Sunday, April 17, 2011

Girl Power

The call came a little after midday. Yes, there were still reservations left for the event tonight, now if you just give me your credit card information...

Which is how I found myself here, a golf community north of Kansas City. Not really my stomping grounds but when you get an opportunity to get to eat a six course meal prepared by two of your most favorite chefs in all the Top Chef shows? Get the camera ready baby, because Carla Hall and Antonia Lofaso are in Kansas City.


Girl Power indeed. Night two of a two night event of food and Top Chef chatter. Cocktails started off the night in the spacious National Clubhouse. Not a huge event, ten tables of eight and no table was filled out. Since I had made my reservation so late and couldn't get anyone to go with me, I was beginning to worry that I was going to be at a table alone. Happily Emily and Dino made reservations just as late as me.

Emily and Dino

How cute are they? Not to mention they're Top Chef freaks, run a restaurant and Emily has a girl-crush on Antonia. Good food, good company, gorgeous setting and Top Chef gossip, does it get any better? Let's check out the first course.


Antonia started off the meal with a Hamachi crudo, crispy rice, mizuna, with miso vinaigrette. A bold dish to serve to folks in Kansas City, a place steeped in stockyard and meat on the hoof history. Not that anyone at my table minded since we all enjoy sushi so the hamachi was a welcome starter. Still trying to figure out how Antonia did the crispy rice because it was a nice little crunchy treat on top of that flavorful hamachi. And BONUS, both Carla and Antonia help bring plates to the table.

brought to you by carla

Our second course was a salad course.

golden beet salad

Another bold choice by Carla since so many people reject eating beets right off the bat. An Asparagus, Golden Beet & Shitake salad with a Tarragon Dill Vinaigrette and a quenelle of goat cheese boursin. The chefs come out after each course is served and talk a little bit about the dish. Carla gave us a little taste of spring, especially with the asparagus. The general consensus at our table is that it was a great salad especially since the beets didn't have that distinctive beet flavor. It didn't last long on the plate.

sweet shrimp

This photo is part of Antonia's next course. This is some sweet shrimp and matchstick apples. Now....I don't have a photo of the whole dish but I have a really good excuse. See, they plated the shrimp and apples and then came around with hot pitchers of Curried Cauliflower Soup and poured it over the shrimp and frankly when the smell of the soup hit my nostrils all thought of grabbing a photo left my brain. I know it's spring but this is a soup that would be great on a fall afternoon and we did everything but lick our bowls clean. Check out the recipe at the end of the post. Bravo Antonia!


Next up is Carla's Grilled Halibut with Ramps, Pickled Fennel and roasted Sunchoke Pesto. When Carla talked about this dish, it sounded like it was still a dish in progress. The fish was cooked well and the sunchoke pesto was interesting but I still think the dish needs a little oomph.

lamb loin

Antonia's Lamb Loin, Fennel Butter, Brussel Sprouts and Blue Bacon Salad. This dish, more than any other dish on the menu, gives us a chance to eat a dish the chefs prepared on the show. Or at least intended to serve on the show. This is the dish that Antonia planned to serve to royalty had a fire not happened in the restaurant. It's a pretty good dish and certainly sounds better than the shrimp and grits she did eventually make. Even my table-mate Emily who doesn't like lamb, enjoyed this dish.


Carla finishes up the night with a Strawberry Rhubarb Meringue Tart with Lime Basil Coulis. I love lime so this is right up my ally. The only problem is that the tart base could have been a tad more tender but it didn't stop me from eating it all.

Now that the chefs are done with kitchen duty, it was time for a little Q & A. We got to hear about future plans which for Antonia include writing a cookbook for busy working moms trying to make good food on a tight schedule and budget. Carla shared her exciting news of being part of The Chew, who along with Mario Batali and Michael Symon will be taking on daytime TV (and killing ABC's soaps along the way). Both Carla and Antonia's favorite episode, hands down, was the fishing episode because they had so much fun. Carla's least favorite episode (aside from the one she was eliminated on) was the Target challenge mainly because the cameramen COULD NOT KEEP UP WITH CARLA. After a demonstration on just how fast Carla is, she's right, I'm sure she left them in Target dust. They also shared a funny story about one of the dishes for that challenge and how one chef thought he was coming up with an incredibly unique dish but when he shared his idea with Carla and Antonia they were flabbergasted. The dish? Baked potato soup which any number of chain restaurants have been doing for years but really a bit of good luck for Carla because Angelo went home instead of her. The chefs shared another amusing moment that revealed a little bit of the behind the scene production issues. Carla and Antonia were asked to sing the Beef Tongue Song.

