Several years ago, Rebecca Masson and Tracie Hartman held the first "Sweet and Savory" dinner benefitting Lucky Dog rescue. They had a few dozen people and raised $3,500. Nine dinners later, and the duo--along with a slew of local and regional chefs--have raised an estimated $150,000 for the animal rescue organization. Last night's event had a theme, "All Male Revue," and featured nine (attractive) male chefs, each cooking either a sweet or a savory course along with Masson of Fluff Bake Bar, who organized the event.
The Ralph Smith Photography Studio, aka 5226 Elm, was the ideal setting for the dinner and silent auction benefitting Lucky Dog. About 120 people dined on nine courses, from appetizers to desserts (three of 'em), and everyone left raving about the creativity behind the dishes and the generous servings of alcohol that accompanied each plate.
Though this dinner featured chefs from across Texas, the hands-down favorite dish of the evening seemed to be a creation of hometown boys Andrew Vaserfirer and Marcelo Garcia of Revival Market. The two smoked brisket and fed it into a sausage casing before smoking it a second time, then serving it on a bed of lightly dressed greens sprinkled with crunchy burnt ends. This part of the dish was served family style, while each guest received his or her own plate of grits to go along with it. When I sneaked back to the kitchen later in the meal, I caught a fellow food writer going to town on a cast iron skillet of grits with a wooden spoon. Even the other chefs in the kitchen were grabbing spoons and shoveling grits into their mouths between platings.
The plating of the dishes was almost as impressive as the meal itself. Several long tables were arranged end to end and covered with empty plates. Then, when it was time to serve the next course, all the chefs would converge upon the table, each with his (or her) own assignment--one person squeezing sauce, another adding garnishes--until the row of tables was filled with 120 perfect plates of food. There was very little talking during this time, save for the occasional off-color joke (these are chefs we're talking about), and everyone worked together to make sure each dish was expedited as quickly, smoothly and beautifully as possible.
The evening began with passed hors d'oeuvres from local chef Randy Rucker and San Antonio chef/owner of Tuk Tuk Tap Room, David Gilbert. Rucker produced mini corn bread muffins with blue crab jelly and chickweed persillade as well as sweet potato chicharrones. Gilbert surprised guests with a durian-coconut custard ("Don't smell it," I told people of the durian dish, "just eat it.") and a Vietnamese-inspired plate of fried frogs legs, grated green mango and sliced pomelo in a salty, vinegary fish sauce.
For the first course, new Reef chef de cuisine Ryan Lachaine pickled shrimp and served them with coriander yogurt, sliced spring onions and a bit of fennel, perhaps a preview of what's to come at the Midtown seafood restaurant in the coming months.
Next, Nathan Lemley of Parkside in Austin made a whipped lardo and vegetable sauce served with fresh or salted spring veggies like carrots and radish and a bit of preserved lemon curd with a crispy chicken skin on top. It was light and refreshing, an ideal representation of spring through food.
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The next two courses were the show stoppers for me. Matt McCallister of FT33 in Dallas prepared a simple dish of several varieties of peas sautéed with lavender, then topped with caramelized whey and cured ham from his restaurant. The dish was complex in spite of the seeming simplicity of its preparation, and the cured meat and slightly sweet peas paired perfectly with the spicy Thai-pepper-infused southside made by El Big Bad's Ricardo Guzman Venegas. That was followed up by the awesome pork and beef brisket/sausage hybrid by the boys from Revival. There was one giant sausage link left over after the plating, and it was so good that it got auctioned off for $350.
The fifth course was prepared by Plinio Sandalio, the pastry chef at The Carillon in Austin. Apparently Masson had wanted a cheese course in the lineup, and no one would volunteer to do it except Sandalio, who wowed the diners with a sheep's milk blue cheese that he turned into panna cotta and served atop a thin date cake sprinkled with powdered bacon. Yes, that's right. Powdered bacon. Oh, the things I would do with my very own supply of powdered bacon...
Finally, the sweet portion of the Sweet and Savory dinner was served. Masson made profiteroles that were sliced in half and filled with caramelized white chocolate ice cream and pickled plums. The dessert was perfectly balanced--just the right amount of salt and vinegar to play off the sweet ice cream and pastry.
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Philip Speer of Uchi and the upcoming St. Philip in Austin acquiesced to Masson's request to make a chocolate dessert. But instead of just doing chocolate, he essentially made a dessert that tasted like two of everyone's favorite things: Beer and Nutella. Chocolate ice cream was frozen into nuggets using liquid nitrogen, then sprinkled on top of Saint Arnold's Brown Porter sorbet along with crunchy hazelnut.
A surprise chef made an appearance at the dinner. Justin Turner of Bernie's Burger Bus closed out the evening with a peanut butter and jelly milkshake featuring sweet cream custard, peanut butter marshmallows and cassis fizzy chocolate that tasted like something out of Willy Wonka's factory.
After the final tally, Masson says the event plus the silent auction and the impromptu sausage auction raised about $14,300 for the animal rescue organization. If the food wasn't enough to encourage diners to spend big, Cooper, a Lucky Dog foster looking for a home, sure was. His big, soulful eyes and happy smile had everyone wanting to take him home.
If you couldn't make it to the dinner, be sure to check out Lucky Dog's webpage to find out how you can help Houston's homeless dogs and eat well along the way!