Indie Chefs Week 2014

Pastrami Sweetbreads, Duck-Fat Doughnuts, and Rabbit Liver Mousse? These sound like typical courses at an Indie Chefs Week dinner series. I was lucky enough to attend the SoCal edition last weekend at Taco Maria in Costa Mesa, and it was nothing short of extraordinary! Foreign & Domestic’s chef and owner, Ned Elliott, wanted to provide an outlet for the country’s up-and-coming indie chefs to showcase their innovative work, and that is where Indie Chefs Week was born. Up until now, the exclusive dinner series was based in Austin. I feel so lucky to have been at the first Southern California Indie Chefs Week dinner series. Now, take a deep breath. I’m about to take you on my 13-course journey…are you ready?

First Course: Lamb with Fermented Lentils, Tomato Jam, Fennel and Harissa by Chef Jason Greene – The Grove Cafe & Market in Albuquerque, NM
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The Lamb and Lentils were cooked perfectly. The combination of Tomato Jam, Fennel, and Harissa provided a Mediterranean flavor that complimented the lamb perfectly. Also, his legitimacy is further confirmed because his restaurant appeared in a Breaking Bad episode.

Second Course: Umi Masu Iridashi which is Ocean Trout in a Dashi Soy Broth, with Grated Daikon, Fresh Ginger and Scallions by Chef Tim Archuleta – Ichi Sushi + Ni Bar in San Francisco, CA
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His restaurant was on my long list of restaurants to try, that I wasn’t able to check off during my time in the city, so I was so excited he was a featured chef during the Friday night dinner. Chef Archuleta puts a lot of value in cooking with sustainable ingredients, most importantly, the fish. This was my first bout with pink Ocean Trout due to how it was raised, and I must say that flavor was not sacrificed. The Soy Broth provided a great flavor without being overly salty. I can’t wait to go back up to his restaurant to see what else he has to offer!

Third Course: Squash Salad with Hamachi, Fermented Vinaigrette, Herbs, and Tempura Seaweed by Chef David Santos – Louro in New York City
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This dish was definitely in my top 5 of the night, if not top 3. The Squash and Hamachi was a wonderful combination. This course was extremely light and refreshing.

Fourth Course: Smoked Red Curry with Cured Beef Tongue and Octopus by Chef Adam Kaplan – Bang Bang PDX in Portland, OR
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This was also a favorite of mine because I LOVE curry and I LOVE lengua! The curry had a subtle smokey flavor and I never would have thought to put tongue and octopus together, but the combo was sensational! I will purposely plan a future trip up to Portland AFTER Chef Kaplan opens his new venture! I can’t wait!

Fifth Course: Curried Cauliflower with Raisins, Capers, Fenugreek, Ghee, and Black Mustard from Chef Michael Thiemann and Chef Matt Masera – Mother in Sacramento, CA
This course made me completely rethink my view on cauliflower. The Raisins and Capers furthered the earthy flavor, but provided a level of depth that made me want to try more of the transformative veggies from these chefs. I only wish that this restaurant was open while I lived in Northern California. These guys are definitely changing the food scene in Sacramento.

Sixth Course: Farro Verde with Rabbit Mousse, Local Onions, and Brassica by Chef Justin Holt – Lucia in Dallas, TX
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Scooping up some of the Mousse, then scooping up the Farro, made a party in my mouth. I have never tried Rabbit Liver Mousse, and I was reluctant don’t get me wrong, but after tasting this dish, I am much more open-minded. I almost licked the plate. The Farro was cooked perfectly and the Mousse was a great salty protein to match.

Seventh Course: Caramelized Sunchokes with Smoked Egg Yolk, Chicken Skin, Apple, Sorrel, and Fermented Chili by Chef Brett Cooper – San Francisco, CA
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Chef Brett Cooper’s creation is another reason I can’t wait to visit SF! He will soon be opening a restaurant in the Mission District, and if this dish is any indication of what is to come, I am very impressed! The chicken skin was crispy and the perfect protein to the Egg Yolk that lined the bottom of the bowl. The finely chopped Apple provided a nice crispness and sweetness to the dish.