Beef Tongue Song

The only reason the Beef Tongue song even happened was that when Antonia gets nervous, she sings to herself. In real life, this is not a problem but on a syndicated show like Top Chef, the moment a recognizable song is uttered, for it to make it on air, the right's holders to that song must be paid. So all the songs Antonia came up with to sing away her nervousness had to be original in nature. Enter Carla and Angelo, co-writers of the Beef Tongue Song and Hello I-Tunes downloads and one of the most fun moments in Top Chef history.

We discovered, while as horrific as it was for us seeing Mike in swim trunks, was nothing in comparison to seeing it live, proving once again that while you can choose your friends, you cannot choose your family. I'm pretty sure finding out Mike was her cousin was not the Elimination Prize Antonia was hoping for. We also discovered that Padma is a warmer, more approachable person since the birth of her baby (while I did enjoy Antonia's description of Padma's eating habits as more in line with that of a long haul trucker). However after hearing the three restaurants Carla and Antonia hit up in a two hour period here in Kansas City, they apparently were doing their best Padma imitation. Two bbq joints (Arthur Bryants and Oklahoma Joe's) and one burger joint (Blanc Burgers) is a whole lot of meat to consume before a big night of cooking.
Finally the questions were done and the chefs graciously allowed any and all who wanted their photos taken to be accommodated. Which means Emily's girl-crush fantasy is fulfilled.

Emily's girlcrush

I have to say at the end of the night, Carla and Antonia were exactly what I thought they'd be like. Carla is funny and entertaining and apparently seems to be the only chef who seems to find the good in everyone. Antonia is honest, warm and engaging and I certainly hope she finds success as a result of her time on Top Chef. I'm sad that neither one of them won Top Chef All Stars but I believe their triumphant spirits will take them further than winning the title ever could.

Antonia Lofaso -- Curried Cauliflower Soup with Sweet Shrimp, Apples, Cilantro
Serves 4 people

Thinly slice half onion and sweat, no color.
Rough chop 1 head cauliflower and add to onions allow to sweat.
Add 4 t curry powder and allow to bloom.
Peel 2 apples, remove seeds, rough chop and add to sweat mixture, approx 10 minutes.
Cover with 3/4 cream and 1/4 chicken stock simmer, season with salt and pepper, blend.

Dry 16 pieces of sweet shrimp, season, salt and pepper, dust with all purpose flour.
In a hot sauté pan with about 2 T peanut oil, sauté shrimp.
Garnish soup with sautéed sweet shrimp and julienne Fuji apple garnish with micro cilantro and cilantro oil.

For cilantro oil....
2 bunches cilantro blanched, refreshed and blended with 2 cups peanut oil, strained thru cheesecloth and sieve.

Carla Hall -- Asparagus, Golden Beet and Shiitake Salad
goat cheese boursin, tarragon dill vinaigrette
serves 4

1 bunch asparagus
1 pound golden beets
8 ounces shiitake mushroom caps, julienned
¼ cup goat cheese boursin (see recipe below)
1 cup baby arugula
1 recipe tarragon dill vinaigrette (see recipe below)

1. Prepare beets – preheat oven to 400°. Wrap each beet individually in foil and place on sheet pan. Roast beets until they can be easily pierced with a fork, about 45 to 60 minutes. Allow to cool slightly, and peel beets with dry paper towels, then cut them into ½” dice. Toss in vinaigrette.
2. Prepare asparagus – trim the woody asparagus stems by bending them until they break; the asparagus will naturally break where the stem becomes woody. Discard the woody ends. Heat a cast iron skillet then add minimal oil. Sauté asparagus in small batches until browned and just tender, about 2- 3 minutes. Set aside to cool. Cut the asparagus on the bias (at a diagonal) into 1” pieces and toss with lemon zest.
3. Sauté shiitake – sauté mushrooms in hot skillet until browned; season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
4. Putting it all together – arrange beets, asparagus and shiitake on each plate. Dot with small balls of goat boursin. Lightly toss arugula in vinaigrette and top composed salad with greens.

