Sunday, April 5, 2009

The story behind last night's party

What a night. Last night's dinner party was held at a friend's loft for 30 people. The highest rated dish was the beef ribeye with jus over a baguette. Also a little bit of sushi, Hokkaido scallops pan seared, roasted beet salad.

What made it interesting was how things came together and the people who made it happen. Let's do a timeline. So a month ago, we came up with the idea. Two weeks ago we built the guest list. One week ago we invited people. Chefs would be myself, Ben Grol, Jen Kibler, and Vinz.

I was really struggling to come up with a menu during the week, 30 people, not my well as having a really intense work week at So I dived into cookbooks, asked friends, talked to Jason at Okoze (where I work). At that point as always, we have good idea of what we should do, but accept the fact that things will always change.

And they did. I went to the fish market (IMP Foods) on Friday morning. The cool sea smell of fresh fish is just mesmerizing at times, then I realize I have to snap out of it, finish the shopping, then head into salesforce for some customer calls. After work, I came home and did a few hours of prep, thought about the dishes, made myself dinner.

Saturday morning, Ben Grol came over to help prep, Ambert made breakfast which was fantastic (beef rib omelette with cheese and pepper blend). So after a very satisfying breakfast it was go time. Went to costco to score beer, vegetables, and cleaning supplies. Dropped off the beer at the loft, and then really sailed through prep. I filleted halibut while Ben roasted the beets, powdered the peppers. We got into the weeds a bit, and prep took longer than expected and we managed to get to the party when the first guests showed. We talked to Jen and she was rocking out a dessert which was very reassuring. Ben was like, Jen is a rock star, she'll make it happen.

Basically the kitchen there was unusable for our work, so we had to take all our gear. It included the immersion circulator for sous vide, Polyscience cold smoker, knife bags, foam boxes with food, two induction units, pans. Then we were told that because it was an old building, we couldn't use either of the range tops we brought because it would trip the circuit. Wow now we were all burners down, not to mention that we were 45 minutes out from serving.

Then that's when things actually came together. Skipping back, I think I was really in doubt earlier in the week that things would go well. But I think a quick talk from my brother Ambert basically along the lines of "There a lot of friends of yours who expect you to deliver a great meal, go make it happen," really sealed the deal and was what I needed. The next piece of inspiration was from Ben before we sent out the first plates. I don't remember what he said but again just basically "Let's get it done, the stoves don't set us back that much" and then I remembered I brought a butane gas stove as backup. And it was my high powered one. At this point, with one working stove top, we sent out the bread, and began with the salad.

The night gets better. Loren Trefethen of Trefethen Vineyards, one of my favorite wineries and a personal friend, sponsors the wine portion of the event. He sets a wine tasting of their premium whites and reds (the riesling is the best out there). And just looking over at the perfectly set glassware shimmering in the candlelight just made me smile while we were about to send out a total of 150 plates over the course of the night and the pressure was building quickly. Looking out there, people having a great time, friends stepping up to contribute what they could, really reassured me that we could do it. And at a very reasonable cost too at $20 a person. Also need to highlight Evan De La Torre's efforts to collect money. That was huge.

So salad is out, the wine tasting is going strong, but we're really backed up. Who shows up? My brother Ambert, who wasn't even supposed to come. He goes "what can I do?" It was amazing. I put him on the saute station, and he executed well. T minus 1 hour out from serving the beef, we tossed the vacuum sealed and seasoned ribeyes into the circulator, at 135F and I adjusted my watch to mark time. Scallops were sent out a few to a plate. I took a quick break and talked to some friends, made sure they were having a good time, tossed the chefs jacket and went to t-shirt. Sauce was heated for the steak, bread sliced, steaks came out of the water bath, rested, and then on the pans for searing. I gave Ambert my work sashimi knife (yes I trust him that much), and then he went to slicing.

We plated all the beef dishes individually. The sauce was very well balanced thanks to Ben. And I think some of the comments reflected that sentiment. At that point, I realized I had been cooking for about 16 hours and yes I was exhausted. But when I see everyone having good conversation, the wine glasses bright, the generosity of friends, the motivation of friends of family, I just think to myself that it's all worth it and I'd do it again...just without so many shots of Fernet at the end.


apple said...

This was an awesome party! Your post made me appreciate the hard work and skill behind the amazing food!

I love reading your blog and hearing the behind the scenes on cooking!

Odnaloy said... sesame paste with roasted beets (two kinds) and savory peppercorn dusted scallops...sublime

both paired with loren's chardonnay and reisling...and let's not forget ben's favorite merlot with the beef...genius.

thanks to our gracious hosts, sexy chefs and to breaking tasty bread with such foxy company.


Jordy said...

I don't think the scallops got enough credit in your write-up. I can't remember ever having fresher or tastier scallops - cooked and sauced to perfection.

Props again to you and the chef team for rocking it under extremely challenging cooking circumstances. From my perspective on the other side of the chef's counter, it was the best dinner party I've been to in as long as I can remember. Pulling all that off with one burner is nothing short of miraculous.