Everything in moderation. Isn’t that the credo that guides wise men and women in just about every area of life? I guess I should have applied this idea like the Pirates of the Caribbean applied the pirate code - as more of a guideline, not an actual rule – for moderation was my downfall at the Starkville Area Arts Council’s Forks and Corks event. I tried to pace myself, thinking I should probably not fill up on the first couple of tables and have any fullness of tummy interfere with my evaluation of the dishes at the end of the sampling circuit. Ha. Allow me to let you in a little secret: moderation and pacing may lead to someone leaving a food event wanting more. Then again, I suppose that is the design of a clever chef: satisfaction, yet an eagerness to return to his or her table. Mission accomplished.
In the previous column I described the competitive entries of Chef Jay Yates of the Veranda and Chef Gregg Frazer, representing Harvey’s. They were the two with the least number of words in the titles of their dishes, and that is the random way I decided to do this countdown of sorts – by word count. The medal count had already been announced by the paper, and to order by way of calorie count would have required me to do higher math that I probably haven’t done since Mrs. Hodges’ class at SHS. So here is the rest of the story.
Restaurant Tyler’s team produced a nineteen-word dish I would describe as “simply rich.” The name might not be official, but this is how they described it: duck slider on a brioche bun, topped with a foie gras/cream cheese/truffle oil spread and dijonnaise garnish. I can’t remember ever having duck and foie gras served in multiple ways in one night – but I certainly would not be averse to seeing it happen again. It was the spread that left me wanting more of this dish; it had an earthy element yet was velvety thick and rich, adding an extra degree of indulgence to the ground duck patty. They told us this one might show up on the fall menu, in a slightly larger version, served with a side of sweet potato fries. Larger is good. Come, fall - come.
Coming in quite close by number of words, at twenty, was the creation of Chef Raymond Jackson representing MSU Dining: mini tomato pies topped with MSU Edam and Vallagret cheeses, with cucumber and red onion salad and honey-basil pesto. Chef Raymond told us he was going for a simple summer meal that showcased locally obtainable foods, in particular the cheeses from MSU. The little pies brought a proper blend of tangy and creamy - a direct result of the cheeses, I’m sure. I especially enjoyed the contrast in flavor I got when I dipped the pie into the sweet honey-basil pesto. The cucumber and red onion had been quick-pickled to give a tart complement to the creamy/sweet combination. Around our house in my formative years, Christmas balls were red and made of Edam, though in recent years I have come to favor the Vallagret, so I was excited to find another tasty way to use both varieties. Gotta’ love the MAFES Cheese Store, and Chef Raymond did a great job with its wares.
Chef Daniel Weldon of the Central Station Grill pulled twenty-nine words out of his hat to describe a dish he said he had been tweaking for some time. Are you ready for this? He and his team served us pecan-crusted Chilean sea bass served over a bed of smoked Gouda and shitake-mushroom risotto topped with a scallop and crabmeat stuffing and a lemon caper beurre blanc. That’s a mouthful. And it was absolutely a mouthful of texture and flavor, layer upon layer. The risotto made a nice creamy base and was topped with the pecan-crusted sea bass filet. Some of my most memorable forays into catch-of-the-day specials have involved encrusting the catch, so this was right up my alley. On top of the bass was another layer of rich texture provided by the crab/scallop stuffing, and the lemon caper beurre blanc pulled everything together with a tangy finish.
Rather than waxing on about moderation, I choose instead to look at the evening as a uniquely satisfying five course dinner, and a bargain at that. I was honored to be in the company of five of Starkville’s finest chefs, and to talk to them about their food. Kudos as well to the Forks and Corks coordinators Michelle Amos and Robin Fant of the SAAC and the team behind the scenes that made this happen. Can’t wait till next year.
Jay Reed is a local foodie and pharmacist. The culinary tastes expressed here are his and do not necessarily reflect the appetites of the Starkville Daily News or individual members of its staff. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org .