Eighth Course: Broccoli with Petite Burgundy Snails by Chef Matthew Gaudet – West Bridge in Boston, MA
I’m not the biggest fan of escargot due to it’s consistency, but I am more than willing to give it a try. Every time I do, I find that the chef finds new and innovative ways to prepare and serve the dish in order to set his/hers apart from the rest. Chef Matthew Gaudet’s preparation was different than what I have had before. The sauce and Broccoli provided a nice break between the consistency of the Snails.

Ninth Course: Pastrami Sweetbreads with Yellow Mustard, Beet & Horseradish Hush Puppy Chip, and Golden Beet Dill Pickles by Chef Ian Boden – The Shack in Staunton, VA
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This wins the MVP award for the evening. Why? It surprised and satisfied me the most. Just in case, you don’t know what Sweetbreads are, let me help. I ate veal brains. Yes. Veal Brains. The combination or Sweetbreads with the Pastrami Dusting, Mustard, and the Hush Puppy Chip, this tasted like a deconstructed Pastrami Sandwich. No joke. I licked my plate and took a bite from my dining companion’s.

Tenth Course: Potato Gnocchi with Cauliflower, Bottarga, and Fresh Herbs by Chef Anthony Fusco – New York, NY
This Gnocchi was so rich and creamy, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Easily, the best Gnocchi I have ever had. If only I lived closer to NYC!

Eleventh Course: Ramen Braised & Glazed Pork Jowls with Egg Yolk, Nori Crumble, Black Garlic Sriracha, Alkaline Cavatelli, and Scallions by Chef Jason Neroni – Culver City, CA
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I am so glad this was the last savory course. For one thing, I was stuffed, but I can confidently say that this was my favorite course. He braised the Pork Jowl in Ramen for hours on end, and you could tell. The Ramen flavors were the heart and soul of the Pork pieces while the Egg Yolk and Cavatelli served as understated garnishes. Even though he omitted a heavy noodle component, the Ramen flavor and feel was not at all lost.

Twelfth Course: Salt N’ Pepper Doughnut with Duck Fat Apples, Roasted Grapes, Sweet-Pickled Cherry by Chef Brooke Mosley – Outerlands in San Francisco, CA
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Duck Fat Doughnuts. Are you kidding me? Excuse me while I go on a brief tirade. I spent a couple of years in San Francisco wanting to go to this restaurant for brunch every weekend. If you don’t get there early, you won’t be seated. It is THAT popular. And, let’s just say that my boyfriend is NOT a morning person, so we never went. I am glad he was with me to experience this course and realize the error of his ways. Almost everything on the plate was cooked in Duck Fat, and yet it didn’t at all overpower any of their natural flavors. That Doughnut though. I don’t get excited about doughnuts. That Doughnut was beyond words!

Thirteenth Course: Milk Chocolate Cremeux with Passion Fruit, Hazelnut, and White Fungus by Chef Rebecca Masson – Fluff Bake Bar in Houston, TX
10727683_381721368650750_1991119367_n Cremeux is my new favorite dessert. Word on the street is that it is the new obsession for American chefs. This French classic is dense, but creamy like pudding. Chef Rebecca Masson procured the chocolate from the Dominican Republic and immediately found the perfect marriage with Passion Fruit. While I will say that the dessert courses were a tie, this one was equally amazing and unique. I ate all of my Cremeux, in addition to my boyfriend’s share. He claimed it was “too rich.” His palate is still developing, obviously. The chunks on the side were condensed hazelnut, nutmeg, and coconut. What? The closest thing I can compare it to was granola, but just so much better.

I can’t rave enough about my experience at the Friday night dinner for SoCal’s Indie Chefs Week. The service at the host restaurant, Taco Maria, was impeccable, and seeing all of these artists in one place was astounding. I hope to attend more events like these in the future. If you made it through this whole post, I commend you.
For more information on Indie Chefs Week, visit http://indiechefsweek.com/
For more information on Foreign & Domestic, visit http://fndaustin.com/
For more information on the amazing event photographer, visit http://annewatsonphoto.com/

*photos from the amazing Anne Watson Photography*