Kitchen Ink: A Celebration of Wine, Food and Dining with the Stars

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

No, it wasn't the Food Olympics, but it was close. Actually it was A Celebration of Wine, Food and Dining with the Stars, a fantastic charity event held last Monday evening to benefit the Hospice and Palliative Care Program at Nationwide Children's Hospital. As usual, the 13th-annual event was held at Spagio and it was sold out.

Basic black was a primary color that night as the city's gourmands, movers and shakers got decked out darkly for the super soiree. And they were all treated to a feast unlike any other in Columbus.

That's because top chefs from all over the country (though Chicago and Texas were heavily represented and there was a great chef from Mexico) joined a few of Columbus' master cooks to create a head-spinning spread.

The happy maximum-capacity crowd was chaotic but courteous, and that made amassing platters easier than you'd think (my favorite food station was the busy kitchen -fun!). Functioning as masterful master of ceremonies and overseeing the silent auctions was the ever-delightful Angela Pace.

Here's a little chefs' background accompanied by a blow-by-blow account of the beautiful and bounteous banquet.

Columbus' Spencer Budros of Pistacia Vera makes the best and most elegant pastries and desserts in Columbus. In fact, you could drop his bakery into any major city in the world and it would stack up with the best that town had to offer. Budros' moist and nutty layered cake - Pistachio Strawberry Dacquoise - was yet another example of his uncommon artistry.

Chef Tom Fleming earned the Paul Bocuse/Mumm Champagne scholarship before working at prestigious restaurants in France and then opening Brasserie Jo in Chicago, which subsequently won the James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant. Fleming is currently Corporate Executive Chef for the Preferred Restaurant Management group. His Black Pepper Seared Maple Leaf Duck Breast featured beautiful tender pink meat above a dark duck confit ragout that ate like marvelous carnivorous candy.

By now Columbus' own Certified Master Chef Hartmut Handke needs no introduction, but it sure was great to see him working his magic in a Columbus kitchen again. His insanely rich Sauteed Hudson Valley Foie Gras on Toasted Brioche received a wonderful counterpoint with a tart and crunchy Granny Smith apple and beet salad dressed in a walnut-orange vinaigrette and kumquat marmalade. This dynamite dish was emblematic of many stunners I had that night.

As a Ritz Carlton chef, Richard Hebben became a favorite of celebrities like Robert DeNiro, Jay Leno, Robin Williams and even President Clinton. Chef Hebben, currently the Park Hyatt Philadelphia executive chef, made a meaty, Moroccan-style Roasted Monkfish. While the fabulous fish was delicious, it was almost upstaged by its complement -a complex, unctuous, fruity and herby tomato-eggplant ragout that was somewhere between a rockin' ratatouille and a kick-ass caponata.

Brian Hinshaw, executive Chef at Columbus' excellent M restaurant, made his bones under Hartmut Handke. His luscious, pot-roasty, Braised Beef Cheeks with Wild Mushrooms were accompanied by a knock-out side of smoky, pickly and tangy mustard greens. The cheeky result was like an haute-cuisine barbecue.

John Hogan, chef at Chicago's Tavern at the Park, was formerly chef and proprietor of Chicago's Savarin when it was hailed as one of "America's Top 50 Restaurants" by Travel & Leisure and "Best Restaurant of 1999" by Esquire Magazine. His Duck Dumplings in Consumme with Asian Spices showed off a delectable duck sausage and a lovely concentrated broth -it was like the best wonton soup you've never had.

Sushi had a date with southern barbecue in a fancy restaurant in William Koval's Marinated Ahi Tuna and Char-Sui Pork Shoulder dish. Koval, who graduated at the top of his class at the CIA, became the youngest executive chef in the Ritz Carlton company at age 25 before going on to head the French Room in Dallas when it was named one of "America's Top Tables" by Gourmet magazine. He is currently the executive chef at Lakewood Country Club in Dallas.

Gonzalo Martinez Cardenas came all the way from the beautiful artist colony city of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and boy am I glad he made the journey. His fabulous Suckling Pig Carnitas Ravioli and Avocado and Tomatillo Soup managed to deliver full-force classic Mexican flavors in a modern and elegant presentation.

If you've ever marveled at the hand-painted chocolates and other beautiful items in the dessert case at Spagio, then you have Ghyslain Maurais to blame. That's because they all emanate from his operation in, of all places, Union City, Indiana. But Maurais got his training in Canada where he won four gold medals on the Canadian (culinary) Olympic team and an overall first place. I loved his rich Chocolate Caramel Cup and his two-toned coffee and dark chocolate candy shaped kinda like a bodhisattva gave me a spark of enlightenment.

Shawn McClain, who was named the James Beard 2006 Best Chef Midwest, currently oversees Sage in Las Vegas and Green Zebra in Chicago. His Peeky-toe Crab with Pickled Pepper and Sweet Potato Broth offered lots of sweet meat, crunch and fun Asian accents.

Spagio owner and chef Hubert Siefert has been at the forefront of the Columbus haute cuisine scene since 1981. As host of Dining With the Stars, he pulled out all the stops with his playful take on an egg cup. In that luxurious and witty dish, a savory brulee filled in for the cooked egg white while Tuna Tartar and Sevruga Caviar did the job of luscious "yolks." From presentation to texture and taste, wows all around.

Before becoming Chef de Cuisine at Blackbird, one of Chicago's most-talked-about restaurants, Mike Sheerin's resume was loaded. He spent time at one of New York's edgiest restaurants (WD-50) as well as three of its fanciest (Lutece, Jean-George and Atlas). Sheerin's Duck Prosciutto and Razor Clam Country Pate made a happy marriage of plump and sweet aquatic creature meat, an earthy terrine and a tangy little salad. Talk about a party on a plate.

After graduating with honors from culinary school, Allen Sternweiler worked in France at a trio of Michelin-starred restaurants. He's been singled out by Fodor's travel guide and Wine Spectator magazine for excellence. His Sauteed Sea Scallops had an astoundingly deep and dark crust on them which segued smoothly into a rich oxtail with black truffle sauce that ate like super-fancy short ribs.

When I saw Dean Zanella carving a suckling pig stuffed with pork sausage, I felt like I'd been transported to Italy - or hog heaven. And Zanella's Porchetta with Pickled Fennel and a tart arugula salad was one of the evening's highlights. Before becoming top-dog at Chicago's Aldino's, Zanella worked for world-famous chef Charlie Trotter.

Angelika Zossmayer hails from the hills of Northern Italy where the culture is a lively hybrid of German and Italian. Back home, Zossmayer specializes in locally grown-ingredient-fueled cooking and gets much of her fresh stuff from her family-owned farm. Her Bacon Dumplings with Porcini Mushroom Sauce was like a hybrid itself - a wonderfully winey and creamy soft globe of comfort somewhere between a meatball and a dumpling.