I’m back from the Hamptons after attending one of my favorite Summer food and wine events, the James Beard Foundation’s “Chefs & Champagne.” From oodles of Champagne to fabulous Celebrity Chefs this event has everything a glamour fan could ask for, AND it also raises funds for the philanthropic work of the Foundation – what’s not to love about that? I was smitten the first time I attended in 2014 (click here for the delicious deets) and happy to be back for more.
Set amidst the bucolic splendor of Wölffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaponack, NY (they make a FABULOUS rosé!) the 26th annual “Chefs & Champagne” featured delectable dishes from some of the country’s most celebrated Chefs paired with an endless supply of bubbles including a brut, rosé and blanc de blancs from Champagne Barons de Rothschild. The pièce de résistance, however, was this year’s honoree, one of America’s most talented and celebrated Chefs, John Besh.
Besh is a multiple James Beard award-winning Chef, cookbook author, philanthropist and restaurateur known for his dedication to and passion for his hometown in Southern Louisiana. Today, he is currently the proprietor of 12 restaurants which celebrate the bounty and traditions of this special region. As a result, this year’s “Chefs & Champagne” was dubbed “From the Big Easy to the Big Apple” and a sunkissed and extremely affable Chef Besh kindly took some time to speak with me before the chic Hamptons shindig got underway:
SM: So how does it feel to be here and be honored at the 2016 “Chefs & Champagne”?
JB: Thrilled, tickled to death, it’s humbling. So many greats have been honored by “Chefs & Champagne” & the James Beard Foundation it’s an honor to be included on that list. It also offers a great opportunity to catch up with people I haven’t seen in a while and connect with friends through food.
SM: What are some of your favorite Summer flavors?
JB: In the Summer, it’s really all about what the garden is giving us. I might have had the best peach of my life yesterday from a farm up here, it was just perfect! Summer’s a time where you really don’t want to manipulate the food a whole lot. I want fresh, big, bold flavors but at the same time I want simplicity. The perfect tomato, basil straight from the garden, what’s not to like?
SM: How about something to pair with those flavors? Are you more of a wine or cocktail guy?
JB: I’m much more a wine guy than a cocktail guy. I like things like Grüner Veltliner, with light, crisp, green appley flavors to go with shellfish and fish on the grill. Something that’s still going to work with the acidity in tomatoes and salads and things of that nature. So I’m very much white wine centered this time of year.
“Summer’s a time where you really don’t want to manipulate the food a whole lot. I want fresh, big, bold flavors but at the same time I want simplicity.” ~ Chef John Besh
SM: Are you a Champagne fan?
JB: Big time! Champagne is almost perfect for any occasion, the beginning of a meal, the end of a meal – you could drink Champagne all through the meal and it works! Also, Champagne when it’s hot out with the bubbles and effervescence – it’s a great thing.
SM: With all of your restaurants, how do you keep the plates spinning and maintain your high standards of quality and service?
JB: Good people. It’s really about finding people who get our philosophy about food and about service and hospitality and giving them the tools and allowing them to percolate up. Investing in passionate people makes all the difference, that’s that one ingredient that you just can’t buy and it’s the difference between good and great.
SM: Anything new on the horizon?
JB: Well, we’re about to open our Marsh House restaurant with the Thompson Hotel in Nashville so we’re really busy with that and next year at this time we’ll be opening a little Cajun place in Houston called Eunice which we’re really excited about.
SM: What’s your favorite part of your professional life right now?
JB: Making people happy through food. We also have a foundation where we offer microloans to food producers and culinary school scholarships to inner city and minority youth in New Orleans. Being able to do this, run the restaurants and do good at the same time is it.
Following the interview, I mixed and mingled among the fashionable crowd, sampling all the delicious dishes on display. While everything was truly delectable, here are my top 6 faves along with some tasting notes:
1.) A tasting of ‘haute-couture,’ French Sturia Caviar featured three selections of spectacular sturgeon roe which culminated in their divine Oscietra Grand Cru Caviar.
2.) Chef Dean James Max’s (DJM Restaurants) Nantucket Oysters with Uni Vinaigrette: bright, tasty and refreshing, each oyster was crowned with a delightful dollop of uni which accentuated its lovely, briny flavor.
3.) Chef Brian Cheewing’s (Wölffer Kitchen, Sag Harbor, NY) Spicy Octopus & Corn Salad with Calabrian Chilies & Micro Cilantro: the combination of textures and flavors was the epitome of Summer and this delicious dish was seasoned to perfection!
4.) Chef Anita Lo’s (Annisa, NYC) Potatoes with Celtuce, Buttermilk Dressing & Sturia Caviar: Chef Lo’s mastery of texture and flavor really shined as she incorporated the beautiful flavor of caviar along with creamy dressing and crisp green celtuce.
5.) Chef Jeremy Ford’s (Matador Room by Jean-Georges, Miami Beach, FL) Foie Gras with Strawberry, Granola and Sorrel: the rich, decadent foie paired outrageously well with the sweet, ripe strawberry and texture of the crunchy granola. The vibrant green baby sorrel also added a lovely pop of color – I could’ve eaten 5 of them!
6.) Pastry Chef Alina Martell (Ai Fiori and Vaucluse, NYC) Profiteroles with Strawberries & Cream: this delightful Summery spin on the beloved classic French dessert was refreshing, comforting and utterly delicious!
Many thanks to all the Glamorous Gourmet Girls who came out to support the 2016 Chefs & Champagne! To view Chef Besh’s comments on being honored at this year’s event on our YouTube Channel, please click here and for more information on this or any other James Beard Foundation events, please click here. We’re already looking forward to 2017 so mark your calendar and hope to see you there!
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