The Brasserie Restaurant’s Consultant Chef Dean Max, Executive Chef Brad Phillips and General Manager/Sommelier Kyle Kennedy were part of a culinary team that wowed dinner guests with a taste of Cayman at the Beard House in New York.
When it comes to culinary venues in the United States, the Beard House in New York holds a special significance as one of the most important meeting places for America’s food community. It is, after all, the home of the late James Beard, the chef, author, teacher and early television cooking personality who was a central figure in putting America on the world’s culinary map.
The year following Beard’s death in 1985, friends and colleagues established the nonprofit James Beard Foundation and raised money to buy his Greenwich Village house, converting it to centre for the culinary arts. By the late 1980s, the Beard House became a culinary performance place, where top chefs from all over America and indeed the world could come to showcase their talents.
In addition to hosting more than 250 culinary events annually, the James Beard Foundation annually recognises the top chefs and restaurants in America with awards that are considered the Oscars of the culinary community.
The Brasserie connection
Chef’s have to be invited to host an event at the Beard House and Dean James Max, the Brasserie Restaurant’s consultant chef, has been invited often.
“I’ve been to the house 12 times,” he said, adding that the first time was in 2000, when he and four other chefs did a dinner called ‘Best of the South’.
Over the years, Max has done other dinners in groups as well as some as a single chef cooking a whole dinner. He’s cooked there as a James Beard Award best chef nominee multiple times, but his best memory at the Beard House was the dinner where he launched his first book, A Life by the Sea.
On 10 June this year, he participated in a dinner themed ‘Dean James Max and Friends’, but in the kitchen, Max took a back seat to the ‘Friends’ – the chefs at the many restaurants with which he’s associated.
Max says it’s still a thrill for him to be involved at dinner at the Beard House.
“But it’s probably best at this point to see how excited my chefs get,” he says. “Now having the pleasure of working with such great young chefs, I like to see them in all their glory at the Beard House.”
Max says Beard House dinners are “huge” deals for young chefs.
“They’ve all seen the Beard dinners and heard of them since they first started cooking, so to be at the house and in James Beard’s actual kitchen putting together their best recipes is a highlight in all their careers.”
Brasserie Executive Chef Brad Phillips, who was cooking in Beard House for the fourth time but as one of the named chefs only for the second time, agreed.
“It’s a very big deal,” he said. “It’s almost like playing on stage at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or something. It’s pretty cool.”
Phillips said the sense of history and culinary tradition at the Beard House makes cooking there a tremendous experience.
“Knowing all the different chefs that have cooked there and that you’re using the same kitchen, the same pots and even the same spoons as our idols, our mentors… it’s an honour to say you’ve done that.”
The evening started with aperitifs and passed canapés in the garden behind the house. Larry Lavalley from the restaurant 3800 Ocean in Palm Beach, Florida
, created a quartet of tasty treats, including heirloom beets with blue cheese, minted English pea soup with foie gras, cornmeal-crusted soft shell crab with mango-avocado salad and Key West Shrimp ceviche. In addition to Champagne, also passed around were shots of watermelon margarita with Cayman sea salt foam, a creation of the Brasserie’s general manager/sommelier Kyle Kennedy.
On hand to support the Brasserie Restaurant at the event were a number of people with Cayman connections, including Brasserie owners Lisa and King Flowers; their nieces Shauna Alvarez and Jessica Powell; Caymanian New York residents Bendel Hydes, Andie Lumsden and Alfonso Estevanovich. Also joining the Cayman table was Cayman resident Lori McRae and Erin Hulbert, the Brasserie’s consultant barista who lives in New York.
After the welcome reception, guests moved inside where the Brasserie’s Brad Phillips served a first course that had to remind the Caymanians at the dinner of home: wahoo sashimi with sweet habanero, mango, watercress, sorrel, hibiscus vinaigrette and thin crispy cassava strips.
The dish was served with Pinot Gris white wine from Lange Estate Winery in Oregon, a deliciously light white wine that didn’t overpower the tropical flavours.
Mrs. Alvarez, a Caymanian now living in Philadelphia, loved the sashimi.
“Brad is really enamoured by the local ingredients in Cayman and when he uses them it comes out in a clean and modern way,” she said.
David MacLennan of the restaurant Latitude 41 in Columbus, Ohio,
provided the second course, bison tartare with quark ravioli, quail egg, corn pudding and cherry tomato jam. The bison was lean and tasty and the quark, a type of soft, fresh cheese popular in Germany and other Eastern European countries, proved to be a nice filling for the accompanying ravioli.
The next course was prepared by Jeremy Ford from 3030 Ocean in Fort Lauderdale, Max’s flagship restaurant. His sourdough-crusted halibut was cooked perfectly.
The last savoury course – by David Trubenbach from Asador in Dallas – was a beef duo of grilled tenderloin and braised short ribs, with the latter – served over corn grits – really stealing the show.
Paula DaSilva, who worked at 3030 Ocean with Max for more than 10 years before moving on to 1500 Degrees in Miami Beach last year, prepared the dessert. Even though everyone was pretty full by this time, the Florida peach and cherry crostada over labneh and served with basil ice cream proved too delicious to pass up.
Phillips said he thought his wahoo sashimi dish turned out beautifully.
“I wanted to represent Cayman the best I could,” he said, adding that preparing the first course – which is typically lighter – allowed him to serve a dish that really reflected the Island.
“[The sashimi] was really the best way to highlight our tropical flavours and produce,” he said.
Phillips loves uses seasoning peppers in his cooking at Brasserie and that was the flavour he was really looking for, but for this dish he had to use a hybrid seasoning pepper – called ‘sweet habanero’ on the dinner menu – grown in South Florida.
“It’s a variation of our seasoning pepper,” he said. “It’s close, but more like scotch bonnet.”
Max thought his protégé did well with the sashimi.
“I was happy with it,” he said. “It showed the simplistic nature of Brad’s cooking, highlighted by incredible ingredients and hosted staples in the Cayman world – wahoo and seasoning peppers.”
With no execution or product delivery problems, Max thought the evening went very well.
“I think we were all happy with the turnout.”
Phillips said the chefs had good camaraderie, which aided the dinner.
“We all just gelled,” he said. “It made for better food.”