Saturday’s All-Star Chef Lunch was a multimedia event with huge overhead monitors showing the action in the kitchen, live interviews, and taped montages profiling the featured chefs. The Kitchen Stadium, set up like a theater in the round, allowed spectators in all four rows a full view of the central kitchen. It was truly a delight for the senses as you could see, hear, smell, and then taste the five courses.
The all-female chefs selected for the All-Star Lunch bantered with some of the male chefs in attendance as to the superior organizational skills of women and their ability to multi-task. After juggling cooking and interviews for the camera, the chefs presented a fresh Spring menu bright with citrus and herbs.
Hailing from the Pacific Northwest, Chef Naomi Pomeroy has just opened Expatriate, a cocktail bar across from her highly-lauded Portland restaurant, Beast. To highlight the sweet Spring carrots, Pomeroy made a simple veloute with onions and butter. Pure carrot essence sang in the velvety soup. Then she started layering flavors. A porcini mushroom and hazelnut pistou added earthiness and texture while an herbed creme fraiche mousse brought added richness and tang. A finishing touch of chive oil made for a perfect balance of complex layers.
Every Angeleno knows Nancy Silverton; she is our earth mother of baking and restaurant royalty. From LaBrea Bakery to Mozza, she has delighted and enchanted this city. For the second course, she brought a beautiful salad of Gem Lettuces, English Peas, Asparagus and Radishes (why is there no pizza course?). She explained that you must massage the dressing into the salad, not just cavalierly toss it. She also insisted that the individual leaves be eaten with the hands. The tender leaves topped with vegetables and chive, chervil, tarragon and dill, made little hand rolls coated with a lemon dressing that practically stood up and punched you in the face. The salad was accompanied by toast spread with labneh, strained yoghurt with lemon. It brought a little hippie vibe to the day.
San Francisco’s favorite chef, Michelin-starred Nancy Oakes went all out for the fish course, marrying together the elite ingredients of the sea. Seared Sea Scallop was topped by an Uni, Crab and Lardo Panzanella rested on a bed of Polenta al Nero. The polenta was flavored with cuttlefish ink, which made it an unexpected shade of pale grey. The scallop was naturally perfectly grilled without a hint of grit. It was topped by a panzanella which combined croutons, olive oil, crab and uni. The dish was rich and decadent and worth the price of admission alone.
The fourth course was created by Dominique Crenn, whose San Francisco restaurant, Atelier Crenn, made her the first female chef in America to be awarded 2 Michelin stars. The Lamb, Umeboshi Consomme, Seaweed, Preserved Lemons and Cabbage definitely took it to the edge, but pulled back well before the intense flavors of the pickled plums, preserved lemon and seaweed became overwhelming. The meatiness of the rare, tender lamb was highlighted without getting lost in a muddle. Crenn explained that she had cooked it in a slow oven, because “You kill something once. You don’t want to kill it twice.”
Pastry Chef Waylann Lucas is probably best known for the highly addictive Fonuts, but she has worked creating desserts with some of the best chefs in town. There was some discussion as to what Textures of Grapefruit, Coconut and Pistachio could be. I offered, “She has a very free-form aesthetic. It’s kind of like someone started to build a house of cards and it collapsed, leaving crumbles on the plate.” We were served a moist buttermilk cake topped with fresh grapefruit accompanied by an intense grapefruit sorbet. Dollops of coconut cream rounded out the dish with sprinkles of candied pistachios. The recipe for the buttermilk cake is in the event guide, so I’m definitely going to be making that.
The wine pairings were from female vintners as well. 2012 Trimbach Pinot Blanc from Alsace and 2013 Liquid Farm rose Mourvede from Santa Ynez were well-chosen and delicious. It was a meal that left you sated, but not bloated and needing a nap. It was a light, refreshing ode to Spring. PS. No boys allowed!