During the early part of September each year, the Bethesda Foundation hosts GOURMET SENSATION, one of their signature fund-raising events. Since 1988, chefs from all around the world as well as local chefs have shared their culinary creations with an ever-growing and appreciative crowd to raise funds for Hospice of Cincinnati. This year’s event was on Saturday, September 8, 2007 at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason, Ohio.
My involvment with GOURMET SENSATION is as an appreciative guest, but I am involved with an event that occurs before GOURMET SENSATION — that is the chefs’ appreciation dinner the night before. For more than 12 years, Michael & Kathy Brown have prepared a multi-course meal for the chefs and their guests. For two of the last three years, Michael & Kathy have allowed me to assist them with preparations and service of this meal (I missed helping in 2006 because I was on vacation). This grand meal is presented in the beautiful dining room of the Cincinnatian Hotel, in their Palace restaurant which closes for the evening to allow Michael and his crew to move in and work in the hotel’s kitchens. This year, we served over 70 people.
On Thursday and Friday September 6 & 7, I went to the Brown’s house to assist with preparation of the meal. Several other professional cooks and enthusiastic amateurs show up to work for short or long shifts at the Brown’s house, so their large kitchen is crowded and bustling with activity.
The menu Michael & Kathy designed was as follows:
Home Cured Wild Coho Salmon and Gazpacho
2006 Gunderloch â€œRedstoneâ€ Riesling (Rheinhessen, Germany)
Medallion of Foie Gras, Viognier Gelee and Fig Compote
2003 Gregory Graham Viognier (Napa Valley)
Walleye with Braised Artichokes, Artichoke Puree and Lobster Mushrooms
2006 Four Sisters Sauvignon Blanc (South Eastern Australia)
Loin of Veal, Sweetbread, Corn and Apple Ravioli, Honey Crisp Apples and Calvados Sauce
2004 Four Sisters Shiraz (South Eastern Australia)
Couronne Lochoise, Roasted Beets and Pistachios
2005 Chateau Calabre (Montravel, France)
2004 Domaine de Pallus Chinon (Loire, France)
Chocolate Caramel Walnut Tart
2003 Gregory Graham â€œRed Hillsâ€ Syrah (Lake County)
The gazpacho was novel — Michael used gelatin filtration (as discussed in McGee’s column in the New York Times (registration required)) so the resulting liquid was intensely flavorful and crystal clear with a reddish tint. The home cured salmon was very tasty (though I only had a nibble).
I prefer seared foie gras to cold, but this preparation of the foie in a tourchon was quite nice (when isn’t foie gras nice?!) and very simple to serve, though I didn’t love the plating — I thought it looked a little crowded. Still, the plates were virtually licked clean when they came back, so the crowd must have been happy. The Viognier gelee was tasty and attractive.
The walleye was cooked very well (Keith has been cooking at the Palace for longer than he cares to admit, and he’s got a real master’s touch with fish and meats), and the lobster mushrooms were a very nice compliment to the flavor of the fish.
A personal favorite dish was the veal — it was beautifully prepared and cooked — very tender, and the sweetbread, corn, and apple ravioli were quite tasty.
The cheese in the cheese course — the Couronne Lochoise, a soft and creamy raw goat’s milk cheese from the Loire valley — was absolutely delicious, though before we portioned them, the individual cheeses looked like glazed yeast doughnuts! We cut each “doughnut” (actually, the word “Couronne” means “crown”) into four wedge-shaped pieces, which was a generous cheese course. The roasted beets & pistachios were wonderful together (very earthy) and complimented the cheese very well. This was one of my favorite elements of the meal.
After the cheese course came Kathy’s delicious Chocolate Caramel Walnut Tart, a beauty for the eyes and a delight on the tongue. Even though I am not a “chocolate person”, I certainly appreciated the rich flavors of this dessert. We served it with a squiggle of Syrah reduction to decorate the plate.
Service of the meal went very quickly and smoothly — Gina, Jody, Tarrick, and others made light work of the plating and service. The menu was well planned and well prepped, so there was very little that needed to be done a la minute. Once service was done, we were taken out into the restaurant and presented to the appreciative crowd.
It was nice to recognize many faces from my previous GOURMET SENSATION experience — good to see Juho and othersm and it was nice to connect with new faces like Nancy & Steve from Baltimore! A few drinks were poured, a lot of conversation, and then I went home and sacked out! I heard reports that lots of the guest chefs went out and painted the town red — some reported getting back to their hotel rooms at 4:30am!
The next evening, Wendy & I attended the GOURMET SENSATION and were very impressed with the dishes prepared by the chefs. While every dish was tasty (and we tried them all), standouts included the bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with bleu cheese, the venison burgers, the sticky toffee pudding, the short ribs, the soft-shell crab, and the fish-in-coconut-milk-broth. A nice upgrade this year was the keepsake wine glass and plastic plate (with wine glass holder). It made juggling food, forks, and wine much easier than before.
Wendy & I were invited to go out with the chefs after GOURMET SENSATION and we intended to… We really did! We went home for a bit of downtime between the event and the partying, and never managed to get back up again to go out. So we missed a good time with the chefs, but I’ve made a promise to myself that next year we will make it!