A James Beard Chefs Tour Dinner at Bridges in Danville
by foodhoe on March 17, 2014
44 Church St, Danville, CA 94526 | 925.820.7200 | website
Are you familiar with James Beard? He was the OG Dean of American Cookery, a pioneer who inspired generations of chefs and who planted the seeds for the food revolution that has helped America get a foot in the arena of global gastronomy. A bon vivant chef, he hosted the first food program on TV in 1946, and helped introduce French cuisine to the American palate in the 1950s. His legacy lives on in his books and writings, and the foundation in his name offers a variety of events and programs designed to educate, inspire, entertain, and foster a deeper understanding of our culinary culture. The historic James Beard House in NYC serves as a performance space for visiting chefs, and hosts conferences, tastings, lectures, workshops, and food-related art exhibits. Once upon a time, the only way you could experience a dinner at the James Beard House required a cross-country trip, but the Foundation now brings their Celebrity Chef Tours to a city near you. I was excited when I heard that the 2014 tour would be coming to Bridges in Danville, but hesitated at the price of $160 a person. Then I noticed that Williams-Sonoma Visa Signature card holders could get in for a mere $75. So I applied for a card (which gives me 3 points for every dollar I spent at Williams-Sonoma by the way) and was able to sign up for the tour at the reduced rate. What a great deal – a 7 course menu with wine pairings at Bridges, which I’ve always wanted to check out if not just for its notoriety as the backdrop for some slapstick dining scenes in the movie Mrs. Doubtfire back in the day.
Here is the Le Melon Fizz, by Bacardi Mixologist, Manny Hinojosa (on the right in the picture below) made with Grey Goose Limon, sparkling wine, topped with chile oil and shichimi togarashi.
During the reception, a variety of appetizers were handed out, during which time I only managed to get this Geoduck Sashimi made by chef David Varley, garnished with a thin curlicue of green onion and paper thin slice of pepper. It was a tiny little bite, well seasoned with a rich sesame oil and some crunchy salt. I wish I had been on the ball because I missed out on FIVE other appetizers, including the incredible sounding Fwaffle, which chef Duskie Estes made with Hudson Valley foie gras sandwiched in between two slices of their house made bacon.
I took a quick photo before my table filled up, lots of stemware is always a good sign!
The dining room was elegant with warm overhead lighting that makes everyone look good (note the median age in Danville is 44.5). The tables were pushed together to create a communal and festive eating environment.
A representative from the James Beard Foundation greeted everyone and talked about the Celebrity Tour, standing directly in front of our table with his back to us. He introduced Chef Kevin Gin who also had his back to us, so no photo here either. His appetizer was Snake River Farms Wagyu Sashimi with Ankimo (monkfish liver), pickled cucumber, chicharone, soy verjus, served with Bonny Doone Vin Gris 2013.
I really loved the East West Cocktail, made with Bombay sapphire East (additional botanicals of lemongrass, and Vietnamese black peppercorn), green chartreuse, lemon-lime, ginger beer topped with lemon slices and basil.
Chef Ari Taymor, of Alma Restaurant in L.A. which rated #1 on the list of the top 10 American restaurants by Bon Appetit last year. He said that his cooking expresses the time and place (seasonal) and mentioned that he cooked the octopus for 4-1/2 hours, which was served simply with only three things on the plate.
Octopus with artichoke, charred winter citrus
paired with the Prince in his Caves 2011, Farina Vineyard, which was described as an oxidized sauvignon blanc. It was dark golden color, slightly cloudy with challenging and sharp intensity.
Chef Duskie Estes looking very smart in black with pink high top converse chatted with the JB representative. Mr. K and I recently watched her on the PBS show Moveable Feast, where she prepared a farm to table feast at the Davis Family Vineyards using local produce, so it was appropriate that her dish was paired with something from DFV. She recommended that we all go out to the Vineyards later in the summer for a pick your own BLT feast – sounds good, no?
Her Duck Noodle Soup with snap peas, mushrooms and shallots was intensely flavorful, clean tasting, simple and satisfying, served with Davis Family Vineyard, Soul Patch Pinot Noir 2011. That was one good pinot, rich and intense, we begged for seconds…
A paparazzi moment with Chef Sophina Uong, executive chef at Picán in Oakland. She introduced her dish which included an item that was not mentioned on the menu (the scallop).
Lamb Breast Roulade with a scallop, rutabaga, peas, XO sauce. This was the favorite dish of the table, the lamb was tender and very flavorful, the scallop was succulent and juicy and the XO sauce gave it a glamorous spicy mystery. The plate was a riot of beautiful colors and textures that made it a delight for all of the senses. This was paired with JC Cellars Rockpile Syrah, 2011 that was aromatic and full of minerality.
Chef David Varley, whom chef Duskie had referred to earlier as the Prince of Porc, is corporate chef at Michael Mina’s RN 74 in Seattle. He said that he knew he had to do something special to top off the evening and he certainly did.
His dish was my favorite, thick slices of roasted Creekstone Farms Prime Rib Eye, a nice knob of gelatinous tendon, and a gorgeous patty made from oxtail and marrow, all topped with a savory crunchy granola. I loved each bite, along with the elegant Kit’s Killer Cab 2010 from the Clif Family Winery.
Pastry Chef Rose Nape
Chocolate Olive Oil Mousse Cake, candied kumquats, hazelnut praline tuile, and served with the most delicious hot chocolate I have ever had.
The Corzo Xocolatl, was a lovely mug of hot chocolate infused with orange rind, cinnamon stick, and a healthy splash of Corzo Tequila. It was intoxicating and delicious and I hoped had some caffeine to help me on the ride home…
I had a great time, I have to mention that I loved my table mates who were a fun group of personable and enthusiastic eaters, we all had a shared passion for good food, which we enjoyed at great length. I was sad to leave the epic feast after five and a half hours, dreading the sound of my alarm going off in just a few hours… As a Williams-Sonoma Visa Signature cardholder, I received this awesome cookbook as a gift on my way out. How cool is that? It’s a magnificent volume full of recipes as well as advice on dozens of cooking questions, from choosing meats and vegetables to preserving fruit and making real cheeseburgers. Total score!