Charlotte NC Chefs head to James Beard House in NYC

james-beard-dinnersCharlotte, North Carolina chefs continue to take the James Beard house in NYC by storm and 2017 kicks off with several big dinners featuring Queen City-based culinary talent. Last night it was my pleasure to be a guest at a practice run of a collaboration dinner between 2 of Charlotte’s finest, Chefs Luca Annunziata of Passion 8 on Elizabeth Avenue and Chef Sylvain Rivet of Renaissance Patisserie on South Blvd.

While I love seeing and tasting what chefs do in their restaurants on a regular basis, it is always nice to take advantage and attend special dinners like this to see what happens when chefs think outside the box. I particularly enjoy collaborative dinners  – there are lots on the calendar in Charlotte. I suggest you take advantage and make reservations as you see them pop up!  It is always a fun and unique experience every time.  No matter the chefs involved, their culinary talents challenge each other and play off of one another to truly bring it to the table.

 

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From left, The Butcher, chef Marc Pauvert; The Baker, chef Sylvain Rivet; and The Chef, chef Luca Annunziata

The Charlotte chef and the pastry chef were joined in the kitchen last evening as they will be next week in NYC by Baltimore based Master Butcher, chef Marc Pauvert of the Four Seasons Hotel.

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Chef Philippe Haddad

Rounding out the culinary team in New York will also be Atlanta-based chef Philippe Haddad of the Cape Dutch Restaurant in Atlanta. Haddad was unable to attend the dinner in Charlotte last night, but his contributions will only add to the excitement in New York. Also lending a helping hand at the New York event ,the Carolina’s own chef Joe Bonaparte of the Myrtle Beach Culinary Arts Institute.

 So, a butcher, a baker, and a chef  (or two) walk into the Beard House kitchen—but as was experienced by a supportive and happy crowd last night, this dinner is no joke.  In New York, these culinary compatriots will demonstrate the exceptional art of whole-animal butchery in a collaborative French–Italian feast celebrating their combined heritages and crafts.

The  trial run, if you will, evening in Charlotte started with a round of passed hors d’oeuvres – creamy chicken liver pate profiteroles with berry coulis, savory beef short ribs, skewered a la plancha, spherical chicken croquettes in bamboo boats and crispy dirty rice arancini with tomato jam.

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And for me, a “HoneyBunny” and orange/vodka/honey infused craft cocktail from the Passion 8 bar.

An assortment of fresh baked rolls hit as soon as we  were seated – nothing better to me than a course of delicious bread and butter and I was glad it arrived first with time to enjoy.

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Dinner  officially started with a beautiful plate of dinner co-sponsor Springer Mountain Farms Chicken in a duo of savory bites: a tender and delicious chicken porchetta with fennel salad, extra virgin olive oil powder, and  a drizzle of vincotto; paired with a melt-in-your-mouth braised chicken scarpariello topped with shishito peppers and  house-made pork sausage – things were off to a fabulous start….

 

img_8386Next course, a charcuterie platter of sorts – duck three ways or in French, Canard Trois Facons.  On the plate, a “Yes, please I believe I will”  foie gras torchon with onion jam;  a scrumptious duck confit with apple–frisée salad; and sliced duck prosciutto with a small round of made-in-house burrata and a crisp toasted slice of fresh baked pan de mie.

 

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With such a wonderful Italian chef on the team it stood to reason there would be a pasta course. This night the small plate of tiny but tender gnocchetti verdi  ( small green gnocchi) were tossed into a tomato-y rich lamb ragù. The crunch of fried Rappahannock oysters, added texture and a thin slice of Parmigiano-Reggiano served as the perfect slightly salty finish.

 

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All of this led to the beef course where the French butcher showed his chops. So tender and perfectly grilled grass fed beef tournedos, cut from the tenderloin of beef served atop a celery root puree, garnished with  with brussels sprout leaves, and finished with a grilled half of Charlotte’s own Urban Gourmet Farms king trumpet mushrooms, and au jus – perfect!

And then there was dessert – two courses of dessert, in fact, and a take home box as well – gotta love having a French pastry chef on the team!

img_8396For me the blood orange crème brûlée echoed the cocktail I had enjoyed at the start of the evening. It was sweet but not too sweet and creamy enough to provide the perfect finish after the course of rich savory beef. The surprise here was the accompanying tuille – made  with crispy almonds and believe it or not, bacon fat..,

 

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img_8406Then, for the table (and as this photo shows, the chefs to share) a  secondary dessert course of  three types of wonderful petits fours:  miniature chocolate brownie bomb; popcorn macaroons; and petit Grand Marnier–vanilla puffs – Yes!  And as a take-home for  the-day-after-dinner breakfast ( or to eat in the car on the drive back home) a chocolate truffle and two sweet bite-sized cakes. what a fabulous finish!

