Courtesy of Nathan Crave

These last few weeks have been almost as busy as the month of May. We had the joy of cooking for a few charities and sharing our food with children at a Montessori school. While it is awesome to cook for celebrity chefs, there is something special in preparing food for less famous individuals. The wow factor is sometimes more tangible, especially when we get to interact with our diners.

My favorite dinner so far has been the charity dinner that we served at The Palace Ballroom, a private dining hall operated by the Tom Douglas Restaurants.  I worked for the catering department of TDR during the holiday season, just prior to being hired at The Lab, and it was fun and funny to reunite with the staff.  They really are high quality people. Nathan Crave, one of the chefs from Seatown, actually cooked with us, and the serving staff provided friendly and professional service for the guests. The guests were normal citizens who purchased tickets for the fundraiser dinner. The tickets were auctioned on Ebay, and the prices paid varied by bidding rate. It was fun to see the variety of guests who donated money and joined us for dinner.

In addition to our approximately thirty courses, four guest chefs joined us in an all-Seattle — and one Washington DC — collab. Chefs Jason Franey, Jason Wilson, Matt Costello, and Bill Yossess volunteered signature dishes from their restaurants. Wow. I spent half my time sneaking awe-struck glances in their directions, and half the time I scampered around trying to fill requests and plate dishes.

The one big characteristic I noticed about each of them was the grace with which they carried themselves. I have only been professionally cooking for a year, and I certainly lack the grace that makes me appear to glide across the kitchen. I could tell quickly which chefs had extensive banquet experience, and it was amazing to observe and then imitate.

Chef Yossess was able to assess a kitchen quickly and absorb himself into the team seamlessly and efficiently. The honey globes he dished out were beautiful, precise, and ever so modernist. He told me earlier that he doesn’t do much modernist cooking at the White House, since much of the menu is rooted in tradition, but occasionally he gets to prepare something different. He graciously helped me cut my Green Pea Blondies into exact squares, which we gave away as an after-party favor with a few other gifts, including a fresh tea blend, which I packaged into little tins, and jars of honey spiced with chilies and coriander, which Andy Nahn had created.

Chef Franey had brought his pastry chef Baruch and two of his staff chefs. They worked around each other in a tightly coordinated dance that showed experience and expertise. The foie gras dish the Canlis team brought was beautiful. It was tight, exact, and balanced. Franey and his staff were gracious and professional.

Chef Costello comes from the Inn at Langley, and his King Crab dish was multi-faceted and creative. He had originally apologized for the many components of his dish, but after plating a few items with the MC team, I think he realized that his dish fell in line with the rest of the menu. I had a chance to pipe a sriracha foam onto the plates, and I got my first experience working with Versawhip. It’s a pretty rad product, and it makes a foam out of basically any liquid. He used xanthan gum to stabilize the foam, and it was a pretty interesting element that contrasted the buttery crab really nicely.

Chef Wilson from Crush brought his popular Bacon and Eggs dish. The hollowed out chicken eggs were set with a parsnip custard and topped with roe and a few other components. The parsnip custard was intense, toasty, and rich. I am a sucker for custards and creams, so I thought it was a pretty impressive dish. Chef Wilson maintains his wit while working, and it was fun to plate dishes with him.

We tend to get a bit bottle-necked when plating, because there are multiple layers to each dish that require a different individual to plate. While I’d like to pretend our reaching and crossing-across each others’ lines of vision was coordinated and militaristic, I imagine it looked more like a wolf pack descending on dinner.

I had the pleasure of creating a coconut cream pie riff with my colleague Ben Hulsey. During an impromptu cooking day, he had created a coconut ice cream and coconut candy floss. While developing recipes for  MCAH, I had made a coconut pastry cream and short pie crust. We threw around a lot of ideas and eventually landed on a coconut cream cookie with those components, and with elements of a caramelized shredded coconut, cilantro, and lime.  Our plating dish turned out to be tiny, since the dessert was passed after dinner, so the cookie ended up a bit piled together. I want to explore the plating and components more, but it turned out pretty well.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any other pictures of the dinner, but there are a few other sites that do, including Cooking Light. I’m not in the pictures, somehow I managed to be out of shots (sorry Mom!), but that doesn’t matter. The plates are pretty amazing.

Here is Cynthia Nim’s write up about the dinner. The cover photo features Anjana’s passionfruit quail eggs, which are pretty incredible.