Thursday, July 15, 2010

Renowned Chefs Take Nashville to Higher Ground

Posted By on Thu, Jul 15, 2010 at 12:26 PM

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We told you a couple of weeks ago about the fundraiser called Taking Nashville's Table to Higher Ground, created to benefit Nashville charities Mobile Loaves and Fishes and the Community Resource Center, which helped sustain victims and volunteers after the devastating May flood. Hopefully some of you were able to jump on the ticket offer before all the tables sold out. A full house enjoyed a seven-course meal plus wine pairings Tuesday night at the Cannery Ballroom and went home full and happy.

Legendary Nashville writer and food historian John Egerton emceed the event, which he kicked off by introducing the man who was the driving force behind the project, Nashville Realtor Thomas Williams. A dedicated foodie and avid supporter of the local restaurant scene, Williams was greeted with a standing ovation from the 250-plus attendees. The man obviously has deep roots in the community.

Egerton delivered a short soliloquy about how we Southerners often deliver food to the grieving as a way to express concern and support in ways that reach far past verbal. Even the most laconic of Southerners will cook up a favorite recipe in tribute to someone who needs their support. If you didn't really like them, Egerton joked, you could always stop by Kroger on the way to the funeral home.

So Tuesday's event was like the Southern Foodways Alliance master chefs' version of bringing food to comfort our grieving community in the aftermath of May's flooding. The chefs from around the region who contributed their talents were:

John Fleer, Lonesome Valley, Cashiers, N.C.
John Currence, City Grocery, Oxford, Miss.
Lee Richardson, Capital Hotel, Little Rock, Ark.
Linton Hopkins, Restaurant Eugene, Atlanta
Kelly English, Restaurant Iris, Memphis
Nick Seabergh, Giardina's, Greenwood, Miss.
David Gaus, Washington, D.C.-based pastry chef and restaurant consultant (his company is called DamGoodSweet)

Local chefs Tandy Wilson of City House, Will Ulhorn of F. Scott's and Tyler Brown and Cole Ellis of Capitol Grille also contributed as hosting chefs by opening their kitchens to the visiting virtuosos. Many other local chefs, restaurants, food purveyors and philanthropists donated products and services, which raised over $40,000 as part of silent and live auction items.

Hoyt Hill of Village Wine and Spirits provided the wine pairings that accompanied the meal, and Corsair donated the punch to the punch with their artisan gin. So most importantly, how was the food?

Considering the limitations of the venue, I think the chefs did an amazing job, devising and executing a menu of complicated plates that didn't necessarily have to be served piping hot. (The Cannery Ballroom lacks a kitchen.) The logistics of transporting, plating and serving 30-plus tables while conducting a live auction at the same time led to a long evening. But the company was pleasant and the attitude was convivial. Someone commented (OK, it was me) that it was like attending the most kickass wedding reception ever.

Champagne and a mint-watermelon punch with gin and prosecco accompanied passed hors d'oeuvres as diners arrived and perused the silent auction items. Nick Seabergh created hors d'oeuvres, most notably his Benton's Bacon Rilletes with celery and pickled peppers served on homemade soda crackers.

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Kelly English's first course of Pate of Tennessee Foie Gras was served with a ginger foam that tasted a little bit like a champagne gelée. His fellow ex-New Orleanian Lee Richardson presented a delightful grilled Gulf shrimp served on top of a grilled romaine pocket stuffed with smoked bacon and avocado. Believe it or not, the grilled romaine was one of my personal highlights of the evening.

John Fleer offered a sweet and flavorful buttermilk-glazed Sunburst Trout, which was served atop tomato-and-cornbread panzanella. Here's hoping that somebody local cribs that panzanella idea for their own menu. I promise I won't squeal on them. Linton Hopkins' heirloom chicken thigh was topped with I can only describe as the best pork rinds I've ever eaten. And I've eaten a few ...

John Currence finished the savory courses with a grilled, butter-braised chuck short rib. (At least that's what the menu said. Sitting in the back of the room, members of our table theorized that they must have run out of short ribs, because what appeared on our plates sure looked a lot like tri-tip.) It was well-seasoned and served on top of horseradish/bacon heirloom grits.

David Guas finished the evening's repast at about 11 p.m. with a buttermilk panna cotta alongside bourbon-poached peaches and a honey-graham cracker drizzled with basil syrup. It was a little late for me to be eating dessert, but it was worth the wait.

All in all, the event was a resounding success. Thanks to everyone who contributed their money, time, food and efforts to these deserving charities, and here's hoping we can have more events like this without necessarily having to endure the tragedies that often precipitate them.

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