 

And then this happened….Big News from Passion 8

jessicaandlucaTalk last night after dinner was not just about the Beard House ,but of some big changes to come to Passion 8 as well. In February, look for the husband and wife team of Luca and Jessica Annunziata to take their passion for all things Italian to a whole new level. Passion 8 will be changing names and styles and while Jessica and Luca will remain at the helm and the Elizabeth Avenue location will remain the same, the new restaurant name and concept will be LUCA, Modern Italian Kitchen. This talented couple will still offer a menu that is locally inspired with a focus on Farm-to-fork product, but recipes and menu features will all hail from Chef Luca’s Italian heritage.  I am proud to say I was the first food writer to ever write about Passion 8, when the restaurant was located on HWY 51 in Ft Mill and I’ve kept you up to date on everything this talented couple has done since – stay tuned… I can’t wait to tell you about it all as the new menu is revealed and name changes occurs, so that you can make your reservations at LUCA soon and, in the process, #TellThemHeidiSentYou

Want to go to the Beard House or at least see it for yourself?

img_8414The  dinner last night, billed as practice round, gave the guests an opportunity to give feed back, so that the team of chefs can tweak as needed before the big dance in New York.  Its no small production – Luca will load up all the local product and drive to Baltimore two days before the dinner. He and Marc will prep in Baltimore the day before then drive to New York for a day of cooking in the infamous Beard House kitchen the day of the dinner. Thanks to the magic of digital technology, you can follow each of the chefs involved on their individual social media streams and the night of the dinner, Friday January 27, you can stream the action from the kitchen live via the James Beard Kitchen Cam – check it out on the Beard House website 

If you’ve a mind to go, see, taste and enjoy it all in person, tickets for the Butcher, Baker & Chef dinner in NYC are still available – make your reservations here.  

charles-grill-678x1024Mark your calendars as more Charlotte-based chefs participate in upcoming Beard House dinners as well.  Chef Charles Semail of Chef Charles Catering in Charlotte will also cook at the James Beard House the end of this week, in fact,  at a separate dinner with a team of five other chefs. Chef Charles dinner will focus on The Art of Charcuterie. The dinner in New York is on Jan 20. If you can’t get to NYC for the dinner Chef Charles is participating in, then head to the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market on Saturday to buy and for a taste what Chef Charles Catering does so well.

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Then, save the date in February as Chef Jamie Lynch of 5 Church in Charlotte, Charleston and Atlanta (and Top Chef fame) present a “Take Me To Church” dinner on Feb 5, 2017.  

 

 

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If this post about some of our fabulous Charlotte-based chefs inspired you – I want to know where you are eating and what you are cooking. Remember  Charlotte, Queen’s Feast: Charlotte Restaurant Week  kicks off on Friday Jan 20 – where are you going to eat?

Post  your photos and then tag me on your social media posts – @HeidiBillotto and @HeidiBillottoCooks on Facebook; @HeidiCooks on Twitter and @HeidiBillotto on Instagram   Food is always so much better when you share it with friends!

Consider me your go-to-gal for info on chefs, restaurants, recipes, cooking tips, trends and food-centric travel.

I invite you to join me in all my culinary adventures, by signing up to follow this blog. You’ll get my recipes, reviews and articles as soon as they  post, directly to your in-box.

Almost here, Stay Tuned…my list of Jan, Feb and March 2017 hands-on cooking classes posts on Monday January 22, 2017 – can’t  wait!

A Taste of Spring: Asparagus

cooking with springtime asparagus 2Spring is my favorite season. In my hometown of Charlotte, NC it starts with the first crocus, then the cherry trees add a pop of color and after a long winter’s break, the beautiful Bradford Pear trees which line many a street in town, burst forth with blossoms. For about a week, the city is awash in white blossoms and that’s when you know it – you’re on the cusp of asparagus season.

Before you know it we’ll be slicing into tomatoes and spitting watermelon seeds, but lets not rush things. Time to enjoy the flavors of springtime and that first taste is of asparagus.

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Doug Carrigan and team with local asparagus at the Charlotte Regional Farmers’ market

I planted my own little asparagus bed when we moved into our home – about 10 years ago. We now have a healthy little crop for the two of us to enjoy, albeit, one or two stalks at a time. Alas, I am a hobby gardener, and while its fun to watch the tiny green heads peep up out of the ground and grow up to reach the sky; when its really time to cook, I turn to farmers who grow professionally like Doug Carrigan of Carrigan Farms.

IMG_9171Carrigan Farms is a 5th generation farm in Mooresville, NC and is a beautiful destination for weddings, farm to table dinners; and just after asparagus season, pick-your-own-strawberries and more, but lets not rush things.  For now, Doug is my go-to asparagus guy. Every Saturday between somewhere around the end of March to about the middle of April Doug brings bunches of the bright green stalks to the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market. This time of year, you’ll find other local farmers with their bumper asparagus crops bound in bundles ready for you to take home and enjoy at  the regional Charlotte market and other local farmers’ markets as well. The season is short, so eat it up while you can.

