We've had quite a depth of Beard nominees here in the 'Burgh for the last several years. Justin Severino has been nominated three times for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic. Justin's newest restaurant, Morcilla, received a nomination this year for Best New Restaurant in the country. Jamilka Borges, now of Spoon, and Sonja Finn of Dinette have both been nominated for Rising Star of the Year, as well as Trevett Hooper, of Legume, having been nominated for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic in 2013.
And when it comes to local restaurants and restaurant groups, James Beard accolades have been sprinkled across the local landscape pretty liberally as well. The Big Burrito Group's Bill Fuller and Tom Baron have been nominated for Outstanding Restrauteur and Butcher and the Rye was nominated for Outstanding Bar Program in 2014. Pittsburgh represents!
As a result of Pittsburgh's wealth of food and cocktail professionals and programs, last week saw the second James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Tour dinner to be held right here in Pittsburgh. My friend Marti (from Maryland) and I were there last year for the inaugural event, and she made the trip again this year to make it two in a row for us both.
How did we make this year's James Beard Dinner even more memorable than last? By turning it into a three-day-Justin-Severino-tour-de-force. That's right, we constructed a sort of Justin-Severino-themed-dining-sandwich consisting of a Monday at Morcilla, a Tuesday filling of James Beard, and a Wednesday finale of Cure. Three days, man! This is how it went...first up, Monday at Morcilla.
|What better way to begin than some of the best Gin & Tonics in town?!|
Tuesday. The BIG day of our second James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Tour dinner in Pittsburgh...the meat of this dining tour sandwich you might say. We couldn't wait to see what awaited this year.
Last year's venue was the Heinz History Museum in the Strip District. This year the event was held at the Mattress Factory on the North Side. Justin's and his wife Hilary's choice to hold the events at Pittsburgh museums is spot on. The food itself is art.
Outdoors under grand tents, the evening started with lovely and tasty bites provided by Sonja Finn, Kate Romaine of E2, Trevett Hooper, Bill Fuller, and Curtis Gamble of Station. Cocktails created and provided by Morcilla, Cure, and Aldine were a refreshing start given the heat of the evening. Alas, there is but one lone, but beautiful, pic!
|Grilled Pacific Oysters with ramp butter and hot sauce by Sonja Finn of Dinette.|
On to the main event under the big tent!
|The beet appetizer by George Sabatino of Aldine - Beets, whipped yogurt, pickled garlic, chili jam, and puffed beet crackers|
|Cobia by Greg Vernick of Vernick Food & Drink - Cobia, pickled corn, burnt vegetable salsa, cilantro cream|
Unfortunately, the photos were less than stellar from that point on due to the onset of darkness and the blue lighting under the tent. Although the lighting faded, the food continued to shine. Justin's Foie Blonde dazzled! With strawberry rhubarb jam, candied pistachios, dehydrated black olives and lovage, the flavors burst!
The aroma of roasting duck wound it's way throughout the anxiously awaiting throngs of diners, tempting us before Scott Drewno (Executive Chef from The Source by Wolfgang Puck) presented his Roast Pekin Duck with crushed peanut curry and candied lemongrass. One word. Wow!
Not to be outdone, next up was Squirrel Hill native son Michael Solomonov with succulent roasted beef short ribs, green chickpeas, tehina and matbucha that seriously simply melted away on your tongue.
Dessert? Of course it lived up to the excellence and deliciousness of the courses that preceded. We were each presented with an individual cardboard pint ice cream container containing the classic Neopolitan flavors of strawberry, chocolate and vanilla creams interpreted to a whole new level. We were all sent out with not only memories of the sweetness of dessert, but of the magnificence of the evening.
Then came Wednesday. Our final celebration of Severino Days ending at Cure. And we hated to see our Pittsburgh ultra fine dining adventure come to a close.
|Naturally, we started with a toast!|
|Worthy of being painted, next was the Coho Salmon Crudo on foccaccia toast, avocado, black garlic, preserved lemon, dehydrated red onion and dill.|
|A delicate puff of green cardamom, black olive, and a sprinkling of crisp catnip awaits.|
|Strawberry gazpacho is poured over the foam to create a symphony of texture and flavor!|
|The finale? Salumi. Yes, our dessert this night was MEAT!|
What will next year bring? Can't wait to find out - not just for next year's James Beard dinner, but to see what is on the horizon for Pittsburgh's culinary and cocktail world. Look for exciting things, people!