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Monday, September 24, 2012

2012 Chefs to Watch Dinner with Louisiana Cookin' Magazine

Every year, Louisiana Cookin' Magazine names five up and coming Louisiana chefs as their Chefs to Watch.  The chefs then create a five course menu that is cooked up at the Chefs to Watch dinner in New Orleans to benefit Cafe Reconcile.  Fortunately for me, I got to attend this year's event to see what sort of wizardry the chefs could cook up.  Unfortunately for me, I showed up "slightly late" and did not receive any of the pre-dinner cocktails or passed hors d'oeuvres.  This is the second year that that's happened to me.  I understand keeping a tight schedule with so much going on, but this time I was really bummed.  I actually arrived right on time, and plenty of people were still up an mingling.  Oh well... with a five course dinner awaiting all paired with wine from Republic, I knew I wouldn't leave hungry or entirely sober.

Shrimp and Andouille Beignets with Crawfish Corn Maque Choux
Chef Zac Watters, executive chef of Zachary's in Mandeville, presented the initial dish to the crowd of over 400 people at Harrah's.  His shrimp and andouille beignets were set atop crawfish corn maque choux to provide a duo of classic Louisiana flavors.  He then added a little ravigote sauce with onion, lemon, dijon mustard, and more to give the dish a little pizzaz.  The dish got the entire meal off to a great start.  The beignets were unique and rather tasty and the corn carried enough pop to whet the palate for the wine and more great grub.

Smoked Tomato Soup with White Wine Crab and Creme Fraiche
Chef Ryan Andre from Le Creole in Baton Rouge ladled up the next dish for the hungry guests.  His smoked tomato soup with white wine crab and creme fraiche proved to be a real hit at my table.  Garnished with a little basil-infused olive oil, the orange tinted soup had a rich smokey flavor from the tomatoes that paired extremely well with the extra sweet crab that had been sauteed in butter and white wine.

Goat Cheese and Blueberry Salad with Pistachios and Blueberry-Vodka Vinaigrette
The salad course came from Chef Lindsay Mason of Cristiano Ristorante in Houma.  His goat cheese and blueberry salad also contained a blueberry-vodka vinaigrette which had me rather intrigued.  Chef reduced the vodka and burnt off the alcohol before adding it to the blender with blueberries, dijon mustard, and garlic, then he drizzled in olive oil while pureeing the dressing.  I could have used a good bit more on my salad, but I liked the thought of it nevertheless.

Zapp's-Crusted Cobia with Garden Vegetable Hash and Smoked Tomato Butter Sauce
Smoked tomatoes showed up once again in our main course of the evening.  This time they were used in a butter sauce surrounding a gorgeous piece of fish topped with a Louisiana shrimp by Chef Brad McGehee of Ye Olde College Inn in New Orleans.  The cobia, a rather fishy fish, was coated in a mixture of Zapp's Crawtators and crumbled andouille.  After baking in the overn the fish were plated with a vegetable hash of Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, potatoes, mushrooms, corn, and more.  The delicious butter sauce also contained a hint of booze in the form of Herbsaint.  I thought the overall dish was pretty nice and perhaps one of my favorite preparations of cobia that I've had.

Toasted Grits Waffle with Buttermilk Ice Cream and Bacon Caramel Sauce
Chef Manny Augello from Jolie's Bistro in Lafayette presented the dessert with his take on a breakfasty "Bacon and Waffle."  The grits in the waffle batter provided a unique flavor and texture to the base of the dessert.  However, it was the buttermilk ice cream that stole the show.  Along with the bacon caramel sauce, the ice cream had a magically satisfying flavor and texture to round out the stellar meal.

My compliments to all the chefs who prepared the meal as well as everyone else who helped them out in the kitchen.  Also congrats to the chefs and to Louisiana Cookin' for putting on such a great dinner for a wonderful cause.  Not only does the Chefs to Watch dinner serve as a tremendous way to recognize young culinary talent in our state, but it also provides much needed resources to Cafe Reconcile so that they can provide job training and education in the culinary arts to at-risk populations in New Orleans.

The United Way's Jambalaya Jam Jams on October 9th!