Okay, so he wasn’t at my table. But I was fortunate to be a part of a dinner for 30 in Chef Ferran Adrià’s honor at the Nelson-Atkins Museum on Monday evening. (If you don’t know who he is, Google “el Bulli”. Suffice to say, many consider Adrià to be the world’s great chef.) It was held in the Cloisters, a very intimate and beautiful room that provided the perfect backdrop for a memorable evening.
Ten great Kansas City chefs, all in one room, came together to prepare dinner for a master. They outdid themselves and made our city proud. From start to finish the meal was exquisite and the service flawless. Each chef was responsible for creating one dish, and a “Who’s Who” of Kansas City sommeliers did the wine pairings. The restaurateurs brought their general managers, top servers, and sommeliers to make sure the evening went without a hitch. The amount of talent in Rozelle Court where the staging took place was unlike anything that has occurred in KC’s culinary history, and watching each chef pitch in to help execute the meal course-by-course was a sight to behold. It was also exciting to see that the chefs sourced their ingredients from local farmers.
Jonathan Pye of the Nelson started us off with White and Green Asparagus, Pickled Asparagus Coins, Speck, Preserved Egg Yolk, Citrus Chevre and Chorizo Lace, which was paired with Moet and Chandon Imperial Brut. It looked like a painting.
White and Green Asparagus, Pickled Asparagus coins, smoky preserved egg yolk, citrus chevre, chorizo oil, tangerine lace
Course Two was the responsibility of Michael Corvino of The American, and he scored with a beautiful dish of King Crab, Chicken Liver, Turnip, Nasturtium, served with a delightful 2012 Brut Rosé from Sotor Vineyard in Oregon. To say it was luscious is an understatement.
King Crab, Chicken Liver, Turnip, Nasturtium
Michael Smith’s Course Three was a ceviche that played more like a crudo, with different tunas binded together and sliced to create a stunning presentation. It was topped with caviar and served with a chimichurri that was sublime. The 2013 Lagar da Condesa Albarino, Rias Baixas, Spain that accompanied it was a revelation to me, as it isn’t typically a wine I seek out, but it was lovely with the fish.
Jennifer Maloney of Café Sebastienne made a colorful coconut ginger broth. While it sounded simple on the menu, each spoonful was silky and the flavors were beautifully harmonious. There was even an edible flower with a button of a soft sheep’s milk cheese substituting for the pistil. The 2012 Navarro Gewurztraminer that was paired with it had floral notes and a dry finish to set off the spices in the broth.
Coconut Ginger Broth, Spring Greens and Pickled Mango
Tad Habiger of Room 39 was in charge of Course Five, making a light and lovely Spinach and Fresh Cheese Gnudi with Lamb Pancetta. The crunch of the pancetta was the perfect counterpoint to the softness of the gnudi. Thje dish was paired with a 2011 Henry Fessy Chateau de Reyssiers Beaujolais Régnié, a light red wine.
Spinach and Fresh Cheese Gnudi, Lamb Pancetta, Sunflower
For Course Six Debbie Gold served a Coddle Duck Egg, Sunchoke and Chocolate Coffee Crumble, a very dramatic dish that was the topic of much conversation. We were instructed to break the yolk by using a baby spoon and pushing it all the way to the bottom of the shell to ensure that we had the full onslaught of flavors in every bite. A stunning 2103 Domaine de la Reserve d’O “Bilbo”, St. Saturnin, Languedoc, France cut the richnes of the dish.
Coddled Duck Egg, Sunchoke, Chocolate Coffee Crumble
Carl Thorne- Thomsen of Story presented us with a simple, yet elegant fish for Course Seven. Wild King Salmon with Carrots and Radishes was paired with one of my new favorite Pinot Noir producers. It was a 2012 Anthill Farms Comptche Ridge Pinot Noir and it was the ideal pairing for the light salmon dish.
Course Eight was under the purview of Howard Hanna of the Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange, and knowing his affinity for rabbit, it was no surprise to see his Smoked Rabbit and Dumplings with Spring Vegetables and Fines Herbs. Each cylinder of rabbit was wrapped in bacon, and adorable little dumplings were tucked in around them. The 2010 La Spinetta, Langhe Nebbiolo, Piedmont, Italy played nicely with the smokiness of the dish, but was very enjoyable on its own as well.
Smoked Rabbit and Dumplings, Spring Vegetables
By the time it was time for Ryan Brazeal’s Course Nine, we were all slowing down a bit. But who could resist Beef Sirloin, Short Rib Lemongrass Braise and Rice Noodles? The distinct Thai flavors that the short rib had been braised with shone through, and the 2009 Poggio Antico Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Tuscany, Italy, was strong enough to stand up to their intensity.
Beef Sirloin, Short Rib Lemongrass Braise, Rice noodles
Around 10:30 pm, we were served Course Ten, and though it was getting late I was sorry to see the evening winding down. Megan Garrelts, employing Chef Colby as her sous-chef gave us her interpretation of Creme Caramel, and though it was almost too pretty to touch, none of us could reist. The Creme Caramel, Rhubarb, White Sesame, Lemon, Strawberry and Thyme was paired with a not-too-sweet dessert wine, the 2005 Isole e Olena, Vin Santo del Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy.
Crème Caramel, Rhubarb, White Sesame, Lemon, Strawberry, Thyme
We concluded the meal with Petit Fours in Cocoa, but we weren’t finished indulging. Ryan Maybee of Manifesto and The Rieger had concocted a Digestivo, A Sevilla Stout. It was distinctly layered with Bitter Coffee Cordial, Vanilla & Spices, Anis del Mono and Cream. Strong yet comforting.
Sevilla Stout: Bitter Coffee Cordial, Vanilla & Spices, Anis del Mono, Cream
The wine pairings were every bit as memorable as the dishes themselves, as they elevated the cuisine to a higher level and were spot on. A shout out to those who made the wine selections:
Stephen Blackmon, general manager, American Dining Concepts at the Nelson-Atkins
Ross Jackson, wine director, The American Restaurant
Ryan Sciara, Underdog Wine Co.
Dean Smith, general manager, Café Sebastienne
Kathy Rohlfing, general manager/sommelier, Room 39
Jeff Thrall, general manager, Story
Tony Glamcevski, general manager/partner, The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange
Richard Garcia, general manager, Novel
Jeremy Lamb, general manager/sommelier, bluestem/Rye
If I had all the servers’ names, I’d list them, too. Their professionalism and skill was very much appreciated.
It was obvious that Chef Adrià was extremely impressed and delighted by the high level of quality and execution that was on display through the entire evening. I have to believe that being at a table with all Spanish speakers allowed him to relax and revel in the entire experience, rather than having to speak through an interpreter throughout the dinner.
I have been fortunate to have been able to enjoy some pretty incredible culinary adventures in my life, but this was undoubtedly one of the finest and most memorable. It was certainly enhanced by the fact that it occurred in my hometown, but what made it more meaningful was that the professionals who orchestrated and executed this huge undertaking are people that I know, admire and respect.