Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Fun Playing With Food to Benefit the March of Dimes

Last night, I was privileged to serve as a judge, helping three colleagues bestow bragging rights upon one of the generous chefs who donated time, energy, staff and food towards the fabulous March of Dimes Cleveland Signature Chefs Auction, which benefited the Cleveland chapter of March of Dimes. As always at such an event - all of the participants are winners. Still, chefs are so competitive - so who won and who was close?

The judging panel consisted of myself, Chef and restaurant owner Brian Okin (most recently of Verve, and now with Dinner in the Dark and Chef's Garden), Personal Chef Mary Wills of The Good Fork catering service, and former Cleveland Brown and now Cuyahoga Common Pleas Judge Dick Ambrose. As an occasional quantity cook, and food provider to 1800+ people a year and a half ago, I shouldn't feel so intimidated by those who earn their livings in the kitchen - but I have keen respect for them. As an attorney who used to aggressively litigate in the very courtroom that Judge Ambrose now presides over (but who now uses that savvy to work the business deals that hopefully avoid messy litigation) - I admit to a little stage fright over sharing the judging table with him. I suppose that it's a complement to my non-litigation corporate practice that he didn't have a clue as to who I am (in my day job, at least) - I'll take it! (My AVOO law practice profile and rating are accessible from a link to the left of this blog entry, BTW.) So - what did we eat and how did we like it?

First - apologies to Muse at the Ritz Carlton - our winner! Chef Constantine Vourliotis created an amazing bite - which I did not get a photo of! The irony was that I had just mentioned to Judge Okin that facing the 27 or so plates we'd been promised (thank heavens it turned out to be closer to 22) made me feel like I was at  Chicago's Alinea (known for its 23 course high end, small plate tasting menu). When this plate was set in front of me - I don't know how I didn't snap a photo. The look of the plate really reminded me of Alinea! Chef Vourliotis's plate held a delicate black truffle gnocchi that popped, well, like the "truffle explosion" dish at Alinea. And the sauce, contained in a slender "squeeze it" stick - completed the sophisticated feel and flavor of the dish.

I must also apologize to Umamai Asian Kitchen and Chef Matthew Anderson for not snapping a photo of his goat cheese dumpling and beef tartare with kimchi - again, the momentarily rushed logistics must have distracted me.

So - what did I manage to photograph? A pretty amazing culinary display. Play along with me, will you?

Dim and Den Sum -Cumin-Pear Soup topped with Stone Crab

Dim and Den Sum - Warm Rum/Apple Cider Shooter

Chef Chris Hodgson of Dim and Den Sum almost always pleases - and this pairing was one of the top rated. The complexity of the pear and cumin soup, topped with pristine seafood, and accompanied by a rum cocktail (I am a rum lover) completely won me over. 

Quince - "Surf & Turf" - Tuna with Cranberry over Sweet Potato Chip and BBQ Beef

I'd honestly not known much about Gregg Korney's Quince (in Olmsted Falls) - but this dish made me sit up and take notice! I adored the dried but moist cranberries and the way they popped with the tuna tartare and sweet potato chip; the BBQ beef also delivered. This was among my top three picks.

AMP 150 - Smoked Salmon with Cranberry-Beet-Horseradish Relish and Creme Fraiche

Chef Ellis Cooley once again knocked flavors out of the park - using some textures similar to the preceding dish - but with the addition of fresh beets and a touch of horseradish below the perfectly smoked fish. The creme fraiche was a perfect counterpoint - loved this!

Foundation Room/House of Blues - Walleye Escabeche with Popcorn Shoots 

Chef Teresa Todia did a really nice job with this. While I didn't catch what type of pasta is under the fish - those popcorn shoots absolutely exploded with flavor - and at this time of year! The subtle chile sealed the deal for me. Great textures and flavors, Chef!

Melange - Fresh Veggie Chips, Diced Red Bell Pepper, Smoked Bleu Cheese, Bacon

This was the first dish we tasted. Chef Adam Bostwick created a lovely light bite with this - just enough bleu cheese flavor to tickle the palate without overwhelming, plus a fall melange (sorry) of root vegetable chips, plus bacon = winner.

Blue Canyon - Lobster Mac 'N Cheese with Bacon

What can I say about Chef Brandt Evans's staple comfort food with a lobstery twist? I should note that Chef Evans was 2010 Honorary Chef for this event - which I suspect meant more work and expense for him, rather than more glory. Huzzah, Chef Brandt - your Mac 'N Cheese did not disappoint - it was creamy and delicious!

