A Night Showcasing Dallas’ Culinary Best: StarChefs.com Rising Stars Revue

28 Jun

About a month ago I was invited to an exciting culinary event hosting all the top chefs from the DFW area and showcasing their signature dishes, the StarChefs.com Rising Stars Revue.  2007 was a debut year for the event in Dallas, but StarChefs has been hosting this gala since 2003 and has been in 11 cities prior to Dallas.  For 2007, in addition to Dallas, events are scheduled for San Francisco, New York, and Atlanta.  StarChefs picks their top chefs based on in-person interviews and tastings of recommended candidates.  At the gala, each of the signature dishes which won these chefs their recognition were featured in tasting sizes along with wine pairings.  Sounds like a night in heaven for a foodie, right?

And what a treat it was!  As much as I eat out in the area, I haven’t had a chance to sample a large variety of the finer fares, haute cuisine, etc.  My excitement was further amplified when I saw the list of top chefs the gala featured: Chef Anthony Bombaci of Nana, Chef David Gilbert of Luqa, Chef Scott Gottlich of Bijoux, Chef Lanny Lancarte of Lanny’s Alta Cocina Mexicana, Chef Kevin Maxey of Craft Dallas, Chef Tracy Miller of Local, Chef Tre Wilcox of Abacus, Pastry Chef Katherine Clapner of Stephan Pyles Pastry, Chef Shannon Swindle of Craft Dallas, Pastry Chef Morgan Wilson of Bijoux, Sommelier James Tidwell of Café on the Green, Bar Chef Justin Beam of Craft Dallas, Hotel Chef Marc Cassel of Dragonfly at Hotel Zaza, Sustainability Award Chef Sharon Hage of York Street, and Host Chef Tom Fleming of Central 214 at Hotel Palomar.  What a list!  Imagine a tasting menu featuring not just the creations of one talented chef, but more than a dozen!

Alright, enough excitement, onto the food! 

The evening at the Hotel Palomar started with a VIP reception at Central 214, Tom Fleming’s restaurant inside the hotel.  Here guests whet their appetites for the main event with delicious Maryland crab cakes, full caviar service, and a special treat, Nicolas Feiullatte Palmes d’Or 1995 champagne.  I have to admit I wasn’t a fan of bubbly until that night.  Due to one too many encounters with cheap champagne/sparkling wines at New Year’s Eve parties, I had dismissed the whole category of champagne as wine gone to waste only good for making Mimosas and such.  It wouldn’t even be right to call this vintage “bubbly.”  The smooth texture and subtle flavor… it was truly like tasting champagne for the first time without the intrusive carbonation and acidic bite.  I would love to host my next New Year’s Eve with a vintage similar to this, but these rare goodies go for about $100/bottle and well, I just don’t love my friends THAT much 🙂

At the reception, I sat down and reviewed the program of the main tasting event and attempted to form a “plan of attack.”  There were just so many dishes featured on the program that I knew my stomach wouldn’t have room for it all.  I’d have to pick out the ones that sounded the most interesting and tasty.  That had the be the hardest part of the night.

Good thing my “plan” got thrown out the window as soon as I walked into the grand ballroom for the main event.  I probably should have had more self control, but instead I ate everything I could in sight.  Trust me, you wouldn’t be able to resist, either.  Below are some of the features I sampled that night (I tried to photograph everything, but between juggling plates, wine glasses, and the camera, some of them were either missed or came out blurry).

Chef Anthony Bombaci of Nana’s Slow-Cooked and Seared Cervena Venison Loin with Caramelized Bananas, Thai Peanut Sauce, and Cilantro:

bombaci-seared-venison-loin.jpg

Ridiculously tender, medium finish venison.  Melt in your mouth good. 

Chef David Gilbert of Luqa’s Fruit Slider with Rosewater Cream and Passion Fruit Curd:

gilbert-fruit-slider.jpg

A really fun appetizer or intermezzo course.  One quick sucking action returns a world of fruity, creamy flavors.

Chef Scott Gottlich of Bijoux’s Slow-Braised Pork Belly with Thai Red Curry Sauce:

gottlich-pork-belly.jpg

I’ve had pork belly on two other occasions: the one time in my life I tried pork rinds and once at Casa Vieja, a Colombian restaurant in Carrollton.  Let’s just say neither time was the pork belly this tender or flavorful.  The fatty part was crunchy on the outside, juicy on the inside, in contrast with the tenderness of the meaty part.  And theflavor of the sauce was unexpected but great.  I can’t believe it either, but I like pork belly.

