It was a cold, rainy, overcoat type of evening near the hangars at Bowman field here in Louisville, Kentucky.
Walking toward the Louisville Executive Aviation Hanger, I felt as if I were on the set of “Casablanca” with Ingrid Bergman – not leaving but arriving – at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships’ “Taste of the World” hosted by Bobby Flay.
I was filled with anticipation – meeting Bobby and working my palate through a moveable feast featuring 15 top chefs from around the globe, who were cooking up specialty dishes representative of 15 different countries.
As we entered the hanger, our senses were immediately pushed into overtime: Aromas from every corner of the earth, the light earthy Jazz/Indian/reggae/funk/Latin/Afro-Caribbean music of Chicago’s Funkadesi floated through the air, along with the 15 islands of elegant food service counters glowing futuristic white with bright interior lit surfaces.
On the backside of each island was a vodka bar serving drinks using flavors and styles associated with and complementing the various county’s food offerings. In addition, in the middle of the hangar was a huge island with bars on each of its “beaches” serving a nice selection of wines, liquor, cordials, beers, and soft drinks.
In the center of this island were the cool laid-back musicians of Funkadesi. The last sensory entrée of the evening was the overall mood: festive, good times, and way laid back … what a way to set off the beginning of The Breeder’s Cup season here in Louisville!
The crowd we dined with was a special crowd.
Not only did it contain Bobby Flay of The Food Network, but many of Louisville’s insiders such as Bruce Lunsford of Hart/Lunsford Pictures, and a menagerie of horse owners, trainers, jockeys and others in the horse racing business.
Add to that chefs from Canada, Ireland, Japan, and elsewhere representing foods from around the world and you have an international equine and culinary gathering right here in our own back yard that is surely unequaled anywhen and anywhere.
There were just too many dishes to write about them all, so I’ve selected my favorite among some random categories that seemed to best describe the interesting variety represented by 3 hours of tastings:
Best Hot Dish
IRELAND: Chefs Ed Cooney & Maurice Keller served a Kerrygold butter poached fillet of Clare Island salmon with a lemon oil dulse, green vegetable broth and lobster. In addition to this main course that also had an assortment of Irish cheeses, unequaled Irish soda bread, and smoked salmon slices to feast upon. Their counter presentation was the best of the evening with Irish flowers, gourds, loaves of bread and other decorations making the futuristic counter they received into a warm and welcoming Irish B&B. The salmon was a nice ¾ -inch salmon steak cooked rare [is there any other way to serve salmon?] and it was obviously fresh having just been flown over from the cool waters of Ireland. The lemon oil dulse was a perfectly light touch on the salmon something I am going to try at home soon. The salmon was sitting on a bed of vegetable broth. Now the word “broth” here has used pretty loosely as it turned out to be a bed of fresh, slightly cooked bowl of succulent peas, asparagus crosscuts, broccoli florets, and fava beans cooked in a light broth – hmm hmm good! The dish was then topped with a miniature lobster tail which was a nice rich contrast to the somber salmon and lightly seasoned vegetable “broth.” We spent a good deal of time tasting the cheeses and breads while talking with Ed and Maurice who were engaging conservationists and oh so very Irish. We really enjoyed our chatting with them. Hope to meet them in a pub someday and rekindle our short friendship.
CANADA: First off, our neighbors to the North know how to make a fabulous presentation and tasty everything. This was surely the highlight of the evenings dining selections. Chef’s Joseph Lesch & Michael Mortensen of the Woodbine Entertainment Group, Toronto served up an Ontario silky chicken terrine with Quebec Foie Gras, Niagara Peninsula oven dried cherries, Okanagan Valley and Ontario Sea Buckhorn berry compote seedlings AND juniper smoked Gichigami steelhead trout with smoked parsnip, birch infused caviar, horseradish oil & cress. Wow – just writing that wore me out. But the food didn’t. It was the only thing of the evening that I had two of, and if I could have, I’d have had thirds but there was no room at the inn for that. The chicken terrine was an innovative and flawless experience. The texture reminded me of decadently rich and moist carrot cake, its flavor was simply perfect in the meaty chicken and the buttery flavor of the cubes of Foie Gras inserted decoratively. As a side dish the berries were out of this world, just a little sweet, softened just right with the baking process and served chilled in cherry sauce with a light hint of citrus. Joseph and Michael were the perfect hosts talking about their creations and the various uses of the flavoring combinations. The steelhead trout, which was served in a short bamboo pole cup, was perfectly smoked and tender as could be. The caviar just added a special touch to both the presentation and the pleasure to the palet.
