Sunday, October 4, 2009

Epicurious Entertains NYC

Epicurious Entertains NYC is "a one-of-a-kind event with daytime demonstrations and celebrity chef dinners in a homey pop-up space" that took place from Sep 30-Oct 4, 2009 in a cute loft near Union Square in NYC. I was fortunate enough to be invited to a couple of the events, including the Opening Day "Ultimate NYC Lunch Break" on 9/30 and "Cutting-Edge Cuisine: A Paul Liebrandt Dinner" event on 10/1.

For the "Ultimate NYC Lunch Break," Epicurious assembled some of New York's best lunch spots and food vendors to come together under one roof. I sampled everything from lobster rolls from The Mermaid Inn to chicken wraps from Tabla to brownies and other desserts from The Treats Truck, all well-known local favorites. I was impressed that many of the chefs were cooking and manning their own stations, including Seamus Mullen from Boqueria, who is currently competing on Food Network's Next Iron Chef. The highlight for me was meeting Anita Lo, who became quite popular after her appearances on Top Chef Masters, who was making chicken dumplings for her Rickshaw Dumpling outlet (she also owns Annisa, which is a great restaurant). Being the chef groupie that I am, I promptly introduced myself to her and got my picture taken with her. She was very nice and gracious about it.

At the dinner event with Chef Paul Liebrandt the next night, we started off with a cocktail hour with tasty canapes including "Egg Yolk Creme Bagel" (mini, and I mean mini, bagels with a tiny egg yolk) and "Gougère Spiced with Harissa" (a small pastry with cheese and harissa, which is a North African hot sauce). While we were munching and drinking away, they showcased a very cool demo video conferencing Paul directly into his kitchen at his restaurant Corton to talk with his staff and pastry chef. All of this was made possible by Intel technologies of course (who was the sponsor of the dinner). His pastry chef then showed us how he makes a really nifty dessert with alcohol in liquid nitrogen. (As he explained it, alcohol doesn't normally freeze so you can only do it with liquid nitrogen.) The demo made us all very hungry and we were really looking forward to dinner.

Paul certainly did not disappoint. We started off with an amuse bouche of "Pumpkin Velouté, Pecorino, Shiso." We were told by the serving staff that this was pumpkin soup, but that did not do it justice at all. It was creamy with complex layers of flavors, and you can clearly taste the pumpkin, the pecorino cheese, and many more herbs and spices. They only brought out a small cup (since it was an amuse) but I would drink the whole pot! The first course was a "Pressé of Duck Leg and Foie Gras Sphere," which was basically a pate made with duck leg meat but the star is really the foie gras sphere. Anybody who knows me knows that I'm a huge fan of foie gras, but typically I like seared whole foie gras versus foie gras mousse or terrine. The foie gras sphere (sometimes called foie gras "cherries" at Paul's restaurant Corton) was basically foie gras mousse covered in a thin layer of cherry-flavored coating, where the sweetness offsets the fattiness of the foie gras. There is actually a video on Food Network that shows how Paul makes this and it's pretty cool (select Paul Liebrandt when the video player comes up).

So far everything was really good and I was impressed, since I've often experienced that for large events such as this, the food usually would not be as good since they were made in large quantities. But Paul obviously knows how to manage all of that and still deliver flawlessly - a true sign of a top chef. Our main course was Braised Veal Cheeks and it was so tender that I liked it more than any of the Kobe beef, Wagu beef, etc. that I've had. The veal cheek was very well-seasoned, and a harmony of different flavors danced in my mouth. Again, I would have licked the plate and eaten every veal cheek in Paul's kitchen if I could! I will have to go to Corton the next time I'm back in NYC.

Epicurious did an amazing job putting together the events and getting some of the best chefs from NYC. I really hope that they'll bring this to SF next year!