Contributed by Hairee Lee. View more photos from the event on our Flickr I’ve lived in Boston for almost two and a half years now and I love it, but one of my chief complaints about this city has been about the food—over priced, poor quality, unimaginative. Boy, did I get a pleasant kick in the pants on Monday night when I attended Boston Magazine’s Taste, featuring over 30 of Boston’s greatest chefs and restaurants of the city.
First thing’s first. A drink. The evening begins with Peter Zimmerman pictured here in his kilt serving Johnny Walker’s finest whiskeys. He recommends the Gold Label Scotch, eighteen years old. Or as some might put it, legal. ((And let me just add here that the association of food, drink, and sex is clearly presented in the event: the dim lighting with the night club colored accent lights, the bite sized, nibbling portions that leave you constantly longing, the uniforms, in this case a chef’s jacket, which most women will attest are always attractive on men, the free flowing wines and spirits that loosens you up and enhances your libidinal instincts. As I said to my companion, Anna, it was an evening of fifty fabulous gastronomic one night stands.)) It goes down smooth as syrup, the perfect lubricant for the gastronomic delights to follow the amber spirit down our gullets. Here is how the evening starts: Menton with two dishes: shrimp mousse served in delicate, thimble-sized potato cups, and then an equally delicate dish of salmon and caviar served in an hollowed egg topped with a shrimp foam. This is the sort of thing I’ve seen chefs make on culinary shows like Top Chef or when Anthony Bourdain goes to more gastronomically advanced places like Madrid. There are miniature taste bombs detonating in my mouth and in my brain. Can it get better than this? Oh yes, yes it can.
Tremont 647’s chef and owner Andy Husband, also former contestant on Hell’s Kitchen serves salmon salad on scallion grits pancake, which are grilled on location. Perfectly seasoned, the contrasting effect of the cold salad and the warm grits is terrific. I ask Andy if Gordon Ramsey is as big a hard ass as he seems on the show. And before I quote his response I want to add here that Andy strikes me as a very nice guy: talented, clearly, and a generally good natured dude. He says, "They screw with you." He adds that the show has very little to do with cooking, which I think is a shame because Andy can.
Summer Shack’s Jasper White looks like the Doc Brown from Back to the Future, except his laboratory cooks up pumpkin and lobster bisques with pumpkin seed oil to be enjoyed in the present. With four cookbooks to his name and four Summer Shack locations, his soup gets four out of four stars with me and my Taste Companion.
I want to give a shout out to Ketel One Vodka at this point and lead your attention to the ice sculpture bar. Nevermind that Ketel One is of my favorite vodkas, which probably makes me biased to love the event even more, but the Ketel One people created gigantic bottle shaped ice sculptures with a spiral pipe running down their length. If you ask for a drink, the bartender pours the vodka from the spout at the top of the bottle and you watch Ketel One luge down into your glass—chilled, smooth, syrupy as vodka should be. It is a spectacular display, and as you can see I have to put my tongue to the bottle in appreciation of the stunning visual experience. Ladies, this is vodka. L’Espalier. Even before arriving to the event, this restaurant is at the top of my check-it-out list. Frank McClelland, the executive chef, has received numerous accolades for his modern take on Franco-American cuisine. I am not disappointed: his dish consists of a thick flat noodle made of shrimp, not flour, shrimp, via some culinary alchemy I won’t bother to explain here ((Not because I don’t think you will find it interesting but because I couldn’t understand it even though Frank explained it to me. It’s complicated.)), served with a deep fried thing ((You see what I mean? It’s complicated.)) that looked like a crispy rosebud, and rose-colored sauce buds, garnished with a gentle sprinkle of watercress. It was, hands down, the most unique dish of the night. It was imagined and created over the course of a couple of days, made especially for the event. In other words, this can’t be found in the L’Espalier menu. I really appreciate this about Chef McCelland—he sees cooking as a creative outlet that engages his imagination and gets him excited. He sees cooking as an art.
