Cindy is a local real estate agent, she also was the agent that helped us buy our home (a gross understatement), she also is a server at the restaurant, and she also employees my wonderful wife to do some of the maintenance of her listings on various websites, she also is the newly elected president of the realtor's association in our fine county. She is a busy lady and is one of those people that gets more done by 10am then most of us do all day. A few months back she mentioned wanting to auction off the private chef services of Will and I at a benefit dinner for the realtor association. To say the least we were hesitant. While I have wanted to wade into the realm of this, and have even begun to gather the service ware things I would need to do this sort of thing on a regular basis I have been very, very precarious as it can cause the absolute largest headache you can possibly fathom. Crappy ovens, horrid tools, no work space, drunk guests, dietary restrictions, and more can all wreck havoc on a meal like this. It is also almost impossible to understand the expectation of the guest. The appealing part of it for me is that it would give me the opportunity to really push the boundaries of new and different things. Things much different then what I can get away with in the restaurant, or with small children even my own home for that matter. Not knowing the expectation of a guest, or fully understand what they are willing to eat makes me double hesitate as it means potentially that they will not be totally blown away by the whole experience, a risk that you cant afford to take. In a perfect world I would invite 12 strangers over to my home, and serve them whatever I wanted and try to make enough money to cover the food and beverages, and maybe a new piece of equipment now and then. The meal wouldn't need to be overtly formal or fussy, and I could take a ton of liberty with not just the food, but the way it was plated and served.
We couldn't tell Cindy no. Clatsop county 300 time Iron chef winner Will took the main billing and I much less real estate on the flyer. I didn't mind a bit. It was then decided that the item would go to the verbal auction rather then the silent one as a bit of buzz could be created about it. Cindy asked me a few times what the value was and we assumed it was easily worth $400. The dinner was supposed to be for a total of 4 people at their home. If they desired we would cook the food at their house and even do some dishes that we could talk and teach them about, or we could show up with already prepped food and be silent. Either way we refused to commit to an actual menu. While Melissa and I were invited to the auction dinner we had a few obstacles that prevented us from attending. The item went up for auction and was sold for $650, which surprised me. In the back of my head I still thought that we would never actually have to cook it. The purchaser made contact with Will and invited us over to check out the kitchen and chat. Oddly enough a week or two before I had the opportunity to cook a all vegan three course meal for an author who was a guest speaker at the local elementary schools and serve him lunch at the restaurant., this purchaser who was accompanying him, and I had that chance to meet as I talked about the food I had done for them. As a combination mothers day, birthday present her and her husband bought the dinner, and happily they had a very nice kitchen and lived only a block or so from the restaurant. She wanted a total of 6 people to attend and for the price she paid we weren't about to say no. We started throwing out dates that worked for us that were a month or so away and she says "what about next Thursday?" After checking our phones we couldn't think of a reason that wouldn't work so we agreed to it. It immediately put us in cram mode. They assured us there would be absolutely no dietary restrictions, and they would eat anything we deemed fit for consumption. They also were not that interested in our interaction with them. They were more worried about making this easy on us. There was also two ovens, and we didn't want her to stress anything we told her we would even supply all of the service ware, so we didn't leave her with a sink full of dishes.
As the days flipped by Will and I went back and forth on conception ideas, because of the money involved we decided it needed to be at least semi-formal and decided to go with a multi course offerings. An app and at least five courses was the goal. Wine/cocktail pairings seemed almost required for that amount of money as well. We also, thankfully, were able to enlist the help of Cindy to serve the dinner and our fantastically talented pasty chef to handle dessert, and even the horrid task of cleaning up after Will and I during the actual event. We have learned that it is always nice to have a woman's perspective for setting and table design. She is much better at it then Will and I combined then multiplied by 5. We streamlined our thoughts and split the work load, the preceding days I was off so Will took most of the load upon himself.
On the day of, we went back and forth on flatware, glassware, and plate ware, pulling from the restaurant, and both of our own personal stashes. Product was pulled from personal stash as well, things that we grew, eggs, etc came from our own homes. Pairings were formatted, prep was done, and the trucks were loaded. These people had no idea what was going to hit them. We set up, and I think if anything made the purchaser uncomfortable it was three chefs and a professional server in her kitchen while she chatted with her husband and had a glass of wine. Glassware polished and her guests began to arrive.
App- Salt block cooked gulf prawn tacos
Taking our block of Himalayan sea salt we heated the whole block in her oven at 500 for an hour or so before service, we had made some 4 inch tortillas, and we paired it with avocado, black beans, onions and cilantro. The block was pulled from the oven and set on the island in the kitchen and then the raw prawns were set on top of it to cook to the desired doneness and release all of those aromas into the air, then they made their own. With that we served a Gruet sparkling wine, and they mingled, introduced themselves to each other and met us. Then they sat. It was at this point we were instructed that one of our guests didn't eat meat. Fish yes, meat no. We were able to make it work through the problem courses.
1- Velvet Corn Bisque with seared lobster
A super classic nod to the old school New England chef that Will is. An absolute velvety textured soup, with a lobster tail garnish. for the pairing we stuck with the sparkling.
2- Candied bacon brussel sprouts, pecan cake-
Maple syrup lacquered bacon (cooked and basted on low heat for hours) sauteed brussel sprouts, and a cake made from pecans, eggs, fresh herbs and some cheese that we seared and placed on top.
3- Apple brined wild boar chops, soubise potatoes, green apple demi glace-
The wild boar is helicopter shot out of Texas and was brined with apple juice and apple puree. the racks were roasted in a really hot oven and then cut into chops for service. The potatoes were local fingerlings that were cooked and then crushed and topped with a caramelized onion sauce. the demi was a veal stock reduction mounted with butter and had a green apple puree cut into it at the last minute. Brickhouse gamay noir (the first and only certified biodynamic Oregon wine I have seen)
4- Asparagus salad, poached egg, Columbia River sea salt, effervescent vinaigrette-
Grilled asparagus tips and greens tossed with a lemon vinaigrette that we passed through my soda siphon, with my poached eggs, finished with Columbia River slough sea salt that one of my cooks makes in his spare time- more brickhouse
5- Cheese course-
Served on a cedar plank with some raspberries, Beachers flagship Reserve white cheddar, Rogue Creamery Echo Mountain bleu, marcona almonds, Will's honey.
6- Black Forest Cake- toshino cherries- Moonshine toshino cherry cocktail
7- Caramel sea salt truffles, sleepy monk coffee
It was a crazy flurry of activity in the kitchen, but in the end they were extremely satisfied. It is hard to explain how many different plates, sauces, garnishes, etc that we needed to get to the house to pull this off. For a while I had a oven warming plates, the other oven at 500 degrees, and all five burners on the ceramic cook top on full whack. We packed up as quietly as we could, wiped and swept, and left the kitchen, allowing them to enjoy the rest of their evening without us. We returned the next morning to pick up the last of our stuff and they assured us that a good time was had by all, and they already wanted to do it again at some point.
It was a great experience and while we were a few minor hiccups from flawless, I think that is to be expected. It was fun to write a menu that had no sort of underlying theme, and bounced around all over the place. That was an idea that Will and I came up with as it is the anti-menu that we are always working towards in our restaurants. This was relief from the constant push te be more streamlined, more local, more focused. Thanks for reading.
A note- I have been slacking on this lately. This post was originally penned a few months ago, but not finished or edited until now. Sorry for the delay. An attempt to justify with be with you shortly.