If a James Beard award is the food world's equivalent of an Oscar, then cooking at the James Beard house must be a pressure-packed night for a chef. For many chefs, it's a step in gaining respect and recognition amongst their peers.
Since I enrolled at the French Culinary Institute last year, I've cooked alongside chefs from all over the country and world who come to the Beard house to cook dinner. I've rolled fresh spring rolls stuffed with lobster, deep fried delicate soft shell crabs, helped plate towering desserts of strawberry tuiles and anything else a chef and his assistants needed help with to pull off a successful dinner. I quickly learned some chefs handle the pressure cool and calmly while others sweat through the three-hour, multi-course meals.
Recently, I had a chance to be on the other side as a guest. Chef Evan Percoco of BOKX 109 American Prime was up for the challenge this time.
As usual, the evening started off with hors d'oeuvres (Nantucket Bay scallops, maitake fritters, prawns with a gremolata and saffron aioli) and flowing bottles of brut rose. But what I couldn't wait for was dinner.
Of the five courses, I still daydream about the bacon and egg dish. It's not as simple as it sounds. First the pork belly is seared on all sides for crispness before it's finished in the oven. Then the egg is delicately poached and cooled before it's rolled in some itty bitty bread crumbs and then quickly deep fried. With a glass of crisp Chardonnay, it couldn't get much better.
The fun you have as a diner is different from one you get in the kitchen. But when food prepared with care, it's something that everyone enjoys in the end.