Mary Dumont of Harvest serves up slider sized sandwiches made of root vegetable slaw and duck confit (if I’m not mistaken). Chef Dumont, besides, Tiffany Faisen of Rocco and the first (and in my opinion the best) season of Top Chef, is the only other female chef I will see at the event. ((I want to add here that, like medicine, law enforcement, emergency services, etc., professions that are often intense-stamina demanding, the gastronomic world is still dominated by men. I’m not sure why this is. Even perusing the event program I see that every single featured chef is a man.)) My Taste Companion gives the sandwich an enthusiastic thumbs up. ((All this gourmet eating and drinking doesn’t faze my Taste Companion in the least. Perhaps a bit nostalgic for her days of business dinners at fine restaurants—and unlike me, who is giggling inside or outside the whole time wondering gleefully that I’m the luckiest little girl in the world for getting tickets to this event—TC strolls cool as a cucumber, enjoying the event with an air of familiarity that I find oh so adult. Yes, this is what it’s like to be a grown up.))
Let’s take a moment here to give the old digestive machine time to do its thing unmolested and enjoy a beverage break at one of the several J. Lohr wine bars set up throughout the event space. Dimitri is our server. Dimitiri is from Russia. By this point in the evening, my TC and I have tried Lohr’s chardonnay (meh) and pinot noir (nice) and now the merlot (not bad!). ((Dimitri isn’t the biggest fan of merlot and from having watched the film Sideways I know that merlot grapes are like the OG’s of the grape world: tough, grows like weeds even without tender love and care. Dimitri from Russia is a kind of wine snob, but then again who isn’t a gastronomic snob or who isn’t at least playing the gastronomic snob at an event like this?))
Next up is Chef Michael Schlow of Radius, who was on Top Chef Master. Pictured below is the best mashed potato I have ever had garnished with cheddar, bacon, and a basket cut potato chip. It sounds familiar and perhaps even routine, and that’s what made it such a surprise, because it tasted better than any potatoey morsel I’d ever had.
Stuart Race is the executive chef at Pairings. His scallop dish with a Riesling vinaigrette is inventive and delicious, in keeping with the culinary focus of his restaurant that involves local ingredients and creativity.
Post 390’s chef Eric Brennan serves braised lamb crustini with pickled vegetables. He points out the displays of tall glass cylinders filled with pickled vegetables, including sea beans, but I am too absorbed in the buttery lamb on the toasted baguette to pay attention. The lamb. Oh, the lamb. Tender, seasoned perfectly, braised for hours—you can and actually want to taste Time when it’s this good. The sweet man offers me seconds.
Last but not least, from Asana, executive chef, Nathan Rich, prepared braised short ribs, so tender that I can cut it with a plastic fork, served with a butternut squash puree. Scrumptious. This is immediately followed by a chocolate mousse served push-pop style created by Nelson Paz, the executive pastry chef at Mandarin Oriental Boston. The dessert reminds me of the childhood hard candy called Push Pops. ((For those of you who are less familiar with North American confections, these were cylindrical hard candies encased in a plastic case the size of a lipstick tube. You stuck your finger up thought the bottom of the tube and pushed up the candy. The selling point of this treat was that you could push down the candy if you wanted to save some for later and a lit would keep it from catching dust and other childhood debris.)) It’s chocolaty, sexy, and fun. Both dishes are rich and bold, and I’m startled to discover how young the executive chefs are. Neither Rich nor Paz could be over thirty.
In fact, most of the chefs, being so accomplished are surprisingly younger than my pallet would guess. Their age belie patience, discipline, and knowledge, all of which can be experienced through their flavors. If one could feel by direct sensation, rather than discover through rational perception, talent and drive, then Taste would be the forum for such an experience.
The evening ends with our Johnny Walker man in his kilt who kindly offers me an end-of-gastronomic-excellence-night cigarette. It’s the perfect finish to a perfect evening that made me, me with my complaints about the lackluster food scene in Boston, eat my words. Eat them with relish.