Sunday, October 10, 2010

A belated, but epic recap...

...of Euphoria! I'm suddenly reminded that I never really talked about my adventures, as I sit here in the t-shirt I won for asking lots of good questions. Now is a good time, right? Right.

A few weekends ago, a food, wine, and music festival/fundraiser was held here in Greenville, SC. Euphoria was started by Edwin McCain, who is originally from Greenville, and some restaurateurs in the downtown area. The idea of the festival is to play up pairing food and wine, but also throwing music into the mix. To give you an idea of what I mean, the event I was able to go to was a tasting showcase. 4 different chefs gave hour-long demos presenting to the audience a signature dish, something from their new menu, or a dish that showed new techniques. Each chef was paired with a musical artist and during the down time of the demonstration, the artist would play a little something for the audience. In the tent behind us, there was a grand wine tasting. About 30 vintners and representatives from various wineries were there showing off their different varietals, dates, and specialties. When asked, they could pair a great wine with a sample of the chef's demonstrated dish.

The tasting showcase was just one of many events held during the 4 day festival. There were many musical guests including Edwin McCain, Shawn Colvin, Walter Blanding Jr. and a few locals like Taylor Moore who were there at different times during the weekend. There were wine dinners with guest chefs, including the chefs who cooked at the demonstrations. There were jazz brunches, BMW driving experiences, parties and a VIP package that included every event over 4 days for a grand total of $800. In all fairness, that is quite a deal if you consider the price of each event individually (plus the VIP only things).

At any rate, I was lucky enough to be given the chance to go to the Tasting Showcase on Saturday thanks to my fantastic Aunt L and Aunt S. (These are the aunts that spoil me rotten quite often.) The 4 chef's that were there to demonstrate were Mike Lata of FIG (Food is Good) in Charleston, SC; Kevin Rathbun of Rathbun's, Kevin Rathbun Steak, and Krog Bar in Atlanta, GA; Bryan Voltaggio of Top Chef: Las Vegas and Volt in Frederick, MD; and Justin Bogle of GILT in NYC. Unfortunately, I got there for the very end of Mike Latta's demo. However I was there just in time to taste what he created! Swordfish with heirloom eggplant caponata and chanterelles. It was the best swordfish dish I've ever had. After I tried his offering, I went and picked up my complimentary wine glass, a program and got myself settled in the second row (near a cooling fan).

Soon enough it was Kevin Rathbun's turn to show off. He made a sea scallop benedict with country ham studded grits and a tobasco-lime hollandaise. It was amazing. And as much as I love benedict-type dishes, you know this is something I'm going to have to try to recreate. I got to ask him questions like what his favorite ethnic food was. He told us that it really depended on how the night went or if he had a hangover. *giggle* I also got to meet him after his demo and tell him that I was a huge fan (because I am!) without fangirling too much. He's one of the most laid back, fun chef's I've had the chance to meet.

Then it was Bryan's turn. Bryan freaking Voltaggio. He is like my Brandon Patton of the food world- a major chef crush. He's amazing to look at and his demonstration was fascinating. His motto is "It's okay to play with your food", after being told for years by his mother that it was not okay. Now he has made a career out of it and is one of the leading chefs in this new molecular gastronomy craze. He wasn't quite prepared to offer tastings for the whole audience. But he made 3 dishes using fun, food quality chemicals like liquid nitrogen and agar agar. One was a play on a caprese salad, another was a lemon curd with fresh summer berries and finally, his version of tirimisu. He pays a lot of attention to detail when plating yet he never forgets how important flavor is. Each of his dishes were well balanced. How do I know this? Because I got to try his food! He made a lemon curd foam using a whipping cream canister to aerate it. Then he dipped the foam into liquid nitrogen so that it formed a solid ball shape while still remaining soft and creamy on the inside. He also took some berries for a little swim in a bowl of liquid nitrogen until they were solid. He then crushed them to break them into their individual little seeds. The texture was awesome; it reminded me of pop rocks. The temperature and texture manipulations were really interesting. After his demo, where I got to ask more questions, I met him. He talked to me for a few minutes, wished me luck in school and even signed something for me! By this time, I was star struck and ready to explode with joy. But there was still one fantastic chef to go.

Justin Bogle took the stage! He's adorable, but he means business. By the time he was 28 (only 2 years ago), he was the executive chef of GILT receiving 2 stars from the Michelin Guide. It's seriously one of the most impressive achievements from such a young chef. He also played with molecular gastronomy a little when he demonstrated something from his spring/summer menu. He made a green garden gazpacho with king crab, grape verjus, toasted almond powder, and a greek yogurt espuma. He didn't use liquid nitrogen, though. He used tapioca maltodextrin to make the almond powder and agar agar to create the grape verjus. Like Bryan, his attention to detail was pretty impressive and the flavors of this dish were delicate and bright at the same time. I got to meet and talk to Justin a bit after his demo, as well. It was such a pleasure to meet him. Especially since he's been so successful in the city I want to end up in.

It's quite a few weeks later, now, and I'm still so fantastically happy that I got to go. It was an amazing experience I wish all young chefs could have. Meeting so many successful and talented chefs is really invaluable. Thank you so much to my Aunts for giving me the opportunity to go.


Did I mention I had a blast? It still makes me smile and squeal just thinking about it! One of these days, I hope to be one of them. I want to be one of the chefs everyone wants to meet. It could happen :)

<3 Elle

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