Not only is Nashville, TN becoming a hotbed for gastro-tourism, but the city is attracting its share of visiting chefs as well. Share Our Strength is a national non-profit organization that raises money for their stated goal of ending childhood hunger in the United States by 2015. One of the ways that they stock their coffers is by holding chefs’ dinners around the country.
Last night, Nashville was the lucky location for one of these dinners. The event was hosted by Tyler Brown, the James Beard–nominated executive chef of the Capitol Grille at the Hermitage Hotel. Not to be confused with the steakhouse chain, Nashville’s Capitol Grille is one of the best restaurants in Music City, with a farm-to-table menu that actually draws ingredients from an urban farm operated by staff at the hotel and the restaurant.
Brown invited a few of his local compatriots and some rock star chefs from around the region to work in his kitchen to create a remarkable meal for supporters of Share our Strength.
The local hired guns were Tandy Wilson of City House and Hal Holden-Bache — who took time away from opening his new venture at Lockeland Table to help create an array of passed hors d’ouevres for attendees to enjoy as they hip-checked each other around the silent auction table. Appetizers of sunburst trout and a deconstructed “BLT” stuffed into a fresh cherry tomato were especially well received by the assembled crowd.
Brown’s invited guest chefs represented some of the best of Southern cuisine. Ed Lee of 601 Magnolia in Louisville demonstrated his cooking chops as well as his wicked sense of humor, made famous during his season on Top Chef-Texas. During the live auction, Lee made several promises to increase the bidding on his lot, a dinner for 12 at his Louisville restaurant. Some of the add-ons to the catalog description included trimming your wife’s hair and giving a back rub to one man. Lee definitely knows how to get the bidding going.
Two chefs from Atlanta completed the roster. Ryan Smith of Empire State South is recognized as one of the region’s up-and-coming chefs and his restaurant has become a tough reservation for Atlantans. Steven Satterfield is owner/operator of Miller Union, a restaurant known for fostering the partnership between chef and farmer. Satterfield has been recovering from cancer treatments over the past year and was a welcome addition to the proceedings and a really positive force in the kitchen.
A unique aspect of Nashville Share Or Strength dinners is the concept of a “Community Plate.” To emphasize the equanimity of the evening’s brigade, each chef contributes one amazing small bite to a shared platter that is passed around the table. Diners must also demonstrate that sort of attitude as well, since there is only enough for one morsel apiece, and nobody was going to let the merguez sausage with green tomato chow-chow, beef heart with kale-peanut pesto, smoked pork terrine, rabbit sausage topped with rhubarb and nigella seed or lamb salami with Jezabel sauce pass by. Unless, of course, they had concerns about gout.
Brown kicked off the first course with a lovely dish of heirloom beets, green olive vinaigrette, biscuit crumble and Cruze Dairy ricotta salata. The resulting combination of Old World Italy and old school Deep South cusine was remarkable. Smith answered Brown’s challenge with an inventive Tybee Island shrimp sausage served with a sweet oat scrapple, tomato jam, piquant nardello peppers and dollops of deeply flavorful shoyu vinaigrette.
Lee handled the main course admirably with a sliced veal breast served with corn pudding, roasted tzan garlic, a tamarind glaze and what Lee described in detail. “Here’s a bunch of fresh vegetables that I can’t remember because there are so many great vegetables coming ripe around now, I sort of go crazy and throw stuff in there.” As capricious as his choices may have been, they were very well made.
Satterfield batted cleanup with a dessert served in a precious little cast iron skillet that might have gone home in several diners’ purses had this not been a tony charitable event. An incredibly fresh blackberry cobbler was nestled under a crispy sweet biscuit crust and topped with a creamy scoop of Cruze buttermilk ice cream. The contrast in textures and sweet and tart made for a spectacular ending to a wonderful meal.
The Share Our Strength “No Kid Hungry” culinary tour continues throughout the year with upcoming stops in Little Rock, Chicago and Charleston. If the opportunity arises in a city near you, consider treating yourself to an amazing dinner while you help this very worthy cause.
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