Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Flavors of Northeast Ohio

Last night I attended the American Liver Foundation's Flavors of Northeast Ohio event at the InterContinental Hotel. 21 of our area's best chefs wowed guests by preparing a 5-course meal tableside, complete with wine pairings and creative table decor.

The evening began with a cocktail hour featuring passed hors d'oeuvres from each of the restaurants. Since guests are only dining at one table that evening, it was a great opportunity to sample a small (and delicious) bite of what the other chefs will be featuring at their station. I was seated at Chef Ben Bebenroth's table from Spice of Life Catering. Spice of Life highlighted a Bison Tartar served with Dijon mustard, capers, Sriracha, and finely diced red onion during the cocktail hour. This bite represented the theme of our table - fall, rustic, and local - and was reminiscent of our main course: Seared Bison Filet.

Each chef was encouraged to decorate their table with a theme and present a menu to the guests outlining what lie ahead that evening. I was attending last night not only as a guest, but also as one of five Table Presentation and Menu Planning judges. I was honored to be selected, and enjoyed cruising by each of the tables before the event began. Several stood out. Dante's table creatively highlighted his passion for music, and the decorations and menu theme reflected his love for the Beatles by displaying records and naming each course after a song title. I was also impressed with Melange's menu theme. They were presenting their guests with an upscale fall clambake. I know this is one foodie who can't wait for my first clambake, so my mouth was watering!

But the standout of the evening was Chef Ben and his team from Spice of Life- my very own table! They took home the top prize and bragging rights for next year. As we approached our beautifully decorated table (see left), we instantly knew that the theme of the evening was going to be rustic, feature fall flavors, and highlight local product. Our menu (see above) was actually a map. The map led us on a journey of discovering where our meal was coming from that night. Ben had used product from 11 different local farms, including: Muddy Fork Farm, Killbuck Valley Mushroom Farm, Heritage Lane Bison Farm, Schultz Fruit Farm, and several others. Each farm was given an icon. The icons were featured under the description of each course if product was used from that location, and then guests could take a look at the corresponding map and find out exactly where that farm was located in our area. It was quite a learning experience, and it really hit home for me on what an amazing agricultural area we live in.

Our table's meal began with a Curried Autumn Bisque with apple chestnut relish. This soup screamed "FALL" to me, and the hearty texture and subtle heat warmed me from the inside out. This might have been my favorite course, but honestly it was hard to pick a winner from their outstanding menu. Each course was also paired with a wine, and we started off with a 2008 Jean-Lue Colombo, La Violette. This dry white had a clean, crisp finish and was right up my alley. We were off to a great start!

Our second course was a Pumpkin Panzanella Salad with fresh greens, shaved pecorino, and balsamic. I have not had pumpkin in a salad before, but I really enjoyed this preparation. The salad was a little tart, which I tend to lean towards over sweet, but it could have used a touch of sweetness to cut the flavor every so often. However, I saved the best bite for last, which included a small wedge of brie. This course was paired with a 2007 Jordan, Chardonnay which happens to be one of my favorite dry white wines. "R" and I often order it when dining out, so you can imagine how happy I was to see it featured on their menu!

Our third course included pheasant from the Plum Creek Poultry Farm. We enjoyed a Crispy Pheasant Breast with sweet potato puree, mizuna sauté, and a Madeira mushroom sauce. The breading was light and nicely seasoned, meat juicy and well cooked, and the potato puree was sweet and heavenly. I am always a sucker for anything that includes sweet potato. We switched over to red wine during this course, and enjoyed a 2006 Perrin & Fils, Les Christins.

Course four was a Seared Bison Filet, fresh from Heritage Lane Bison Farm, with a potato and turnip cake, tri-colored cauliflower, and a cider chili gastrique. Bison meat is very lean and can be difficult to execute well, but once again Spice of Life's chefs hit the nail on the head. The filet was expertly cooked to a perfect medium rare. The flavor of the bison meat on its own was very good, but I truly enjoyed the bites that also included a piece of the crispy potato and turnip cake. It was an excellent pairing. This course featured another red- 2006 Foley, Syrah.

Our final course of the amazing 5-course meal was an Apple Flambé featuring a puff pastry, burnt caramel ice cream, and buckwheat honey. I am not usually a fan of apple pie, apple crisp, etc. (gasp- I know), but this dish was a perfect end to our "fall" meal. The burnt caramel ice cream was my favorite component of this dish. We also rounded out the evening with a sparkling 2007 King Estate, Pinot Gris.

Thank you for hanging in there through this very long post, but I just couldn't stand to leave anything out. Event coordinator Rachael Stentz-Baugher, the staff and volunteers of the American Liver Foundation, and of course our city's talented chefs simply outdid themselves last night. The evening not only included a fabulous meal and cocktails, but offered guests the chance to bid on fantastic auction prizes, hear a touching story of one woman's battle with liver disease, and the opportunity to pledge critical dollars in support of a very worthy organization. It was a great event, and one that I plan to attend next year! With a $200 price tag for an individual it can seem steep, but I have to say that it is worth every penny (and more).


Tino said...

Sounds like a fantastic meal and you did an excellent job of covering it!

I have to admit that the price tag was what kept me away from attending this event, even if it is for a charitable cause.