Tarragon-Dill Vinaigrette

Lemon oil
2 cups canola oil
Strips of zest from 1 lemon
1 stalk lemongrass, tough outer layers removed and bottom 4 inches roughly chopped

¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, about 1 lemon
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon tarragon, torn
½ teaspoon dill, snipped
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons tarragon, roughly chopped
¼ cup lemon oil
½ cup olive oil

1. Prepare lemon oil – In a medium heavy saucepan over very low heat, combine oil, lemon peel and lemongrass. Cook, uncovered, until aromatic, about 1 hour. Do not let oil boil. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Strain through a mesh strainer into a heatproof container. Cool completely before using. May be stored in an airtight container in refrigerator for up to 4 weeks.)
2. Prepare Vinaigrette – In a medium bowl, whisk together lemon juice, mustard, tarragon, dill, salt, sugar and pepper. Slowly whisk in lemon oil, then olive oil. Adjust seasoning, if necessary.

Goat Cheese Boursin

1 garlic clove, minced
8 ounces goat cheese, at room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
3 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon fresh dill
1 tablespoon chives, minced
2 tablespoons parsley, minced
¼ teaspoon black pepper


the dogs' mother said...

How Fun!!!
And I loves behind the scenes stuff.
Sounds like the meal was delish, so glad you got to go.

MakingSpace said...

What a LOVELY evening!!!! Your table companions look absolutely delightful, and I bet they'll want a copy of that photo - definitely suitable for framing.

So glad this was a capstone of TC for you. Girl Power indeed! I SOOOOO want Antonia's cookbook, right now!!!

Sweet, the pic with Carla. What a great event it must have been. Just reading about it left a smile on my face. Thanks so much for sharing it all with us. Hootie hoo!

Dani said...

How freakin' AWESOME!!!!!!!!!

I love, love, love the picture of you with Carla!

Buzz Kill said...

Incredible tasting menu the girls prepared for you. What did your ticket cost if you don't mind me asking? And is there an actual tour and schedule - I'd be interested if they get to my neck of the woods.

I've never heard of golden beets but it looked great. And I hope you wangled an invite to Emily's restaurant. Nice post.

Big Shamu said...

Buzz this isn't officially part of the TC Tour despite the fact that the Tour was in town at the same time. However Nikki Cascone and Hector Santiago were on hand to help out in the kitchen at this event. The National has been running their own little Top Chef events at their club for a couple of years now so it's not really something that would hit your town.

And hell yeah I'll be hitting Dino's restaurant for Greek night.

Captain Obvious said...

Captain Obvious says:

Looks like you had a great time! Good food as well. At least the kitchen got the food out(unlike the Japan relief benefit that ex TCs had in NY the other day).

CO had wanted to go to the restaurant that Antonia worked at during her season, but it has a reputation of a nightclub atmosphere.

@Buzz KIll: Where do you live anyways? Just curious because here in LA, there are about 3-4 kinds of beets that CO can get at the farmers market as well as Whole Foods.

CO prefers the more common, red beet root. They are more flavorful(in that beety way), which is the reason ppl don't like beets in the first place :)

emily said...

So great meeting you Saturday night! So embarrased that you outed my 'girl-crush' situation...! *sigh* But, all's fair in love and food, right? Looking forward to hosting your visit to Maryville for Greek night at A&G. Remember, it's not Top Chef, so be kind!! ;) Email when you will be heading to town so that Deno (and I!) can be sure to be there... Happy Eating and Blogging! :)

Your tablemates,
Emily (and Deno)

chickory said...

GET BACK CADILLAC!!! are you freaking kidding me? lucky for you. Im glad. i hope they see these amazing foodiegraphs and ring you up and catapult you to glossy mag glory.

great and fun post.


Big Shamu said...

CO, did not hear about the kitchen woes of the TC Japan relief benefit. Was Dale T. only making plates for the judges?

Emily, thank you and Deno for making it a great and fun night. I'm trying to get a group up to come eat some wonderful Greek food. I promise we won't bring any bottles of Windex. Also now you know, never tell bloggers anything.

Chickory, you would have had a great time, Carla and Antonia together is a riot of giggly fun.

Captain Obvious said...

Captain Obvious says:

@BigShamu-No, Candice-She was the organizer(s1), Hung, Harold, Angelo, Mike Isabella, Kevin(who's that? Oh yeah...winner of a few seasons ago) were all cooking.

Blaise showed up late and didn't cook anything

Big Shamu said...

Candice from Season 1? Harold and Hung can put out some food, not so sure about Angelo. Mike, fogetaboutit. Kevin, good luck. Wonder how they picked up the rest of the crew, certainly not just those five guys were cooking and prepping? Still I appreciate any efforts they gave for the cause. I would hope Blaise made some sort of contribution, monetary or otherwise than just showing up late.

Syd said...

I am just now catching up on my blog reading. I am jealous as hell, but HUGE props to you for taking photos to share with us.

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