During the hot days of summer, the food industry is saturated with steep competition; establishments are displaying diverse menus and promotions to lure diners and keep them wanting more. This year, restaurants across the country have sought collaboration among the diverse culinary and baking talent in the back of the house for chef-driven promotions to entice foodies.
Chef vs. chef
On July 15, Hotel Shattuck Plaza's Five-Modern American Bistro & Bar in Berkeley, Calif., launched its first dinner of a one-of-a-kind quarterly series entitled, "Banks and Scott's Seasonal Showdown Dinners." Together, executive chef Banks White and creative consulting chef Scott Howard composed a five-course dinner menu themed to fit within the typical summer palate--barbecue.
(l to r) Chefs Scott Howard and Banks White prepare dueling dishes for Five's Seasonal Showdown Dinner
This meal, however, presented a twist to diners: Each course unveiled dueling dishes from the chefs while the patrons became the food critics, rating their favorite from each course on the basis of creativity, taste and presentation. The chefs utilized ingredients that promoted local, sustainable and organic farmers while representing the flavors from their home states--White celebrating Texas and Howard highlighting North Carolina. Pastry chef Robert Hac created desserts that showcased the chefs' influence while Rosenblum Cellars paired the perfect wines with each course. The dinner was priced at $52 without wine pairings and $65 with wine pairings.
Upcoming "Banks and Scott's Seasonal Showdown Dinners" will be a fall harvest and beer-themed meal on Oct. 21, and a sustainable seafood and champagne-themed dinner on Jan. 20, 2011.
Showcasing a star baker
Gracie's Restaurant, Providence, R.I., embraced the talents of internationally recognized baker Ciril Hitz on Aug. 9 as the featured chef in the restaurant's second Star Chef Series. Hitz captivated Gracie's guests with intricate creations built upon his diverse experience.
Hitz studied three years in Switzerland, learning and perfecting the science of developing appetizing and attractive breads and pastries. In 2002, he placed second for the U.S. at the Coupe de Monde de La Boulangerie in Paris; he went on to take the gold overall at the National Bread and Pastry Team Championship in Atlantic City, N.J., in 2004. Hitz's artisan breads and pastries have been featured on "The Today Show" and The Food Network.
As a guest at the Star Chef Series, Hitz was paired up with Gracie's culinary team, led by executive chef Matthew Varga. Collaboratively, they invented an exclusive five-course menu that was paired with matching wines. The five-course menu with wine pairings featuring the talents of Hitz, Varga and Gracie's culinary team sold for $100 a ticket.
Speakeasy redux for a cause
The Palmer House Hilton, Chicago, teamed up with Phillip Foss, formerly executive chef of Lockwood (Foss has since moved on to pursue an independent venture), to bring elite chefs and local distilleries together to benefit the Shawn Koch Foundation.
The Prohibition-themed event, "The Speakeasy Throwback: A Summit of Local Spirit Producers & Chicago Chefs," was held on Aug. 5 in the Palmer House Hilton's legendary Empire Room (pictured, below). The Speakeasy Throwback was created to raise funds for a local charity benefiting former beverage manager Shawn Koch, who has been fighting an unusual type of brain cancer. A silent auction, live music, tasty rations and a grand bathtub lavished to the brim with spirits were just some of the evening’s highlights. Tickets sold for $95 per person.
Top Chicagoland distilleries that participated in the Speakeasy Throwback included Koval Distillery, North Shore Distillery, Death's Door Spirits, Templeton Rye, Hum Botanical Spirits, as well as Rare Tea Cellar. Each beverage station was equipped with a complementing chef; some participating chefs were Frank Brunacci of Sixteen, Curtis Duffy of Avenues, Dave Carrier of Kith & Kin, Mike Sheerin of Blackbird, Andrew Zimmerman of Sepia, Jerome Landrieu of Barry Callebaut Chocolate Academy, Stephanie Izard of Girl and the Goat, plus more, including Foss.
Collectively, these chefs and distilleries presented patrons with a variety of savory and sweet morsels matched together with their ideal cocktail. The evening brought together food and beverage enthusiasts with the opportunity to enjoy the talents of multiple prestigious chefs and beverage producers together under one roof while supporting one of their own. Donations can still be made today by visiting www.caringbridge.org/visit/shawnkoch.