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Monday, April 1, 2013

Heading to NYC: Ruffino's James Beard Preview Dinner

Katherine Lagow and I at the James Beard Preview Dinner
Chef Peter Sclafani, Ruffin Rodrigue, and everyone at Ruffino's have earned my round of applause.  Chef Peter has been selected to cook at the James Beard House in New York City, and I had a lucky spot at the 'Central Park' table at Ruffino's for the preview dinner.  “Cooking at the Beard House has been on my bucket list ever since I donned my first chef’s hat,” said Sclafani, Co-Owner and Executive Chef at Ruffino’s. “I am truly humbled that they have asked me to cook there, and I am exceedingly proud to represent Baton Rouge and Louisiana on the most prestigious stage in the American culinary landscape.”  The dinner in NYC will be this Saturday, April 6, 2013.  Chef Sclafini's take on 'French Creole meets Italian' is a winner, and I'm certain that it will please the palate of all who have the fortunate ticket to the amazing dinner.  Here's a little of what they're in for as Ruffino's brings Louisiana up north!

Hors D'oeuvres: Grits and Grillades
The hors d'oeuvres were served with a little bubbly to get the night started.  The Mionetto Prosecco NV got everyone's palates ready for the onslaught of Louisiana-inspired goodies.  Shrimp corndogs with honey mustard, crawfish arancini, charbroiled oysters, and a corn and crab shooter rounded out a bevy of seafood small bites.  All were fantastic.  The grits and grillades, pictured above in the Asian spoon, were right on the money.  I could have eaten a dozen of them!

Crab Cheesecake
For the first sit down course, Chef Peter pulled out one of his classic dishes: crab cheesecake.  The cheesecake is loaded with Louisiana crab meat and plated with all sorts of delicious sauces and crumbles.  I'm embarrassed to say that I hadn't ever had his signature crab cheesecake before.  Next time I'm there, I'll be looking out for it as an appetizer!

Heirloom Tomato "Caprese" Salad
Chef Peter is bringing a new twist to his award winning caprese salad course with him to New York.  The dish, which features heirloom tomatoes, burrata cheese, and balsamic caviar, will now also feature some foie gras mousse as well.  The foie gras is inside the burrata cheese, and when all mixed together, provides and excellent additional flavor to the exquisite tomatoes and the novelty of the sphere-ified 25-year-old balsamic vinegar.

Braised Mississippi Rabbit with Gnocchi
The third course of the dinner service brought on a locally inspired dish with plenty of Italian flare.  The braised rabbit is cooked down with plenty of aromatic vegetables until it is tender and rich with flavor.  The gnocchi, a popular Italian potato pasta, are fluffy and soak up plenty stock.  This is a comfort dish that I could eat a whole bowl of as a meal, but it worked even better as a course in this delightful dinner.

Head-to-Toe Pork
The James Beard preview dinner's main entree consisted of pork two ways.  Pork cheeks, one of the most succulent cuts of pork in existence, were served with Benton's bacon jam along side a butternut squash puree.  Also joining the plate were a pair of pork trotter tortellini.  The pork trotters are from the feet of the pig, and also provide good eating when cooked the right way.  Everything on this plate worked the right way.  From the tenderness of the pork to the flavor combinations with the bacon and butternut squash, I couldn't get enough.  Really.  I had to steal some off of the plate next to me!

Chicory Cafe Au Lait Panna Cotta with Chocolate Chip Beignets
Naturally, the Creole-Italian dessert featured coffee.  The delicious chicory panna cotta played with me senses and the bitterness of the coffee danced with the creaminess and sweetness of the gelatin-based dessert.  The beignets, when dipped in the chocolate sauce, added a nice change of texture to the dish.  I definitely left satisfied and filled to the brim.  Those folks in New York are in for a treat!

Driven by its mission “to celebrate, nurture and preserve America’s diverse culinary heritage and future,” the James Beard Foundation is dedicated to exploring the way food enriches our lives. The Foundation maintains the historic James Beard House in New York City’s Greenwich Village as a “performance space” for visiting chefs. A cookbook author and teacher, James Beard was a champion of American cuisine who helped educate and mentor generations of professional chefs and food enthusiasts.

“I couldn’t be more thrilled for Peter, and for our restaurant, to be invited to the Beard House,” said Ruffino’s co-owner Ruffin Rodrigue, who manages the front of the house and operations for the restaurant. “This is truly an amazing honor, and you can bet Peter will be pulling out all the stops to make April 6th a night that New York City won’t soon forget!”  I agree with Ruffin.  If he can pull off the dinner in NYC like he did for us at the preview dinner on his home turf, he'll be making Baton Rouge and all of Louisiana proud, that's for sure.