But ChefDance, the temporary high-ticket restaurant organized every year during the Sundance Film Festival by Kenny Griswold, can seem a little alarming until you get into the swing of it. That's about the second glass of wine (last night, from Rosenthal, a boutique winery in Malibu ), unless you started sipping in the limo on the way. Which we did.
So our party took the scene in stride-the decibel level, the loooooong meal, the Stella Artois girls getting their pictures taken with guests (well, they're cuter than the Clydesdales, as living logos go),
the whole shebang.
Downstairs at Harry-O's is where the action happens, in a kind of frontline dining room-cum-kitchen triaged out of the basement. Long tables lit by candles and set with white linens contrast with cellar walls to create a kind of bunker elegance.
Chefs fly in from all over the country to cook at this event, but last night, Utah's own took over the kitchen. As winners of Nicholas & Co.'s Ultimate Chef Competition earlier this year, Billy Sotelo and Jared Young
of LaSalle Restaurant Group (Oasis, Faustina, etc.) were the night's chefs, backed by Chef Alan and Chef Nook from Nicholas and a team of helpers from area culinary schools. I slipped back into the kitchen ahead of time to check on the campaign.
How long had the top toques been prepping for this night?
"A couple of weeks," admitted Billy. The darling coiled crisped potato cups were done ahead, regiments of fanned and saffroned Seckel pears were waiting on baking sheets, tiny brioche were waiting their turn in the oven. Sixty pounds of foie gras (special-ordered by Nicholas who provides all the groceries for all the ChefDance chefs) had been sliced, and I personally delivered the bottle of saba that restaurant owner Joel LaSalle had hand-carried up in the limo.
But, as Chef Nook pointed out, a catering job like this takes weeks of militararily precise planning and a whole lot of last minute, on-the-fly improvising.
Few things are more difficult to pull off than a formal seated five-course dinner for 250 guests in an improvised space. That is why I'm not in the catering business anymore.
And Sotelo and Young didn't make it easy on themselves - take a look at the menu:
Amuse Bouche: Saffron poached pear on toasted brioche, crispy prosciutto, triple cream cheese
Appetizer: Shrimp tower potato cylinder, cauliflower puree, sherry wine sauce
Second Course: Rabbit tenderloin, butternut squash, kale, pine nuts
Third Course: Beef Wellington, foie gras, asparagus, port wine sauce
Dessert: Lime pie parfait
The appetizer and the second course were the stars of the meal-somehow, the chefs managed it so the shrimp was perfectly cooked-sweet, juicy, firm and tender-which would have been tricky to manage for a table of six, much less 250. The rabbit (sourced locally), little finger-thick loins, was brilliantly set off by the plebian veg, the sweet squash given some Middle Eastern mystique with the pungent pine nuts.
Because-evidently-you can't party enough during Sundance. Thank god it only happens once a year.