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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Culinary Bucket List: "Bayou in the Big Apple" Dinner at the James Beard House

by Jay Ducote

Jay Ducote at the James Beard House
Jay Ducote at the James Beard Hous
In the food world, the James Beard Awards are pretty much the "Oscars" of the industry. The James Beard Foundation, named after the legendary American culinarian, hands out the prestigious awards to chefs, restaurateurs, food writers, and more.

The Foundation converted James Beard's old brownstone house in Manhattan into their offices and a space for one-time-only dinners with rotating chefs from around the country.

While winning a James Beard Award is one of the ultimate milestones of a career in the culinary arts, getting invited to cook at the James Beard house is also one of those monumental achievements for aspiring chefs.

Being in the food world and even carrying a membership card for the James Beard Foundation, one of my bucket list dreams has been to dine at the James Beard House. However, I didn't just want to go to some random dinner on an odd trip to New York. Instead, I figured that I'd wait for a chef who I happen to be friends with to get the invite, and then I'd plan a trip to New York around that dinner.

Cody Carroll, Owen Hohl, Brad Andries and Jay Ducote with Louisiana Redfish at the James Beard House
Cody Carroll, Owen Hohl, Brad Andries and Jay Ducote with Louisiana Redfish at the James Beard House

So as fortune would have it, this summer while in the middle of my Food Network Star run, I got the news that Chefs Cody and Sam Carroll from Hot Tails in New Roads and the newly opened Sac-a-lait in New Orleans had been invited to cook at the James Beard House in October. I knew I didn't want to miss this dinner put on by Louisiana Culinary Institute graduates and the former King and Queen of Louisiana Seafood. I booked a trip for Team Bite and Booze to head to the Big Apple.

Brad Andries and Cody Carroll prep for their dinner at the James Beard House
Brad Andries and Cody Carroll prep for their dinner at the James Beard House

The night before the dinner at the James Beard House, Cody told me that if I wanted to come help them prep, they could use a couple extra hands. An opportunity to actually cook in the James Beard House?! I couldn't pass that up. We showed up around noon the next day. I threw on an apron and got to work. I could feel the history. The legacies of chefs like Julia Child and Jaques Pepin filled the kitchen. In many ways, slowing down to savor the experience, I realized how truly awesome it was.

Jay Ducote portions out grits for one of the dishes at the James Beard House
Jay portions out grits for one of the dishes at the James Beard House

From noon to around six I helped chop, slice, and portion different components of the 6+ course meal. The kitchen at the James Beard House is notoriously tiny. There are ample small corridors to squeeze through and low hanging obstacles on which to bump my head. As a rather large dude, it certainly proved to be as cozy as advertised. There is an atrium and a back yard to get a little extra head room and fresh air, though. 

The Damn Thistle made with Oryza Vodka
The Damn Thistle made with Oryza Vodka

The dinner got started with cocktails and passed hors d'oeuvres. The Damn Thistle (pictured above) and barrel-aged sazerac were both big hits with the fun-loving crowd. The Damn Thistle starts with Louisiana's Oryza Vodka and finishes with elderflower, pineapple, lime, and hibiscus. We also feasted on deviled crab, pig's ear, and duck tongue appetizers as we mingled with other folks attending the dinner. Before long, with our stomachs ready for the task at hand, we sat down for the formal six course supper with wine pairings.

Turtle Boudin Noir, Louisiana Pear, Fingerling "Brabonts", Sugarcane-Cured Chappapeela Pork Jowl, Pickled Mirleton
Turtle Boudin Noir, Louisiana Pear, Fingerling "Brabonts", Sugarcane-Cured Chappapeela Pork Jowl, Pickled Mirleton

Sweet Fried Alligator, White Remoulade, Hand-Mashed Mirleton
Sweet Fried Alligator, White Remoulade, Hand-Mashed Mirleton

P&J Oysters, Louisiana Wild Mushrooms, Duck Egg Carbonara, Mustard Green Vermicelli
P&J Oysters, Louisiana Wild Mushrooms, Duck Egg Carbonara, Mustard Green Vermicelli

Lost Fish: Perdu-Style Gulf Fish, Whipped Creole Potato Salad, Sweet Corn Calas, Crawfish Etoufee
Lost Fish: Perdu-Style Gulf Fish, Whipped Creole Potato Salad, Sweet Corn Calas, Crawfish Etoufee 

Lightly Fried Thin-Cut Venison, Cast Iron Seared Venison Sweetbreads, Hand-Rolled Gnocchi,  Truffle and Acadiana Honey, Creole Andalouse, Cane-Soaked Red Onion
Lightly Fried Thin-Cut Venison, Cast Iron Seared Venison Sweetbreads, Hand-Rolled Gnocchi,
Truffle and Acadiana Honey, Creole Andalouse, Cane-Soaked Red Onion

Aged Banana Pudding, Pointe Coupee Pecan Butter, 'Nilla Wafer Crumble, Whip Cream
Aged Banana Pudding, Pointe Coupee Pecan Butter, 'Nilla Wafer Crumble, Whip Cream

The meal could not have gone much better. Each dish came out seemingly exactly as the chefs intended. The flavors were true to Louisiana while being elevated and sophisticated for a refined palate. Turtle, alligator, oysters, duck, gulf fish, crawfish, venison and more rolled through the kitchen of the James Beard House and onto the taste buds of inspired diners. Congratulations to the chefs for pulling off a successful dinner experience. "Bayou in the Big Apple" certainly left its mark!

Piper, Liz, Jay, Cody, Sam, Blair and Sydney pose after the dinner at the James Beard House
Piper, Liz, Jay, Cody, Sam, Blair and Sydney pose after the dinner at the James Beard House