Best Local Dish
CHILE: Anthony Lamas of Louisville’s very own Serviche Restaurant served Chilean style fresh fish service with grapefruit, red chile and a mint yucca crisp. Beautifully displayed in a crystal cocktail bowl this dish was not only a tasty delight but the presentation, especially when you saw 20-30 of these lined up at the counter was very inviting. Anthony, in his usual perfection, served a wonderfully tender marinated fish with each ingredient just peaking through. From the grapefruit to the lime to other citrus flavors, along with the cilantro and onion everything was just a hint waiting to tickle your taste buds in just the right way. Serviche is often marinated and served with onions, onions, onions. Anthony restored my faith that today’s chef can actually serve a delightful dish, even one generally fraught with onions, with just a hint of onion to allow the other flavors to get their time at the palate. Cudos!
NEW ZEALAND: Nathan Bates of the New Zealand Embassy, Washington, D.C. served a roasted New Zealand Cervena venison with fennel seed, spiced chickpea puree, paprika yoghurt & cherry relish. This dish started with a base of flavorful brightly orange thick chickpea puree in the middle of the plate. Laid against this were two succulent medallions of venison, with a dollop of yoghurt at its base. The medallions were simply bursting with flavor that you first previewed from the delicious aroma drifting up from them and they were as tender as a $65 filet from Ruth Chris. Then a wonderfully dark read cherry relish was spooned on the meat. The cherry relish was perfect and reminded me of Kentucky’s Henry Bain’s sauce but without the tangy taste which comes from the Worcestershire. The dish was finished with a 3 inch long cracker tail standing up in the middle of the puree. A delight for the eyes and the palate.
Most Original/Unique (tie)
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Mourad Lahlou of Aziza, San Francisco served a Hen Yolk, charmoula, smoked potato foam with chicken wings. This dish could have just as easily been classified under “Biggest Question” below as Mourad was able to mysteriously cook an egg yolk completely through to a beautiful translucent yellow with no sign of running. The yolk was very flavorful and its texture was creamy and not dry like your typical fully cooked egg yolk. It sat on a bed of deliciously light charmoula with just a hint of cumin, garlic and cilantro that beautifully worked with the yolk. Topping this off was another mystery, that of the lighter than air smoked potato foam. The foam was white and in the shape of a small pancake just barely covering the yolk so that the whole dish looked like an egg over easy. Boy was it ever easy on the taste buds! The dish was served with a side plate consisting of a boned chicken wing pan fried to a delicate tenderness that almost melted in your mouth.
FRANCE: Cedric Vongerichten of Perry St./Jean Georges of New York City served the most wonderful rice cracker crusted tuna with hot-tangy sriracha-citrus emulsion on the side. The tuna was prepared very rare and served a room temperature [as noted with the salmon, is there any other way to serve tuna?]. The original/uniqueness came from the rice cracker crust. Salmon such as this is served most everywhere with a sesame seed crust. The only variation I’ve come across is at the Paradiso Restorante in Pittsburg which serves it with black sesame seeds. The ground rice crackers were dry crispy and full of flavor. They put sesame seeds to shame on this dish and I hope somone [Z’s maybe] will give this a try locally. Can’t wait!
JAPAN: Toshio Suzuki of the Sushi Zen in New York City was serving King Salmon Sushi. It was a trio of perfection in its simple plate presentation, taste and freshness. It consisted of a generous slice of the freshest salmon served on a mound of perfectly prepared white rice with a simple ribbon of seaweed across the top. The whole dish served in at the exact center of a pristine white plate with plenty of room to add fresh ginger, wasabi or soy sauce. The Big Question: How did they find salmon so fresh and soft that its texture actually reminded me of the smoothest freshest mozzarella? Delicious!
Best Bar (tie)
While I admit I didn’t try all the Grey Goose concoctions presented at the 15 bars [or I might not be writing this post I did try several whose descriptions fit my likings. I will highlight two of my favorites from the evening.