Bistro 185 - Lobster Ravioli with Laughing Bird Shrimp

Speaking of lobster - I really enjoyed this plate from Ruth and Marc Levine - owners and chefs at Bistro 185.  The lobster ravioli and lobster-infused sauce were both delicious. But I have a soft spot for Laughing Bird Shrimp, as evidenced by this blog post - well played Ruth and Marc!

Three Birds - Pulled Pork Potsticker over Black Bean Puree, pickled onions, tomato

This plate also got a lot of love from the judges. Honestly, when it was first put in front of me and described - I didn't think the bean puree would "go" with the Asian-inspired potsticker. Well, let me tell you - the flavors and textures all harmonized quite nicely. The crunch of the pickled vegetables really brought it all together.

Willoughby Brewing Company - Surf and Turf Pierogie

As you can see, the event was down to the paper plates by the time this item was served to us (but yay for the white background = better photo). Another toothsome and tasty offering!

Marigold Catering - Lemon Tarragon Crab Salad in Vanilla in a mini-ice cream-cone

Chef Mike Smith chose wisely in flavoring his crab salad with lemon and tarragon - those flavors married well with the gentle hint of vanilla from the mini-cone. I liked this a lot.

Palate - Stewed Shortrib with julienned carrot and potato, green onion

Chef Jeff Jarrett (formerly of The Leopard, Dante, Lockkeepers and North End in Hudson) has made short rib his signature dish, and this one delivered. Though it was my 22nd plate of the evening - I ate the whole chunk of meat (though only a bit of the veg - sorry Michael Pollen). It was that tasty.

Great Lakes Brewing Company - Bourbon Soaked Bread Pudding

What can you say about bread pudding that is swimming in bourbon-infused butter. Yum!

Shinto - "Little Delicious" roll: spicy tuna, crab, roe, eel sauce, tempura; Spicy tuna roll, California Roll 

Chef Jimmy Soria presented us with a little delicious slice of tempuraed-sushi heaven. I understand why their "Little Delicious" roll has won them awards.

Dish Deli - Wild Mushroom Strudel and Butternut Squash-Apple-Bleu Cheese Tart

I have a soft spot in my heart and palate for Chef Donna Chriszt - to make the long story short - she saved a disastrous wedding anniversary dinner night for Bob and I (which featured a monsoon-like rain storm as we abandoned the first restaurant that completely failed us, which is now long out of business) about 13 years ago. She totally rocks the kitchen.
La Dolce - First plate - Farfalle with Fresh Vegetables, Anchovy, Garlic, Onion
La Dolce Vita -  Second plate - pasta, sweet corn, tomato, veg

La Strada - Steamed Mussels with white wine, garlic and Harrisa sauce

Even though I am not a mussel fan - I enjoyed nibbling on these - and the sauce really rocked it with a little spice and generous herbaceousness.

Ken Stewart's - Lamb Meatball over Crostini

Ken Stewart's - Angel Food Cake with Sweet Toppings

Duet Catering - Shrimp Salad

Unfortunately - I was photographing and not listening when Chef Pamela Waterman explained her dish.

Corleone's - Scallop, Winter Squash Puree, Pecans

So sorry Chef Marlon Mayorga that my lone shot of your People's Choice award winning dish is not sharply focused. This dish won the People's Choice award for the evening, and I swear it tasted better than this photo makes it look.

Pier W - Lobster Salad

Again - apologies to Chef Regan Reik - this was the next to last plate that we were served, and in my rush to photograph, I did not get a good description. It was light and lovely, however.

And so, after playing with no fewer than 22 plates from some of Cleveland's finest chefs - all I could say was, "I'm full." As noted, Muse at Ritz Carlton won the "official" judging, and Corleone's won "People's Choice." It was an interesting process to sit at "judges' table" and I thank Jennifer Lawson and the March of Dimes not only for offering me that opportunity, but for offering me the ability to give away two tickets to this event on this blog (I understand that my winner went on to win a cruise to the Bahamas in February in the silent auction  - pretty sweet!) As we approach the end of the calendar year, when those with means are incentivised to contribute to worthwhile charities - I hope that the March of Dimes remains on your radar as a cause truly worthy of your attention.

And a shout out to Joe Harvey, who it seems works his buns off at all of these local charitable food events - his company, LocalFoodService.com, has a lot to offer to our local food community - please check them out and consider playing with their food!


  1. Sounds like it was a great event!

  2. aw, shux... thanks Nancy... this was another well run and executed event, for sure! (BTW: Chef Jeff Jarrett will be opening his own place, Palate, early in December! http://www.PalateCleveland.com