Last night I attended what must be the glitziest, most glamourous, wine dinner ever cooked by the world’s top chefs.
On an evening designed to celebrate Trotter’s 20th anniversary high-rolling customers paid $5000 a head to have their meals cooked by Thomas Keller of The French Laundry in California, Daniel Boulud of Daniel’s in New York, Heston Blumenthal who runs the three Michelin-starred Fat Duck in England, Ferran Adria of El Bulli in Spain, Tetsuya Wakuda of Tetsuya’s in Sydney, top French pastry chef Pierre Herm and of course Trotter himself.
So what did we eat and drink? Well, chefs are competitive creatures so each strove to outdo the other in the extravagance and ingenuity of their allotted dish. Judging by the applause Blumenthal took the top prize with his ‘Sounds of the Sea’ seafood dish which was designed to be eaten to the sounds of crashing waves on an accompanying ipod but truly most of the dishes were extraordinary.
Trotter’s team kicked off with a dish described as Four Heirloom Tomatoes and Four Organs, a clever spin on a bistro style dish of tomato salad and charcuterie. Both the tomatoes and ‘organs’ (a bold move considering most Americans dislike offal) were served as a terrine and the dish was accompanied by a glass of 1993 Dom Perignon Oenotheque Brut (a slightly off-key pairing)
Next Ferran Adria served a wonderful dish of Ostras con Pistacho y Citricos - oysters with green pistachios and caviare. The dish consisted (I think - it’s always hard to tell with Adria) of barely cooked oysters, a raw oyster sauce and an oyster infused foam served with a pistachio sorbet. It was partnered very successfully with a crisp, minerally Ca’ del Solo Albarino from Bonny Doon who supplied all the wines for the evening as winemaker Randall Grahm had apparently done for the first winemaker dinner Trotter ever held in 1987.
Adria also sneaked in a cube of toasted sesame ‘cake’, a featherlight concoction of sponge-like consistency that was apparently based on pureed oyster and black sesame.
Seafood was also the basis of the next two dishes . First an Asian-style Ravioli of Asahi Crab with Crab Terrine and Finger Lime, a wonderfully fresh-tasting dim-sum style dish from Tetsuya Wakuda. There was a crunchy component - possibly some kind of seed - which I can’t quite place but which made the dish. I’ll tell you if I find out. This was again one of the less successful pairings. It needed a crisper wine than Grahm’s 2005 Cigare Blanc, a rich Rhone-style white.
Next Heston’s 'Sound of the Sea' which consisted of oysters, razor clams and sea-urchin and three different kinds of seaweed served with an oyster juice and clam stock based foam and ‘edible sand’ made from tapioca and blitzed ice cream cones. As you ate the dish, which was infused with flavours of the sea, you could hear the waves crashing. Quite magic! It was accompanied not with a wine but a clean-tasting, elegant Junmai Ginjo-shu sake, the Sato No Homare ‘Pride of the Village’ from Sudo Honke which was a really great match.
The next course was a magnificent meat course from Thomas Keller - Four Story Hill Farm “Cuisse de Poularde”, King Richard Leeks, spice-poached pruneaux d’Agen and Black Winter Truffle Coulis - a stuffed ballotine of chicken from milk-fed (yes, milk-fed) chickens. Although you’d imagine the taste would be quite delicate the truffle coulis made this emphatically a red wine dish. The proferred wine was a Bonny Doon Le Pousseur Syrah 2005 which Grahm who was sitting next to me compared to a Cornas but it also went incredibly well with a 1995 Musigny from Comte Georges de Vogue which one collector had offered the gathering from his cellar.
Next back to Trotter but still with red wine - for a dish of Line-caught cod with Ankimo, Black trumpet mushrooms and ‘surprises’ I didn't quite figure what the surprise element was but the mushrooms and the crisp cod skin were enough to keep the dish perfectly in balance with two robust vintages of Le Cigare Volant, one from a 1987 magnum which was still tasting remarkably youthful, the other from 2003
Finally - in terms of the savoury dishes at least - a pice de resistance from Daniel Boulud wild Scottish grouse ‘Cromesquis’ with parsnips, Anjou pears and sauce Grand Veneur-Cassis. Although not listed in the description of the dish it also controversially contained foie gras which Trotter himself stopped using 5 years ago. “Someone has to bring foie gras back to Chicago” said Boulud, who is famous for his luxury foie-gras filled DB burger. “But this is the one and only occasion.”
The pairings for that were two single estate syrahs - the 1992 Bonny Doon Estate Syrah from Monterey and the 2005 Bien Nacido Syrah from Santa Maria. Someone also generously passed round a bottle of 1989 Chateau Lafite which was quite magnificent with the dish.
The only dish that didn’t go down well was the dessert - a quite extraordinary sucr/sal (sweet/savoury) concoction from top Parisien patissier Pierre Herm which included popcorn, mint, pea flavoured mascarpone and English peas which did nothing to enhance the reputation of French cuisine. It was served with a very seductive dessert wine ‘Le Vol des Anges’ from Bonny Doon to which it did absolutely no favours.
What was quite extraordinary about the occasion was the fact that there were no clashes of egos (so far as I could see) Trotter’s pulling power in being able to attract so many famous names - and the people who weren’t there as much as those who were. No Gordon Ramsay. No French chefs apart from Herm. It enhances one’s impression that the very best food is increasingly found outside France so I shall be interested to see how I get on at Marc Veyrat when I eat there in a couple of weeks’ time.
Next: my other extraordinary gastronomic experience in Chicago. Is Alinea even better than Trotter’s? See later this week . . .