The James Beard Foundation's touring dinner series returned to Columbus last night for the fourth time. Here are some of the highlights and reasons why we're already looking forward to next year's event.
Last night, the immersive culinary whirlwind that is the James Beard Foundation’s Celebrity Chef Tour swung through Columbus, with Hilton Columbus Downtown’s Gallerie Bar & Bistro playing host for the fourth time. The evening started with a cocktail hour featuring drinks from Watershed Kitchen & Bar, followed by a seven-course meal with wine pairings. After each course, guests had the opportunity to hear from the chefs, who are all based in the Midwest and were invited by Gallerie executive chef Bill Glover. Twenty-five such dinners are being held around the country this year to benefit the James Beard Foundation. (There were nine when the annual tour started in 2004.) It’s the kind of dining event that Columbus doesn’t see every day, marked by plates that send you scrambling for your phone, flavor combinations that push boundaries and last but not least, wine—lots of it. Here are some of the highlights from last night’s event, as well as reasons to attend when it stops again in our fair city next year.
1. A rare experience, without the travel
“A lot of people don’t get to go to New York City and experience the James Beard House. That’s a unique experience in New York because you’re in James Beard’s house—it’s not a restaurant, it’s not a typical venue,” says Celebrity Chef Tour event director Jeff Black. “The opportunity here is to bring that Beard House experience [to people]. It also gives an opportunity ... for chefs to give back to the foundation locally.”
2. Proceeds benefit the James Beard Foundation
A flat fee of $7,000 from the ticket sales goes to the foundation, Black says. The James Beard Foundation funds scholarships for culinary students, education and sustainability programs, food industry awards, like the illustrious James Beard Awards, and work on Capitol Hill relating to issues like food waste. The rest of the proceeds help cover travel expenses for the participating chefs and expenses incurred by the host restaurants, which close down for the evening event.
3. The chance to taste food from James Beard award-winners like Jimmy Schmidt
“With Columbus, Chef Bill invited everybody,” Black says, referring to Glover. “It’s cool that we have a James Beard Foundation Award-winner in the mix. Jimmy [Schmidt]’s been around forever. There’s a lot of young guns in this group, but Jimmy’s definitely the godfather.”
4. Dehydrated and rehydrated carrot by Jamie Simpson of The Chef’s Garden in Huron, Ohio
Simpson kicked off the meal with a dish that captures what the Culinary Vegetable Institute is all about: experimentation and culinary education centered on vegetables grown at The Chef’s Garden farm.
5. The “umami bomb” tomato dish with miso corn pudding by Kevin Sousa of Superior Motors in Braddock, Pennsylvania
One guest called Sousa’s dish “a perfect end to the summer,” a fitting goodbye to tomato and sweet corn season.
6. Halibut with smoked oyster and yellow beet panna cotta by Bill Glover and Josh Kayser at Gallerie Bar & Bistro
This stunner from the hosts featured a beet-stained halibut cured for 48 hours in beets, salt and sugar. Bonus points for the grapefruit “caviar.”
7. Hudson Valley foie gras by Jose Salazar of Mita’s in Cincinnati
Salazar’s atypical foie gras dish transported diners to the Mediterranean with eggplant marmalade, a black olive sauce and sumac to add brightness.
8. Pork belly “sandwich” and grilled fig by Rockmill Tavern’s Andrew Smith
“This dish is so hot, it set off the alarm,” our server says while the hotel alarm started going off just as this course was being served. (It was a false alarm.) Well played, sir. Smith’s dish looks like a Pistacia Vera pastry but is every bit a brunch-y Rockmill sandwich with a fig sidekick to cut the richness.
9. Wagyu beef served on wood by James Beard Award-winner Jimmy Schmidt
Schmidt’s beef dish, which he called a “study of the flavors of an autumn forest,” announced its arrival to the table with a stunning aroma and showstopper tree trunk presentation. It was served with the best wine pairing of the night, a 2015 Limerick Lane Vineyard Zinfandel.
10. What the Duck? dessert by Gallerie’s pastry chef Aaron Clouse
Using brioche fried in duck fat instead of butter, Clouse’s take on French toast came topped with mulled wine mousse and a foie gras aioli on the side. “You had me at duck fat,” yelled one attendee. He wasn’t alone.