Tom Colicchio looked serious. Actually, Tom Colicchio looked stressed. There he was, the head judge of Top Chef and owner of various pedigreed restaurants around the country, plating ash roasted pheasant. Jonathan Benno — chef of Lincoln Ristorante and a longtime Thomas Keller lieutenant — was nearby helping with a sauce, as was Michael Symon, readying a course of braised beef shank. The crew was working in a catering kitchen at New York’s Bowery Hotel, a space more likely reserved for slicing cheese plates than any serious culinary endeavor.
But this was what was going down at the nearly accurately pegged The Greatest Meal Ever Cooked — a hyperbolic claim by the editors of Esquire, who threw the shindig.
It’s a neat thing when a few chefs get together to guest star on a course-by-course seated dinner (as opposed to the more common walk-around tasting where restaurants send their marketing reps to pass out plates of crudo with a warm smile and a slip of the business card). But to sit in a low-lit ballroom, sipping on Macallan 15 while Michael White talks about his plate of plump scallops with butternut squash capanata and shaved black truffles, well, is just plain decadent.
(I’m not going to be the asshole who shrugs this off as just part of the job, just as food festivals are part of the job. Oh snap, humble brag alert. Ok, let me start over. It was a real honor to be invited and the least I can do is write some lines about how much game was brought last night. Also, shout-out to the magazine’s food and drink editor Ryan D’Agostino for picking such a well-rounded group. And for inviting Linton Hopkins from Atlanta, one of the guys good guys from the South not named Sean Brock).
And about Linton Hopkins’ pheasant dish. It was my favorite of the evening, and I’m talking outside the main protein — which was honestly slightly over-cooked, but incredibly inventive with a bitter (though supremely appealing) “ash” coating topped with a toasted kale chip. He also did grits — I’m thinking there was a 50-50 starch/butter ratio going on. My man. A Benton’s bacon persimmon marmalade brought the accent of smoke and sweetness.
And then there was Christina Tosi doing a plated dessert! Where does that happen when it’s not happening here. OK, this all really, really worked: Pear sorbet, pumpkin ganache (like cheesecake from your Midwestern aunt), blue cheese (come on!), pickled pears, sugary cornflakes on top. Sips of Macallan 18 followed. Just great.