(Guest post by The Boyfriend)
Nobody really wants to wish his/her life away. But the Cincinnati Bengals’ Taste of the NFL 2010: Where Food and Football Reign, had a way of making football fans want to see the next couple of pages torn off the calendar post haste. It’s not that we want summer to go away. It’s just that we want football season to be here. Now. (Editor’s note: Speak for yourself.)
Josh Campbell, chef/owner of Mayberry put it best:
“This is tailgatin’ food, man. This is what it’s all about.”
For the second year in a row, Julie was traveling on business (Ed. Note: Actually, I was in town last year. Two words: Vagina Monologues. ) and couldn’t attend the extravaganza, so I was asked again to pinch-hit (sorry for the baseball metaphor). Unlimited access to dishes prepared by the area’s top chefs, you say? Oh sure, why not? The lovely Kate the Great graciously agreed to be my date for the evening, and off we went.
The first aromas that met guests as they rode the escalator revived memories of autumn weekend afternoons. “God, that smells incredible,” seemed to be the phrase of the moment.
As always, the three-hour event at Paul Brown Stadium, which has raised more than three quarters of a million dollars for the Freestore Foodbank since its inaugural edition, featured dishes from more than forty of the Tristate’s best-known restaurants and chefs. Several chefs presented popular items from their regular menus. Many developed whimsical and playful dishes especially for the occasion. But most took the party’s theme to heart:
Football reigns, and football means tailgating.
Sliders, sandwiches, sausages of various varieties, and other finger-friendly fare could be found in abundance. And it was all delicious.
Several chefs toyed with variations on the popular-as-ever slider. They ranged from the flavorful, yet relatively simple, such as the BLT Sliders from Green Dog Cafe (Chefs Mary and Mark Swortwood) to the downright exotic Moroccan Lamb Sliders with Tzatziki and Harissa from Chef Suzy Young at La Petite Pierre …from Jag’s spicy Tenderloin Sandwich (Chef Michelle Brown) to the almost soothing Artisan Kobe Beef Slider with a Blue Cheese Aioli from Chef Jim Fox at Aramark.
Particularly tasty were the Korean Style Hot Dog with Braised Short Rib & Kimchi from Senate Chef/Owner Daniel Wright and the Prime Rib Sliders with Horseradish BBQ Sauce from Chef Ralph Shepard at the Oak Leaf Restaurant at Aston Oaks and the Barbeque Chicken Sliders with Fried Onions from Chef Andrew Morgan at Vito’s Cafe.
Executive Chef Jose Salazar of The Palace, who also served as Chef Co-host of the event, had a particularly enjoyable offering with his “Merguez Sandwich”: lamb sausage with goat cheese, harissa, green olives, roasted tomatoes and mint on a baguette.
But the evening wasn’t just about tailgating food…
Desserts were not in short supply. Bella Luna’s World Famous Bread Pudding from Chefs Harry & Gay Stephens was, as always, to die for. Michael Christner of Dojo Gelato offered three flavors of his delectable frozen treat, including my all-time favorite, Porkopolis. He had run out of Raspberry Goat Cheese before I made it to his station…which means I’ll just have to make a special trip to Findlay Market to give it a try.
But my favorite dish of the event came from Pastry Chef Summer Genetti, also of The Palace and Chef Salazar’s co-host for the evening. Chef Genetti never fails to surprise…or to delight. Last year at Taste, I was blown away by her Chocolate Crusted Dark Chocolate Tart with Salted Caramel Sauce and Caramel Pork Rind (with a touch of Cajun spice). This year, she outdid herself. Get a load of this (in keeping with the tailgating theme): Chocolate Cake with Beef Jerky-Infused Chocolate Ganache, Garnished with Beer Nut Brittle, and served with Black & Tan Ice Cream. She had to talk me through the dish twice. As was the case last year, my first thought was “How does she imagine these things?” Pork rinds with a chocolate tart? Beef Jerky-Infused Chocolate Ganache?
This might be the best chocolate cake I’ve ever eaten…and I’m a fan of chocolate cake. The cake itself was amazingly moist. Top it with a ganache that added a richness and intensity of chocolate that added incredible depth to the dish. But wait, as they say on infomercials, there’s more. The black & tan ice cream, made with equal parts of Guinness and Bass Ale was creamy and velvety. And the beer nut brittle was divine…it wasn’t too hard (you know, when it sticks in your teeth for half an hour?). I would have gladly eaten the ice cream and the brittle by themselves. Put them with the cake, and the result is truly astounding. [Aside: Chef Genetti says beer nuts are much harder to find than you might think…I’ll need to check into that.]
The key to survival at events such as Taste is to eat only a bite or two of everything you sample. Chef Genetti’s was the only dish of which I ate every bite (and returned a bit later for a few bites of a second helping). Don’t believe me? Kate was as impressed as I was. Check out her post on the event.
The most newsworthy bit of the night came from Chef Jean-Robert de Cavel and his yet-to-open Jean-Robert’s Table. Virtually everyone who stopped by Chef de Cavel’s station had the same question: “So when does your new restaurant open?” Apparently, the question was so common that Chef displayed the answer for all to see.
Chef was not being coy with his answer. So many factors are involved in the opening of a new establishment that pinpointing a specific date can be difficult, even months into the process. Based on what Chef told me, however, it’s a pretty safe bet that Jean-Robert’s Table will be open before summer’s end.
For the event, Chef de Cavel presented a hearty (and hefty) glazed Amish chicken leg, wrapped in bacon and served with a light and tangy Provencal beans salad. This may have been the most game-day-worthy dish of the night. (Do the French have a version of tailgating?)
And, of course, the event was not just about the food. Taste is always held in conjunction with Bengals’ mini-camp. Coach Marvin Lewis and a slew of Bengals players were available for autographs and to chat with fans. The silent and live auctions of sports-related memorabilia and various non-sports-related items and packages added tremendously to the money raised for the Freestore Foodbank.
More sights from Taste 2010 after the jump…