Friday, October 26, 2007

Sometimes it just comes down to bacon

October 22

My brief stay in San Francisco was followed by a trip to Napa Valley for Nation’s Restaurant News’ R&D Summit, a fun little weekend event for corporate chefs of chain restaurants that involves visits to wineries, a pig roast and Wiffle ball, but that centers around a trip back to San Francisco to purchase local, seasonal foodstuffs at the Ferry Building market, which are then taken back to Napa and cooked by the participants at The Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone campus, in the Napa Valley town of St. Helena.
It’s an interesting thing to watch the chefs who develop the food that America eats get together and chop vegetables and braise things and devise new salsas. It turns out that persimmon does not make a particularly good salsa, but hey, it was worth a try.
Chefs from places like Applebee’s and Baja Fresh and Cheesecake Factory were there. And also from Culver’s, IHOP, Pizza Hut, Burger King, Shari’s, Taco Bell, Subway and TGI Friday’s.
They were split up into teams, and here’s some of what they cooked with the seasonal stuff they found in the market (if any participants want to correct me, please go right ahead):

From Team V

Striped bass dusted with cornstarch and fried, with a five spice-black bean sauce
Fried chicken mushroom tacos with tomatillo-gooseberry salsa and chopped cilantro
Arepas with Humboldt Fog goat cheese, also with tomatillo-gooseberry salsa and cilantro
Squash blossom quesadillas with shallots, limejuice and that same salsa and cilantro
Layered “pizza” (sort of like lasagne, really, but firmer) with Humboldt Fog cheese, tomato, basil, fresh peaches, burrata and pesto vinaigrette
Autumn cioppino with butternut squash, served in a bread bowl

From Team IV

Grilled flat bread with caponata
Wild mushroom (shiitake, cremini and button) soup garnished with fried mushrooms
Turkey thigh ballotine stuffed with oyster, raisin, walnut bread, port-infused dried cranberries, chorizo and ancho honey vinaigrette, served with smashed Peruvian potatoes and roasted butternut squash
Pear crisp with fennel ice cream

From Team III, which I affectionately call Team Bacon

Challah French toast with applewood smoked bacon and blueberry-ancho dressing
Shrimp poached with sherry and slab bacon
Beets with pancetta and goat cheese
Brussels sprouts with garlic
Duck bacon BLT
Bacon-wrapped linguiça with porter barbecue sauce
Potato skins with Gruyère and “bacon sausage”
Arugula salad with blue cheese and chard, served with goat cheese-pumpkin gnocchi wrapped in bacon
Assorted roasted and raw oysters, mostly topped with pancetta, among other things
Skate with lime, olive oil, bacon fat, garlic, limejuice and bacon croutons
Chocolate truffles with cured bacon and tarragon

From Team II

Late season heirloom tomato carpaccio with baby tropea onion
Grilled black Mission figs stuffed with blue cheese and bacon
Oyster duet: chilled and topped with honeydew vinaigrette sorbet, and grilled with Warner pear-fennel compound butter
Quinoa in garlic vinaigrette with peppers, dried blueberries and pomegranate
Arugula-pear salad with roasted pepper vinaigrette
Crab salad with fennel, pear, tarragon, wilted arugula and pancetta-honeydew vinaigrette
Pumpkin seed and sage sausage pizza
Piquillo peppers stuffed with chèvre and merguez sausage, topped with pumpkin seeds
Beef cheeks with trumpet and cinnamon cap mushrooms
Pomegranate sausage sourdough buschetta with roasted tomatoes and fennel

And from Team I

Grilled bruschetta with chèvre, king trumpets, chanterelles, arugula, sweet onion vinaigrette and roasted pepper oil
Pepper-tomato soup
Oven roasted and raw figs with orange sauce, balsamic-veal stock sauce with sea salt and crème fraîche
Beer-braised sausage, shaved Brussels sprouts and shallots sautéed in bacon, haricots verts and roasted garlic-potato ragù, served with stone-ground mustard, blueberry-ancho dressing and deep-fried bacon
Apple-white chocolate bread pudding with pomegranate

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