Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Savoring Savor Nashville: A Wrap-Up

Posted By on Tue, Jun 7, 2011 at 8:06 AM

First course: lobster popovers, a demitasse of chilled minted English pea, and hot pork belly bap
  • First course: lobster popovers, a demitasse of chilled minted English pea, and hot pork belly bap
My digestive system is still recovering from Saturday night's gustatory orgy, otherwise known as Savor Nashville. The event featured five James Beard award-winning chefs working in tandem with five local chefs to present — you guessed it! — five courses. The visiting celebrity chefs included Robert Del Grande of Houston's RDG + Bar Annie, Larry Forgione of An American Place (St. Louis, Las Vegas), Bob Kinkead of Washington, D.C.'s Kinkead's, Lydia Shire of Scampo (Boston) and Blue Sky (York Beach, Maine), and Norman Van Aken of Norman's in Orlando, Fla. The local chefs were Tayst's Jeremy Barlow, Watermark's Matt Bolus, the downtown Hilton's Matt Simonds, Sunset Grill's Brian Uhl and Capitol Grille's Megan Williams.

All in all, the event was quite enjoyable, in no small part due to the fine performance by the star of the evening: the food. I attempted to document the evening with iPhone photos taken in less than ideal lighting (by an even lesser than ideal photographer).

The first course, presented by Shire and Simonds, featured lobster popovers, a demitasse of chilled minted English pea, and hot pork belly bap. In a nod to Tennessee, Shire threw a little Jack Daniel's into the popover sauce (if my challenged memory serves me correctly). The popover was terrific, and the pork belly was superb, with a crispy layer of skin giving way to tender layers of pork and fat. The belly was served on a Chinese bun with a little hoison sauce.

Brazilian shrimp chowder
  • Second course: Brazilian shrimp chowder
The second course, prepared by Van Aken and Barlow, was a delicious Brazilian shrimp chowder. Van Aken told the crowd that the base of the soup was supposed to be shipped from Florida but failed to arrive, so they improvised at the last minute. The result revealed no apparent compromise. The Florida chef also said that his Orlando restaurant typically uses conch, but since it's not readily available here in Middle Tennessee, shrimp was the obvious substitute.

While the first two courses were fabulous, the third was our clear favorite: Kinkead and Bolus' brioche- and mustard-crusted halibut with porcini broth, fava beans and exotic mushroom agnolotti. The fish and sauce were divine, and the agnolotti — somewhere between a ravioli and a wonton — was equally sublime.

By the time Del Grande and Uhl's roasted "Triple NY" steak with beef rib mole and hominy arrived, we were pretty stuffed, though we managed to eat a fair bit of the tender beef. On another night it might have been the highlight of a meal, but it didn't knock our socks off as much as the other courses. In that regard, it had two things going against it: First, we were so full by the time it arrived; second, good beef shouldn't be fussed with much, and they followed that philosophy here, so naturally, there were less bells and whistles to wow us. Still, it was a successful course.

Finally, Forgione and Williams' dessert course included "HI Vintage" chocolate macadamia torte, James Beard strawberry rhubarb shortcake and candied citrus charlotte russe. They were all delightful, though we barely had room for more than a bite of each.

Wines were provide by Livermore, Calif.s' Concannon Vineyard. I'm not a drinker, but my girlfriend and table companions had mostly positive things to say about the wine pairings.

The halibut was so exceptional I ate almost all of it before I remembered to snap a photo.
  • Third course: The halibut was so exceptional I ate almost all of it before I remembered to snap a photo.
Saveur magazine co-founder Colman Andrews was a great host, providing entertaining anecdotes. The celebrity chefs offered brief introductions to their courses, which was a nice personal touch.

The entertainment was provided by hit songwriters Craig Wiseman and Tim Nichols. Songs such as the Blake Shelton hit "Hillbilly Bone" (which Wiseman co-wrote with Luke Laird) added that certain Nashville touch to the evening. Nothing like savoring a divine bite of brioche- and mustard-crusted halibut in porcini broth while hearing, "When the band starts banging and the fiddle saws / You can't help but hollerin', 'yeehaw!' / When you see them pretty li'l country queens / man you gotta admit that it's in them jeans [genes?] / Ain't nothing wrong, just getting on, your Hillbilly bone-ba-bone-ba-bone bone."

'Nuff said.

Overall, the evening was wonderful, and the service was exceptional, particularly considering the logistics of serving such high-end courses to 200 people at once. We did have a few minor gripes: First, there was too much food. Nearly everyone at our table left a fair bit of several courses on the plates. I guess it's inevitable that Savor Nashville wanted to give patrons their money's worth, but we felt wasteful leaving food on the plate. Maybe that's just my liberal guilt more than an event flaw.

Second, we would have liked to see the local chefs get a little more spotlight. They were introduced at the end of the evening, and it felt a little bit like afterthought.

The final gripe was the fault of the event patrons, not the organizers. After a couple of courses (and glasses of wine), many attendees proceeded to talk loudly over the celebrity chefs as they introduced their courses, which seemed a tad rude: How often do we get to hear chefs like Del Grande, Forgione, Kinkead, Shire and Van Aken discuss their inspiration? Apparently some folks couldn't care less, but for those of us who were genuinely interested in their words, it was an unwelcome distraction, and embarrassing to say the least.

Still, these are minor gripes. Overall, Savor Nashville was one of the more memorable meals I've had here in Music City.

In other Savor Nashville news, we heard from chef Brandon Frohne that he won the People's Choice Award at Sunday's Shrimp-and-Grits Cook-Off. Frohne also won second place in the Judge's Choice Award, with Arnold's Country Kitchen coming in first. Frohne posted photos and his account of the experience on the Nashville Urban Gardeners blog.

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