In the third of a series of annual Brooklyn-themed
events, members of the illustrious James Beard Foundation invited
six Park Slope chefs to prepare dinner for its members and other
food professionals. Members of the foundation’s programming committee
select chefs whose restaurants, they feel, epitomize the finest
cuisine of our borough.
"Our programming committee chooses chefs whose restaurants they’ve dined in. They listen carefully to our members’ recommendations and read the reviews of food critics before coming to a consensus," says Siobhan Haber, who chairs the committee.
James Beard, who championed American cuisine (referring to it as "honest, real food"), is considered the dean of American cooking. His townhouse on West 12th Street became the James Beard Foundation shortly after his death in 1985. Founded by "French Chef" Julia Child and Peter Kump (known for Peter Kump’s Cooking School, now the Institute of Culinary Education) the foundation is dedicated to promoting American cooking and furthering the careers of talented, American chefs.
The dinner, titled "Brooklyn Cooks: Park Slope," took place on Jan. 28 at the James Beard Foundation on West 12th Street in Manhattan. The chosen chefs included Christopher Sell of the ChipShop and CurryShop, whose ChipShop specializes in fish and chips and all things fried - Snickers bars included; Aaron Bashy, of The Minnow, a diminutive seafood restaurant with a strong neighborhood following; Bruce and Eric Bromberg of Blue Ribbon Brooklyn, and recently, Blue Ribbon Sushi, famous for their multi-tiered platters of raw seafood; and Michelle and Carlo Pulixi of Convivium Osteria whose Italian, Spanish and Portuguese dishes have made their restaurant a destination stop.
"I was incredibly honored when I received the call from the James Beard Foundation," said Sell, who despite the working class origin of his ChipShop menu is a classically trained chef. "Being chosen by the James Beard committee and cooking alongside chefs who I know and admire was great," he added.
The dinner began with a cocktail hour in the townhouse’s glass-enclosed garden room. To enter the room, one must walk into a tiny foyer with pineapple-printed wallpaper and proceed through a small, stiflingly hot kitchen where the chefs, oblivious to the heat, calmly chatted or attended to last minute preparations.
In the room, which overlooks what will be a garden come spring, those attending the dinner sipped Daniel Dampt Chablis 2001, a tart white wine that complemented the clean, steely taste of Malpeque oysters, courtesy of Blue Ribbon Brooklyn.
After the cocktail hour, diners were instructed to sit down for dinner in the persimmon-colored, book-lined dining room where small, round tables, set with a collection of various-shaped wineglasses and heavy silverware awaited.
My table of Brooklynites began a lively conversation on the merits of certain Brooklyn restaurants; personal, food-related pet peeves - too much "stuff" on the plate being one of them - and oaky versus steely Chardonnay (steely being preferable at the moment).
Sell presented the first course, a "trio of shepherd’s pies: wild mushroom, vegetable and beef," with a glass of Ruddles Country Ale, a slightly bitter, full-flavored, imported English ale that nicely offset the complexity of the pies. Only a few bites each - the pies were flavorful, but the wild mushroom, with its chunky, earthy chanterelle, portabello and shitake mushrooms, was the star of the trio. Salty, caramelized onions, atop the traditional mashed potato topping, lent another dimension of flavor to the pie.
Carlo Pulixi delighted our table with pillows of tortelli, ravioli filled with a mixture of artichokes and caciotta, a creamy sheep milk cheese. A bit of sweet butter lent richness to the artichoke stock used to sauce the pasta. Pulixi chose a light Companhia Das Quintas Palmela Tradicao 1999, a red Portuguese wine with a full-body, that teamed well with the pasta.
Bashy’s three enormous sea scallops sported an innovative topping of raw couscous that, after pan searing, achieve a crackly, crisp crust; the crunch of the scallops’ coating amplifying the velvety texture of the shellfish. Bland chickpea "fries" made from chickpea flour, served alongside the scallops were redundant: crunchy with crunchy. Vegetarian plate-mates included a rich mushroom gratin and Brussels sprouts cooked in honey and date syrup until buttery and soft. It was a busy mix of "stuff" on the plate, but with the exception of the "fries," the elements complemented one another.
"I was really excited when [the James Beard Foundation] asked me to prepare the entree," said Bashy.
Marquis Philips Holly’s Blend Verdehlo 2002, a fresh, dry Australian white wine was an excellent choice. Its clean, somewhat neutral flavor didn’t compete with Bashy’s elaborate dish.
A dense chocolate fig cake baked by Michele Pulixi ended the meal on a sweet note. Tasting like a chewy, chocolate Fig Newton, the cake - topped with melted chocolate and served with big dollop of softly whipped cream - was not overly sugary thanks to VinoCotto, made of unfermented grapes, mixed into the batter.
To naysayers who complain that few good dining choices exist in Park Slope, I say this: You should have been there.
Blue Ribbon Brooklyn (280 Fifth Ave.
at Garfield Place) accepts Visa, MasterCard, American Express
and Diners Club. For reservations, call (718) 840-0404.
ChipShop (383 Fifth Ave. at Sixth Street) accepts cash only. For more information, call (718) 832-7701.
Convivium Osteria (68 Fifth Ave. at Bergen Street) accepts American Express. For reservations, call (718) 857-1833.
The Minnow (442 Ninth St. at Sixth Avenue) accepts Visa, MasterCard, Diners Club and Discover. For reservations, call (718) 832-5500.