Kyle Tabler of the Village Anchor and Pub here in Louisville prepared a simple yet elegant cocktail consisting of Grey Goose Le Citron, simple syrup, fresh lime and fresh lemon juices – “shaken not stired.” The freshness of the citrus juices made this a perfect drink and made me think I’ll head over to the Village Anchor to try some of Kyle’s other con-cocktail-tions. Kyle has been a part of Louisville’s restaurant scene for many years from Allos Spiedo to the Red Lounge and now at the Village Anchor to name a few of the local spots Kyle has shared his talents with the city of Louisville.
Paul Borntraeger of Parley Social up the road a piece in Lexington, Kentucky prepared a delightful cocktail served in a champagne flute consisting of Grey Goose La Poire, Luxardo Marachino, lemon juice and Asti Spumanti. The Asti Spumanti added a nice effervescence to the drink that popped the flavor of the other ingredients across your tongue and down the hatch. Paul’s handlebar mustache finished the presentation with trip back to days of yesteryear.
NONE: This was the only area of the evening which fell flat. The deserts were unimaginative and without pizzazz. I tried several but was completely underwhelmed. The presentation seemed more important than the taste. I didn’t finish anything I tried which is unusual for me with deserts. Hope they improve upon this area next year. The good thing was after trying all the main dishes there really wasn’t much need for desert so it by no means put any damper on what was otherwise a wonderful evening.
The three things I take away from this fabulous event are: (1) Great chefs can cook wonderful, elegant, tasty dishes without overwhelming them with onions [what has become a lost art in the past decade], and (2) Louisville is the international headquarters for all things horseracing including how to throw the perfect horseracing party; (3) Let’s play it again Sam…
All in all it was a wonderful evening filling with a menagerie of culinary delights. The evening consisted of too many delightful selections to name them all and with very few disappointments. The event was billed as a debut and I hope it lives up to its name and the event becomes a permanent part of the Breeders Cup World Championships legacy.
About Jeffrey “JR” Rose: JR is from Des Moines, IA, a CPA, and a graduate of The University of Iowa. He is currently a partner in The Cost Reduction Group, a company which assists other businesses in saving money on their spend. He has traveled the world in search of culinary delights and has kept a journal of his findings which he one day hopes to turn into a restaurant featuring the best of the best from his travels. He has written a novel, ”Moosedreams,” of which he has yet shop to a publisher. It is a lighthearted story [typical of a Disney or Pixtar film] about the adventures of a tiny orphaned moose from America, three crazy Italian Greyhounds and two hip mushroom sisters from Florence as they travel across historic Italy in search of a new home. As they travel they are constantly hounded by two bumbling ex-cons hot on their trail. As you might imagine the story contains a variety a restaurant scenes as it moves across beautiful Italy.
My culinary moveable feast included stops with:
Maximo Lopez May, Wall & Water Restaurant, Andaz Wall Street Hotel, NYC;
Lincoln Davies, Tuck Shop, NYC;
Timon Balloo, Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill, Miami;
Joseph Lesch, Woodbine Entertainment Group, Toronto;
Michael Mortensen; Woodbine Entertainment Group, Toronto;
Anthony Lamas, Seviche, A Latin Restaurant, Louisville, KY;
Cedric Vongerichten, Perry St./Jean Georges, NYC;
Wolfgang Ban, Seasonal Restaurant/Edi & The Wolf, NYC;
Ed Cooney and Maurice Keller, Good Food Ireland;
Toshio Suzuki, Sushi Zen, NYC;
Nathan Bates, New Zealand Embassy, Washington, D.C.;
Wamu Zuma and Jacques Venter, Vivace at the Raddison Blu Hotel, Johannesburg;
Mourad Lahlou, Aziza, San Francisco;
Joe Frase, The Blind Pig, Louisville, KY;
Joachim B. Splichal, Patina Restaurant/Patina Restaurant Group, Los Angeles;
Raul A. Claros, La Caraqueña Latin American
The event was hosted by:
GREY GOOSE who, along with several local Louisville mixologists, crafted custom GREY GOOSE cocktails to pair, utilizing GREY GOOSE Original and all three flavors: GREY GOOSE La Poire, Le Citron and L’Orange.