Monday, November 03, 2008

IFEC in Cleveland, night I

November 4, 2:20 a.m.

I have eaten too much food on so many levels.
I'm at IFEC, the annual conference of the International Foodservice Editorial Council. This year it’s in Cleveland. Don’t laugh, Cleveland’s a nice place and quite an accomplished food city, and tonight it proved it.
IFEC joins foodservice trade publication editors and publicists who want our attention. We meet for what are basically a series of 10-minute speed dates in which editors sit at a table and publicists pitch us. We get a lot of work done in a relatively short period of time, and then we go out and eat and drink.
Tonight, after an opening reception at which I skipped the food and just drank coffee, we had a keynote speech by Cleveland native Michael Ruhlman. For half an hour or so, he told us of why Cleveland was such a great food city, gave us restaurant recommendations, took a phone call from his 13-year-old daughter (“Honey, I'm in the middle of a presentation”) and called his friend Anthony Bourdain names. I forget what adjectives he used to describe Bourdain, but I’m pretty sure “degenerate” was one of them. “Deceitful,” too.
That was followed by “meet the press” at which each of the couple of dozen magazines represented talk about themselves so publicists know what we want from them.
Then there was the “Chef Showcase” at which local chefs served up their food, including ingredients provided by sponsors. Restaurants represented included Sergio’s, Lola, Moxie, Dante, Parallax, One Walnut, Fire Food & Drink, CROP Bistro & Bar, Bar Cento and Fahrenheit. It was all far more delicious than it usually is at such events, and I will single at Jonathan Sawyer of Bar Cento whose smoked hog jowls with mustard on toast was extraordinary in its simplicity and deliciousness, the Dijon mustard balancing just right with the pork’s smokiness. And his potato soup that had the same pork, but diced as part of a brunoise that also included all of the other components of the soup (some raw, some blanched), was, well, imagine smooth, creamy potato soup with little crunchy bursts of flavor. How much fun is that to eat?
I didn't know Mr. Sawyer, but he used to be my neighbor, having lived on Seventh Avenue and Lincoln Place when he worked in New York, once cooking in Charlie Palmer’s Kitchen 22, and another tine cooking at Parea, Michael Symon’s short-lived Greek restaurant.
So I was full when we headed to the suburb of Valley View to eat have dinner at Dante, the restaurant of former Aureole executive chef Dante Boccuzzi (who before that opened Nobu in Milan and who was at Silks in San Francisco before that). He’s originally from Cleveland and decided last year to head back home. His wife had their fourth kid, a little girl, about two weeks ago, so congratulations to them.
From there we went to an after-party at CROP, which is research chef Steve Schimoler’s latest venture. The name stands for Controlled Research Operating Platform, but also means, you know, crops. The place has won all sorts of awards in Cleveland, but Steve also uses it as a test platform for products that can be rolled out on a much larger scale. Instead of paying focus groups to try his food and say what they think, he just sees what customers like to buy. But the thing is, he makes food using various high-tech starches such as those the molecular gastronomers are getting into (and that food manufacturing companies have been using for decades) to make dishes that taste great in restaurants, but that can also be made in batches of 800,000, packaged, frozen and sold at Target (which is in fact what he’s already started to do). We sampled a couple of ice creams, including one called ”hot coffee,” which was coffee ice cream with just the right amount of capsaicin added to it that it didn’t have chile flavor, but simply tasted warm.
By the way, Michael Ruhlman pointed out that the country’s first celebrity chef was from Cleveland. His name: Chef Boyardee.
I don’t mean this in a derogatory way, but Steve’s continuing the tradition.

What we ate at Dante:

Cloudy Bay Kiwi Cocktail: Rum, lemon grass simple syrup, house-made sour mix, Fee Brothers rhubarb bitters, and foam of kiwi and chartreuse

citrus king crab arancini
tiger shrimp and green kiwifruit skewers with spicy lime mayonnaise
tempura green kiwifruit (can you guess which fruit sponsored the dinner? Philips Foods sponsored it, too)
Non-vintage Ca’ Tullio Prosecco (Friuli)

Parfait of blue swimming crab, avocado and green kiwifruit, lime jalapeño foam and crisp rice crackers
2007 Riesling, Kabinett, Dr. Thanisch, Bernkasteler Badstube (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer)

Ricotta cavatelli with cauliflower, anchovy and confit of garlic
2005 Lavradores de Feitoria “Tres Bagos,” mad with Tourigo Nacional, Tourigo Franca and Tinta Rariz grapse (Douro)

Charred skirt steak with yuzu neri, shiitake tempura, ginger braised bok choi and clamshell mushrooms
2005 Volver Tempranillo (La Mancha)

And for dessert, by Dante’s new pastry chef, Russ Wheeler, formerly of Mustard Seed Café:
After School Special — chocolate and peanut butter crunch cake, concord grape sorbet and a crispy sesame treat
2003 Select Late Harvest Vidal, Pillitten Estates, Ontario

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