So, last week I got to do something super cool. The cheftestants from last season of Top Chef got together to do a fundraiser in Dallas and all made little dishes highlighting Texas produce and livestock. Located at a beautiful outdoor farmer’s market, “Bite Night” felt exactly like the competitions featured on Top Chef…well, without Tom, Padma, Gail, and all the pressure. Last season was as close to an “All Star” season as we’ve had in several years, so my and my BFF (best food friend) Kyle were more than willing to make the drive to D-town and join our friends Tori and Matt for the occasion.
Apologies for not taking more pictures of the food. Turns out holding a drink, a food tray, feeding yourself, and holding a phone to take a pic all at the same time is kinda difficult.
The four of us couldn’t stop raving about how perfect the event was. Before big gatherings like this, I always worry about long lines for food, excessive heat, substandard alcohol options, obnoxious people etc. Instead, we were greeted with an airy outdoor venue, buzzing but not too packed, with enough food and drink offerings scattered about that no line took more than a few minutes. After a few Deep Ellum brews (because that’s a must while in Dallas), we sipped on absinthe cocktails (seriously!) and a delicious St Germain and prosecco spritzer that was so tasty I bought a bottle of the elderflower liquer the next day. But you know we didn’t come for the drinks….we came to all geek out over our favorite TC contestants and finally get to taste their food!
The chefs all know these events are basically all just a big PR/marketing job, so for the most part everyone was really charming and acted flattered when asked to take photos. I appreciated that they were so willing to answer questions, talk about the food, laugh about the show, and seemed to enjoy interacting with their fans. I imagine it’s hard to stay “on” like that, but it really did make the night super memorable.
I didn’t take great notes, but several chefs and their dishes stand out in my mind. Our first stop was at Sheldon Simeon’s booth, because OF COURSE. He made some sort of cornmeal crusted chicken wing with a peanut sauce, lime and cilantro. You really can’t go wrong with those kind of flavors and textures–total crowd pleasers. That being said, you could tell each element was put together by a professional and it was absolutely delicious. We told him about our Top Chef draft and seemed amused when we told him he was the number one pick. Then he apologized to Kyle for losing it for him which was pretty funny.
Shirley Chung made a crazy-tender beef cheek, and had her husband with her to help plate the food. It was really cook watching them work together–they’re in the process of opening a totally self-financed fast casual restaurant in California, and Shirley’s husband runs all the business aspects of the operation. Brooke Williamson made a charred skirt steak over a brioche sauce and a watercress salad on top. It blew my mind that they could put food out like that with just a plancha and a hot plate to work with!
John Tesar, the host chef for the event, made a lobster and crab toast with some kind of tasty orange thing crumbled on top–pretty sure it was lobster coral, which I’ve read about in one of Thomas Keller’s cookbooks but had never seen or tasted before. Katsuji made a amazing poached shrimp on a rice cracked with some sort of acidic and peppery sauce and topped it with a giant piece of uni! I told him that we named out cat after him, and now call Scout and Barkley “Scoutsuji” and “Barksuji” in his honor. He told me to tag all of them on instagram so his wife would believe the story, haha!
We didn’t get to see much of Gerald Sombright on the show, but his filet mignon with “billionaire potatoes” was definitely something to write home about. It was basically a hollowed-out crispy fingerling potato boat filled with caviar. I couldn’t stop staring at his station because I’ve never seen that much caviar in a container before in my entire life–the good tapioca sized caviar, not the tiny roe specks you get at sushi restaurants.
Speaking of luxury products in bulk, just that morning I watched the Instagram story of Alinea’s chef de cuisine and marveled at how their fresh uni arrives packed into a book-sized wooden cigar box. Six hours later at Bite Night, both Katsuji and BJ Smith had those exact same boxes of uni at their stations. BJ made a fresh potato chip with bison tartare and a fat piece of uni right on top. Kyle and I went back for three helpings. You never can eat enough uni.
Seriously. I could eat uni every day, and I’m pretty sure Kyle could too.
Getting to talk with Casey Thompson was a big highlight of the night for me. The deep fryer at her station took awhile to heat, so she kinda bounced around with the crowd and talked to me, Kyle, and Tori for a solid ten minutes. She’s just as stunning in person as she is on TV, and has a genuine warmness about her–she reminded me of Tammi Taylor from Friday Night Lights! She made a fried chicken liver and chicken skin slider. Ah, the two BEST parts of a bird.
Silvia made a delicious bolognese sauces with handmade cavatelli and roasted bone marrow, Emily Hahn made a beef empanada with pumpkin sauce, and Annie made a steak and beet tartare. Jamie Lynch’s sousvide strip steak with smoked mashed potatoes was moist and perfect, it was really fun getting to tell him that he was my pick in the draft.
It was awesome getting to taste so many of my culinary heroes’ food, but even cooler getting to meet so many in person. I know a lot of people don’t understand food as a hobby, but I see it as a way to engage with the world around you. Visiting a city for work or pleasure is that much more special when you get to eat at the home restaurant of a chef that you follow. Inserting creativity and expression into something you have to do daily turns a chore into something you can look forward to. I know it’s not for everyone, but I’m glad to have a hobby that’s such an easy point of connection with the community around me.