Today the focus is on several quick and easy asparagus salad recipes I first shared with you on a late March 2016 television segment on Charlotte Today. We filmed about the same time Doug and his family where picking the first crop to bring to market. As you will see on the tape, I wasn’t expecting to find fresh locally grown asparagus for a week or so, but was delighted to find Doug and his son selling at the market the Saturday just after the show. Timing is everything.

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note the difference between the end of the asparagus stalk several days old (left) and the freshly snapped one

A stalk of asparagus is just like a fresh picked flower: to keep it tender, it must be kept in water. If you are buying fresh picked asparagus from a local source and cooking it immediately, then there is no need to trim the stems – you can eat the whole thing.  If you are purchasing from a grocery store or working with market asparagus you purchased several days ago, then you’ll want to pop off the dried part of the stalk. Just bend the end – the asparagus will snap naturally where it goes from tough to tender. The tougher ends can be used to make vegetable stock, the tender tips may be eaten raw, steamed, poached, grilled or roasted.

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I think the best way to cook fresh asparagus is the roast them – or just enjoy them raw!

For the easiest method of cooking I turn to the grill or the oven. place the stalks in a single layer, roast in a preheated 400 degree oven for 8 minutes. That’s it. Roughly the same timing on the grill, although if you have thin stalks, keep an eye out that the flames aren’t too high or hot.

Once the asparagus are roasted or grilled, you can turn them into a host of different salads, as I did on the March Charlotte Today cooking segment and as I have outlined here.

Here are some easy peasy ideas on how to turn fresh raw or just roasted asparagus into a meal.

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Cut the stalks into bite sized pieces and toss with fresh blue berries, raspberries or strawberries. Add orange zest and a popover ( see recipe below) and a bit of fresh mint. Drizzle with your favorite balsamic vinegar  or local honey and serve atop a bed of locally grown leaf lettuce.

 

IMG_8897While the asparagus is roasting, fry a local egg to your own personal degree of desired doneness (I’m a sunny side up gal, myself) Serve the egg along side the bundle of warm asparagus, drizzle dark roasted sesame oil over all and then top with a sprinkling of white and black sesame seeds. The egg may be served over toast as well or for a great open faced sandwich variation on this same theme. Top the toast with some grated  sharp cheddar cheese and run under the broiled just until the cheese melts. Top with the roasted asparagus and hot fried egg. Add some sauteed mushrooms (check out the wonderful selection of locally grown ‘shrooms from Urban Gourmet Mushroom Farm at the Atherton Farmers’ Market) if you would like, drizzle with the sesame oil and you are good to go.

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As spring morphs into summer we will start to see greenhouse tomatoes making appearances at local markets, or you can make this recipe with oil packed sun dried tomatoes with very successful results as well. Make up a late spring or early summer bruschetta topping of chopped tomatoes, peppers, black olives and basil. Toss the mix in a bit of your favorite olive oil .Arrange the bruschetta mix over the hot or cold roasted asparagus, then dust with a sprinkling of finely grated Parmesan cheese  and there you have it!

 

IMG_8865You may notice that each of the asparagus plates above includes a popover. Popover are an easy, fast and fu alternative to any other bread and their light and fluffy nature makes for a great foil to the crisp green crunch of the freshly roasted asparagus. You can use a popover pan or a metal of silicone muffin or brioche pan does the trick just as well. The beauty of the silicone pan is that the popovers pop out without a fuss. I am generally not a big fan of silicone, bowls and “pans” but in this case, I make an exception…

Heidi’s Parmesan Popovers

1 1/2 cups organic all purpose flour

1 tsp salt

1 1/2 tsp. your favorite fat ( you may use olive oil, melted butter, melted leaf lard, bacon fat, etc)

1 local or pasture raised organic egg

1 1/2 cups organic whole milk

Fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese ( I Love local product and am a big supporter of all kinds of local cheese, but when it comes to Parmesan cheese, just pretend you live in Italy and go with the real thing)

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Preheat the oven 475 degrees – it is important here to start with a hot oven.    Prepared the muffin tins or popover pan by greasing them with butter ( unless you are using a silicone pan). Place the pan in preheated 475 oven for 2 minutes, to heat the pan ( unless you are using silicone) while you whisk together the flour, salt eggs, milk and melted butter until smooth. Remove the muffin tins from the oven and carefully fill each cup less than halfway full with batter. Sprinkle the top of each cup of batter lightly with grated Parmesan cheese. Return to oven and bake for 30 minutes. Enjoy hot or cold.

 

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Now that you know all the tricks, enjoy the video of my March Charlotte Today  Cooking with Local Asparagus segment once again. Show hosts Colleen Odegaard and Eugene Robinson always make my time on set tons of fun!  Watch Now!