What happens when a professional chef decides to let her creative juices flow, and invites colleagues and foodie friends to enjoy the results? An underground dinner. Otherwise known as a very good time, with great food and drink.
Miss Chef spent all day (and night) Saturday preparing and serving a fine dining experience for nine guests. She had the help of two of her colleagues at the Art Institute, who convened in our kitchen before loading up and heading out to the professional kitchen at the site she’d arranged. (The location is usually kept secret, though it changes with every event.)
I arrived quite early, but the table was already set, and it was gorgeous.
As you can tell, by the time I snapped this picture, the other guests had arrived, and the appetizers were coming out. I guess I was so excited by Miss Chef starting her very own dinner series, I forgot to get a picture of those. Fortunately, we all had our phones out, and we got this one, taken by another guest.
This was labeled “Liver and Onions” on the menu. It’s chicken liver mousse with candied pearl onions and a few batonnets of pickled apple. I hate liver, but I loved this.
Next up was the soup course, served quite charmingly in squat mason jars.
That’s an apple-cheddar soup, with a cheddar-bacon fritter on top and a dollop of crème fraiche with chives. Miss Chef got the inspiration for the unusual presentation when she went into the shed to get something and happened to see the case of jars. Why not?
Now as you may have noticed in the photos above, wine was an integral part of service.
Yes, each course was paired with a different wine…and since a few of the guests canceled at the last minute, there was a little bit extra in everyone’s glass. Plus, there were enough dishes and chairs for the chefs to join us! Yes, it became a less formal and very jolly dinner as the evening went on.
Even the salad course had its own wine. This was a salad of shredded brussels sprouts, cranberries and toasted pecans, dressed with an amazing brown butter vinaigrette and topped with shaved parmesan (shaved by yours truly…I also shredded the sprouts and chopped the pecans. That’s how I earn my spot at the table, I guess).
Next up was the fish course. Remember, like you, the guests had no idea what was next, nor how many courses were being served.
This was black grouper caught 40 miles off the coast of Wilmington, according to the seller. It’s sitting on a bed of locally grown rice and surrounded by locally grown snap peas. The oranges, while from Florida, are direct from the orchard...and the fennel shaved on top is just fennel. Just a few weeks too early for that here yet.
After fish came the meat course.
Miss Chef used her contacts to get locally sourced duck breast, which she seared and glazed with one of her experiments from last fall’s canning session: beer jam! Made from her very own beer! How’s that for local? The grit cake underneath and the pea shoots on top are also grown locally. This dish truly is a demonstration that we can eat really well here without going too far from home.
Finally, finally, we had reached the end, and were rewarded by a double dessert. Oh my…I’m feeling full again just looking at it.
On the left is a triple chocolate fudge torte, on the right is a coconut shortcake with citrus chutney and lime sweet cream. No, I didn’t finish mine.
I did stay long enough to hang out with the smokers, be put in charge of a mother-of-vinegar one of the guests had brought for Miss Chef, and help pack up the last of the dishes.
I also took down the working menu from where it had been taped on the wall in the kitchen. Just as Miss Chef did with her guests, I present it to you here at the end of the meal.
Well, they got clean copies…but I think this one’s much more interesting.