By Jenny Quill, GazeboNews correspondent
“It’s an honor to be asked to cook at the James Beard House,” said John des Rosiers, the chef/proprietor of Wisma, Inovasi and Moderno, about his Oct. 5 visit to the hallowed culinary grounds of the James Beard House, a “performance space for visiting chefs” in New York City that has hosted every notable chef you can name. “They asked us in August. We did a media tour in New York, stopped by the house and they asked us if we’d cook dinner.”
Des Rosiers, Moderno executive chef Phil Rubino and four additional Inovasi/Moderno staffers cooked for 60 guests, including editors from Food and Wine magazine and the Wall St. Journal, a Travel Channel and Food Network producer, and 10 regular customers from the Chicago area.
“Chef John des Rosiers’s event was unique in so many ways, from the ‘smuggled’ culatello imported directly from Italy specifically for this dinner, to the surprise cheese course,” said Lisa Curry Poulin, the assistant to the director of house programming. “It was clear that the entire team put an immense amount of time and effort into this event. It was also great to see the chefs having so much fun in the kitchen. They mingled with guests while simultaneously plating hors d’oeuvre, happily answered questions at the end of the meal over a glass of celebratory Champagne, and Chef Philip Rubino’s father, a Sicilian baker himself, even snuck down to the kitchen to help pipe cream into cannoli with his son. This was a truly memorable event, and we are proud to count chefs John des Rosiers and Philip Rubino as members of the James Beard family.”
Des Rosiers and Rubino devised a menu of six dishes in total; three prepared by each chef, with a seventh-course cheese plate later added following an impromptu field trip to Saxelby Cheesemongers, a New York shop owned by Libertyville native Anne Saxelby. Prior to departing for New York, the team painstakingly prepped the components for each dish, which were then driven by truck some 12 hours to meet des Rosiers and crew in New York, where they were assembled in the James Beard House kitchen.
“Phil and I are very good about seeing in our heads how these things are going to taste,” said des Rosiers. “So we didn’t practice. We wrote the menu, we prepped everything and we went out there and did it. We didn’t spend a lot of time figuring out how hard it was going to be to plate stuff. It’s also a closet-size kitchen. On top of that, the four of us had never actually worked in a kitchen together. Even though Phil is my chef over [at Moderno], we had never spent any time actually being in a small kitchen doing a dinner together. But it all worked out perfectly.”
The team started cooking at 8 a.m., working right up until the final course was served at 11 p.m., and then spent nearly two hours dishing on all things food with their guests.
True to form, des Rosiers’ menu (pictured, below) highlighted fresh, locally sourced ingredients—vegetables from local farms, local cheese, and a “pristine” goat loin from a farm in southern Illinois. “We wanted to showcase how great our farmers are,” said des Rosiers. The only exception: an impossible-to-get, hand-caught Bay of Biscay bass that des Rosiers had flown in to New York.
The most successful pairing of the evening, according to des Rosiers, was a dish of Italian culatello, pickled San Sebastian sardines, Teal Lake Farms arugula, cuquillo olives and gnocco fritto paired with a 2010 Pacherhof Kerner Valle Iscaro, a limited-production white wine from the Trentino-Alto Adige region of Italy. The fourth course, featuring the aforementioned Pleasant Meadow Farms goat loin with chanterelle mushrooms, toasted garam masala, and whipped Wisconsin goat cheese, is the one dish from the evening that may pop up on Inovasi’s menu in the near future (look for it in the next week or so), as des Rosiers believes in leaving well enough alone.
“Every once in a while we do something where all of these amazing, special things exist for one moment in time,” he said. “We’ll never be able to recreate what it felt like at the James Beard House. Even if we could duplicate the food, some of the wine we can’t get, and the entire experience of being there at that one time will never quite be the same. All the nuances of it, all the specialty of it, all the little, tiny things that make it unique and amazing, we’re not going to have.”