“Who exactly is James Beard?” one of my dining companions asked as we were on our way to the James Beard Foundation preview dinner at Deer Valley.
To a food person, that’s like asking a kid who Santa Claus is.
But unlike his peer Julia Child, Beard has not become a household word, though his influence on American cuisine was and continues to be enormous. Raised in Oregon by a Chinese couple who helped his parents, expelled from Reed College for homosexuality, enlightened about classic food after a sojourn in France, he came to the realization as David Kamp wrote, “..that part of his mission [as a food connoisseur] was to defend the pleasure of real cooking and fresh ingredients against the assault of the Jell-O-mold people and the domestic scientists.”
Beard moved to New York, started a catering company and published a book, hosted an early TV show and eventually started a cooking school. Julia Child called him “the dean of American cooking.”
So that’s who James Beard was.
What he is now is an institution: The James Beard Foundation preserved Beard’s house in Greenwich Village and from there has become the foremost center for American cooking—a James Beard award is a culinarian’s highest honor and the regular dinners presented at Beard House showcase the talents of American chefs.
Which is why we were on our way to Deer Valley last Thursday night. Five Park City chefs are cooking at the Beard House on September 20, 2018. Deer Valley Resort’s Jodie Rogers, Handle’s Briar Handly, Riverhorse On Main’s Seth Adams, Stein Eriksen Lodge’s Zane Holmquist, and Tupelo’s Matthew Harris will collaborate on a sumptuous meal for up to 80 guests. The occasion is already sold out. Thursday’s event at Deer Valley’s Snow Park Lodge was the “dress rehearsal.” All five courses with the beverages selected to complement them, were served to a grateful group of friends and foodies, happy to be test subjects to help prepare the five chefs for their sojourn.
The evening started with cocktails, both based on High West whiskey, since this all about local Utah—the Little Hollywood mixed double rye with guava (ok, that’s so not local), Earl Grey syrup, lime, tarragon and a fresh tarragon garnish. Served in a stemmed glass, no ice, which to me makes a proper preprandial cocktail. Matt Harris from Tupelo created the passed hors d’oeuvres: compressed melon (Green River ,of course, smoked sorghum (no, I’d never heard of it either) Gold Creek feta and, Harris being from the South and all, fried country ham. The other bite had southern touches too—bourbon soy and okra garnishing Utah trout smoked over hops.
It’s really too much to describe the whole menu, so I’ll print it below, but some of the highlights: Deer Valley’s Jodie Foster’s combo soup and salad—a fresh pea soup with fall greens and duck confit, paired with a 2017 Chateau Gassier Cotes de Provence Rose.
And the second course—an unlikely-sounding dish of smoked parsnip, Granny Smith apple, beet root, puffed rice and candied seeds—was a typically genius creation from Briar Handly, chef-owner of Handle. I always think Handly’s culinary imagination must be a kind of through the looking glass wonderland, full of bread-and-butterflies and exotic combinations from a flavor portmanteau that he alone can access. Paired with one of my favorite wines, Trinafour Semillon, this was a standout course.
They all were, really—Glitretind’s Zane Holmquist’s rabbit porchetta was a great riff on the classic pork, the oxtail-topped toast serving as aide-de-camp to the wagyu shortbread was a great idea from Riverhorse’s Seth Adams and no matter how skeptical I am these days of foams, fluffs and cotton candy additions Matt Harris’s dessert of bruleéd figs, goat ricotta and honey-hinted cotton candy was pure delight and a fun instead of cumbersome end to a long meal.
I hope the New York crowd is as excited about this food as we were.
And if they’re not, they’re just a bunch of jaded snobs.
MEET THE CHEFS
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