Chef Lanny Lancarte of Lanny’s Alta Cocina Mexicana’s Elk Loin with Mole Colorado:

lancarte-elk-loin.jpg

This was my favorite dish of the night.  I love mole but I’ve never had it on anything but chicken.  Wild game like elk is usually served with a fruit-based sauce so an earthy sauce like mole is so unexpected, yet palette-pleasing.  Lancarte’s other dish of the night, lobster ravioli with Hudson Valley foie gras butter and brussels sprouts, also earned high marks from everyone I attended the event with.  I’ll be visiting Lanny’s Alta Cocina Mexicana in Fort Worth for that next splurge dinner, it’ll be worth the drive out west.

Chef Tracy Miller of Local’s Rosemary-Scented Lamb Chop with Madeira-Honey Finish:

miller-rose-mary-scented-lamb-chop.jpg

I love rosemary on anything.  Enough said.

I know it seems like all I ate was red meat, but that’s really not the case.  These are just the photos that came out somewhat well.  Other items on the program include squab, skate, risotto, tortellini, cream of celery soup, duck (Chef Tre Wilcox’s Duck Three Ways was the favorite dish of the night for two others in the group), and more.  Host Chef Tom Fleming grilled up some delicious diver scallops with rock shrimp lentil ragout.

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Now for desserts.

Pastry Chef Shannon Swindle of Craft’s Goat Ricotta Cheesecake with Goat Butter Brittle, Poached Forelle Pear, and Honey Tuile:

swindle-goat-ricotta-cheesecake.jpg

The flavors in this desert were very subtle and understated, in a good way.  Cheesecake can sometimes be overpowering but that was certainly not the case here.

Pastry Chef Morgan Wilson of Bijoux’s Espresso and Wisconsin Mascarpone Trifle:

wilson-espresson-mascarpone.jpg

If you like tiramisu, then you’ll love this.  That’s an understatement… you’ll worship this!  A chocolate lover myself, this was definitely my favorite dessert of the night.

And we can’t forget about drinks! 

Featured Mixologist Chef Justin Beam’s Sparking Py’rus:

sparkling-pyrus.jpg

This concoction of Grey Goose, lemon juice, pear syrup and pear juice, with sparkling Moscato d’ASti and crystallized ginger was refreshing and complex at the same time.  Not too sweet, not too overwhelming. 

The night was culinary perfection, minus one detail.  There were wine pairings with each dish available at specific stations.  However, those stations were not always stocked with wine glasses, so you had to walk outside the ballroom to get a wine glass, come back to the station for the wine, all while transporting your plate that you just can’t wait to voraciously devour.  Needless to say, patience with the wine-tasting procedure wore thin after the first couple of attempts.  Had that logistic detail been smoother, and thus allowing easier access to each wine pairing for every featured dish, the night would have been flawless.

The room was also a bit toasty from all the grills/stoves the chefs were operating.  But warm temperature is a small sacrifice for top notch creative cuisine prepared right in front of you.

Two additional interesting notes:

1. Le Cordon Bleu is opening a Dallas campus soon.  I wonder if they will have programs for part-time students or recreational classes.  Maybe when I finish with my master’s in engineering, I can make an attempt at culinary school.

2. I entered in a raffle for a Jade Range benefitting the North Texas Food Bank at the gala.  The winner?  “Donna…” the announcer paused just long enough after the first name to get my heart pounding at an accelerated pace, but alas, the last name she called was not mine.  Everyone else in my group got a good laugh out of it though.

I also made it to the after party at Petrus Lounge above Luqa for a short while.  Though the complimentary Grey Goose vodka cocktails kept coming, it was a weeknight and I had to call it quits just before midnight.  It appeared to be an excellent time to mingle with the choice people of the Dallas food industry and I would definitely recommend attending the event to any aspiring chefs in the area.

At the end of the night, the StarChefs.com Rising Stars Revue turned out to be a fabulous, fun, and delicious event with just what it promised, the best of fine, creative cuisine in Dallas.  And you can sample it all in two hours!  I will definitely be back when the gala returns to Dallas in future years.  In fact, one of the friends who attended the event with me is moving to Atlanta in the fall, and I’m trying to make plans for a visit during the Atlanta StarChefs Revue!

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One Response to “A Night Showcasing Dallas’ Culinary Best: StarChefs.com Rising Stars Revue”

  1. yoursurprise-bellatio-4 12/03/2011 at 1:25 pm #

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