I attended the dinner event on Friday night. The art of Stephen Gamson was featured along with the gastronomic art of Chef Kurtis Jantz and Chef Chad Galiano. Having experienced the chefs' cooking before at Neomi's, I was fired up. These guys really shine when given the opportunity to create and I knew they would be placing a heavy emphasis on pairing dishes with Gamson's artistic style. Since my artistic style with the iPhone camera isn't so hot, I didn't take many photos of the dinner but Mr. Frodnesor has posted some here.
A horrible picture of the menu
I'm gonna go with my gut and say that the first course meant to say "Stick" Figure Antichuchos. Skewered grilled baby octopus and skewered fried chicken liver plated vertically with whole slices of lemon and lime lying on the plate resembling "heads" for the stick figures captured the playful simplicity of Gamson's art and made for a nice presentation. The octopus was tender with the right amount of chewiness for me but the chicken liver was my favorite. The liver was fried in a flour mix that included a substance called Trisol that I had read about on Chef Chad's blog previously but never experienced. It allows for a much crispier texture when used for tempura or fried food and the chicken liver really showcased just that. It was a perfect crisp that stayed that way even after sitting in a tiny pool of aji panca sauce which paired well with the liver.
The next course featured 2 different tails - oxtail in the form of a meat pie and lobster tail in a lobster salad. The meat pie came with a nice glob of pepper jelly on top that provided a little heat and moisture to the crisp dough of the pie, while the filling was warm and tender. I enjoyed the crisp green beans in the lobster salad as well as the flavor of the airy micro-corn cake that came with it.
Apparently, a few months back Chef Kurtis asked for Mr. Food for Thought's mom's pickled shrimp recipe and obtained it with ease. He apparently worked on his own rendition, pairing the pickled shrimp with a crisp slaw made of shredded brussel sprouts and honey mustard, giving homage to the recipes' origin by naming the dish, "Frod's Shrimp Dickles". Homemade cheez-its provided a difference in texture along with a distinctive cheesy flavor that I enjoyed but a few others questioned the relevance of. Surprisingly, for someone that prefers hot dishes over cold, this was one of my favorite dishes of the night. Perhaps a Chef Kurtis vs. Grandma Frod "Throwdown" is in order?
Getting back to food as art, our next dish went back to the basics of simplicity both in it's title, "Meat", and its presentation. A styrofoam tray with a slider-sized patty of 45C beef tartar that had been mixed with a 64C egg yolk, onion, and parsley and then shrink-wrapped placed in front of each table guest. A few tiny salt dishes filled with caper salt and some tiny squirt bottles of "whas dis here?" sauce (say it fast) also made their way onto the table. We were instructed to sprinkle some caper salt on the meat and top with a little of the sauce. The couple next to me looked a little mortified. The guy had come to the dinner at his girlfriend's request to do "something different" and this was clearly different. Nevertheless, they both threw caution to the wind and dug in just like the rest of us. I liked the saltiness of the caper salt with the tartar and managed to ration my whas-dis-here sauce appropriately so its flavor didn't overpower the dish. The couple next to me seemed to like the dish as well, or at least I got that impression upon seeing both of their plates clean.
For our next course, the chef's channeled their inner Aesop and produced a Golden Egg, its regal self presented on a pauper-like egg carton. The top of the eggshell was removed and the shell emptied and then refilled with a portion of black pepper and truffle scrambled eggs. This was another simple yet wonderful dish that had many diners near me declaring their love for all things truffle.
The last course before dessert was a hearty hunk of pork belly topped with a banana foam and cilantro cocoa kettle corn. A few spheres of yogurt that had been sprinkled with a white chocolate powder flanked the pork belly on each side. I loved the combination of banana and pork flavors. Definitely something I'd never had before. Adding in the white chocolate powder mixed with the yogurt made the dish even more savory. This one would have been my favorite overall but my hunk of belly was more meaty and didnt have as much of that fat that I love. Thinking about that though, it was probably a blessing in disguise as my pork belly intake has been somewhat high as of late.
I've said it before and I'll say it again - I am not a dessert guy. Dessert for me usually consists of cheese and/or a nice bourbon, grappa, or port wine. However, dessert was part of this meal so it was only right for me to eat it. Pastry Chef Jenny Rissone was responsible for dessert and the presentation was beautiful. A dulce de leche gelato encased in a green sugar globe sat on the left side of the plate with a little pile of what I suspect was a raspberry powder next to it. To the right, 3 crisp meringue "walls" stood erect, with bits of monstera deliciosa fruit sitting in between them. A green stripe of what I think was the coloring used to color the sugar globe went from east to west on the top part of the plate, so perfectly applied that I thought it was actually part of the plate design. The meringue was phenomenal, so crisp that you had to apply a little pressure to slice through it. I loved its sweet flavor and crunchy texture. It was my first time trying monstera deliciosa and I loved it. It had a slightly mushy texture and a fruity flavor that reminded me of jackfruit (another fruit I experienced for the first time recently). The gelato/sugar globe combo was way too sweet for me but others seemed to enjoy it. I also liked that you could add in a little of the raspberry powder to change up the flavors if you wanted. This non-dessert guy enjoyed dessert.
During the meal, Steven Gamson was introduced and talked about his background and the inspiration behind his art. It was cool to learn a little more about the artist and what motivated him but it got a little lengthy and somewhat sales-pitchy at a few points when his agent chimed in. It was a tad awkward and a bit of a turnoff. I did enjoy a few of his pieces, however, and was pleasantly surprised when I saw some of his works gracing the walls of Coral Bagels diner when I went for brunch the following morning. To me, its simple art that allows you to create your own story and/or interpretation of what it means. Cool stuff and definitely has a local Miami vibe.
Overall, I thought the meal was phenomenal but there were a few things that bugged me. For one, tickets originally went on sale at $200 or $350 if you wanted to attend a cocktail hour and receive a limited piece of artwork from the artist. As part of the Cobaya group, I received a $50 discount which made the price of having dinner a little more feasible and I liked the chefs so I purchased on the day tickets became available. Well, I was a little miffed when "black Friday" came about and a $100 discount was offered. A Deco Drive promo also offered a $100 discount a few days before the event. So, in other words, I made a commitment to an event only to have ticket sales come up short and thus a greater discount offered. This left me, a supporter of the event, feeling like I got a bit of a raw deal. But whatever, I was there to support Chef Kurtis and Chef Chad anyways so I got over it. The other shortcoming for me was that I thought that the wine that was offered during the dinner was a bit pedestrian for the price of admission. Luckily, a few diners by me brought bottles of wine and were generously sharing with our end of the table. I guess my point is that I've been to many dinners that were very similar to this concept, sans artist, and most weighed in at $75 (BYOB wine) to $120 (wine featured as a part of the meal with a different vintage paired with each course) with anywhere from 8-12 courses featured. In fairness though, previous dinners have been held at restaurants and not in a private location that I imagine deserves a little coin for offering up the space.
Again, the meal itself was a home run. Chef Kurtis and Chef Chad put on a great show in the kitchen, on the plates, and in showcasing that they are comfortable in this type of setting where the chef is not only cooking but interacting with the diners as well. I keep waiting for the day that these two are lured away from Sunny Isles to an area where they can gain more exposure and I'm certain it will happen someday. Until then I'm hoping to see them featured at a Cobaya dinner or another event like this PH2 event.