball, frosty and sweet like the ones in New Orleans, but with a topping of fresh mango. There were a lot of frozen desserts, which was exactly what we wanted on such a hot day. Soft serve pandan ice cream from Magpies was delicious, although I was surprised it wasn’t green. The maple coconut chip topping was the pièce de résistance, and I am immediately going to start experimenting with coconut in my kitchen. Republique served a variety of ice cream flavors. but I went with their peach ice cream, perfect for the summer. Finally, we tried Coconut Ice Cream and Banana Spring Roll from Chef Greg Wiele of Patina Group. Banana spring rolls can often come out greasy or mushy, but Chef Wiele’s version was absolute perfection. In fact, the entire event was perfection. with some of the best food we have eaten in 10 years of food events.