Thursday, May 15, 2014

My Exclusive Invite to James Beard Foundation's Chefs' Night Out

Recently I was lucky enough to be invited to this exclusive event that happens every year here in NYC.  

The event is held around the same time as the James Beard Awards. My friend Debbie sits on a committee on the James Beard Foundation  and always attends. This year I was invited to tag along.

Rumor has it that Chefs Night Out started as an after hours informal gathering of chefs in town to attend the James Beard Awards ceremony. The original locations were a chosen NYC chef's restaurant where everyone cooked different dishes together and invited a few people. Now it's a whole other beast.

Debbie had warned me it was so over the top I shouldn't eat all day of the event. In retrospect, I should have not eaten the entire week before. 

There was a great DJ keeping things lively as people mingled, drank and sampled world class food.

Hosted this year by Todd English at his Food Hall at the famous Plaza Hotel, the event has grown huge but is still invitation only to those connected to the James Beard Foundation.

The Todd English Food Hall  is a huge underground "European inspired specialty food hall offering the finest, fresh, prepared gourmet foods." offering multiple diverse food stations.

The bottom line is, they invited a bunch of James Beard folks and every food station offered up their wares to the attendees.

Valrhona chocolates - take what you like.  Francois Payard French Macarons - take what you like. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? But I am jumping ahead to the desserts. Let me start with the food.

Debbie, being a veteran of this event, suggested we cruise through once and just sample the offerings, then, if we still have room go back and eat more of what we really enjoyed. 

Each station had several employees preparing offering for the crowd. Our first stop was the Taqueria. Mexican food is always a fun way to start an evening. On offer were three different types of We selected one and moved on.

Readers of this blog might remember I've said I don't eat anything that comes from the sea but Debbie loves seafood so I tagged along with her to the next station which was offering grouper. The salt crust taken off the fish after cooking was on display. 

There were two sushi stations. Two.

Again, I did not partake but Debbie said it was the freshest yellowtail she had ever eaten.

We took a pit stop to check out the beverages. There were several wines on offer with a very helpful wine person guiding you to select the one you might like the best.

There were three other beverage stations; one for tequila, one for whisky and one for vodka.  Junior Merino, The Liquid Chef and his team of mixologists  created a signature drinks for each. All I can say is, wow. Each one was delicious with beautifully blended flavors.

I was interested in trying the bourbon whisky straight. Junior himself talked me out of that and once I wrapped my lips around a delicious whisky cocktail I had to agree, it would have been a foolish choice.

Once we had cocktails in hand, we swiveled to our right to check out the pasta bar. Three gorgeous delectable choices were on display. I sampled two, skipping the beautiful beet version. Both were melt in your mouth good with wonderful flavor combinations. 

Regrettably, we moved on. There was still so much more to explore. On the way to the next station we spotted chef Todd English mingling with the guests. We actually happened upon him a few more times over the course of the evening. He seemed to be having a good time, looking relaxed and chatting with different people. 

Next stop was The Grill with another three options. I sampled the prime rib sliders (two thumbs up) and the chicken parmesan version, also excellent.

One of the fun parts at this station and many others was watching the staff prepare the food. 

At the Sub Station I had to sample The Goodfella which lived up to it's name. Mmmm. good.

The Noodle & Dumpling Bar was the next stop where I had the Chicken and Ginger Dumpling with Lemongrass Pesto and Charred Miso Edamame. Both recipes I would kill for.

After all the clever and elegant food I had just tasted, I almost skipped the pizza corner. So glad I didn't. It turned out to be my favorite of the evening. I even went back for a second run later on.  What can I say? Maybe I have a pedestrian palate but this was the most amazing flavorful pizza. In my defense I wasn't the only one who thought so. Very popular with the crowd this pizza. Addictive even. Made a mental note to return at a later date.

There was so much more - interesting brioche buns, lobster concoctions for Luke's Lobster, sandwiches from Piada, but it was time to head towards the dessert offerings. 

The first one I tasted was from McConnell's Ice Cream, a west coast company. Double Peanut butter Chip and Roadside Raspberry were on offering. All I can say, is they set the bar. Wow. 

I swear I actually heard these eclairs calling my name. When I got closer, I regrettably ignored the Red Velvet one and latched on to the Oreo flavor. An Oreo eclair. It was whimsical divine.

As a New Yorker, I could never pass up a Black and White cookie. I spent years in German bakeries hoping their "Amerikaner" version would suffice. It rarely did. These from William Greenberg did not disappoint.

Who could resist a stop at Valrhona? Especially since the team there was so funny and friendly. In addition to sampling several bonbons, the staff insisted I taste the crunchy pearls. You can also see them on the chocolate pops above. Pearls with my bonbons is the only way to go now.

We tore ourselves away from the swanky Valhrona and moved over to an amped up version of an American favorite. S'mores because, frankly, who can resist a lady with a blowtorch melting sugar?

I selected my preferred flavored marshmallow (strawberry basil) and watched the magic happen live. 

When I was handed my gooey treat pressed between two homemade chocolate Graham Crackers, the anticipation made me feel like a little kid. Until I bit into it. Those flavors were all grown up and fit perfectly together. Impressive.

Moving away from the S'mores. The word "Fronini" caught my eyes. This fun gentleman offered one up to me. A layer of frozen yogurt sandwiched between two slices of cake. Debbie and I each took a bite. It was a bit over the top but tasty.

I spotted a Nutella crepe station. Tempting, but I managed to not taste one. Yay for me but I could not resist taking photos.

The next station was La Maison Du Chocolat. Kill me now. The candy store was open so I sampled several of their delectable offerings.

There is nothing like gorgeously packed chocolates to give to a loved one or as a thank you. Or to ogle as you're stuffing your face with them. 

On our way in we passed the Lady M stand. I had my eye on the green tea flavored version of the crepe cakes she specializes in.

Tragically, by the time we circled back around there was not a green tea slice in sight so I consoled myself with the chocolate banana version. Layers of amazingness.

It was important to make a pit stop at Kusumi for a few sips of detox tea before the final conquest. 

I had purposely saved the French macarons for last. 

Eying the flavors on the way in, the plan of attack was to first start with the violet cassis flavor.

For an obsessive French macaron maker like me this was like being in the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory. 

There was not one bad flavor in the bunch. Not even one that was an "eeh". I was humbled and realized I have a loooong way to go in perfecting my own creations.

Of course no fabulous event is complete for me unless there's a drag queen involved. We ran into these gorgeous ladies. the tall one on the right is Chocolatina, Queen of Dessert whose business card says she is a Wedding Officiant and does Performance Pastry. Love.

If you are in the city, the Plaza Food Hall is definitely worth a visit. Call me. We'll have pizza. 

In closing, I would like to say I walked the 51 blocks downtown and 4 avenues east home to burn off some of the calories, but the truth is I rolled myself into a taxi and flopped into bed. A not so glamorous ending to an epic foodie event.


  1. Wow!!! That is one delicious experience!! I am glad you had a wonderful time and made great foodie memories. Blessings, Catherine

  2. OMG! Food, food, everywhere. We did have a ball that night. Great post chica!

  3. Terrific post - I felt as if I was with you. Great detail which I savored!! Amazing photos too. Thank you so much for taking the time to share the details and giving us all vicarious pleasure. Cheers!


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