Hudson Valley chefs cook up Berkshire banquet
GREAT BARRINGTON -- A squadron of chefs from the Hudson Valley came to the Berkshires on Monday night to do what they do best: Cook up a blow-out dinner party for about 75.
The ChefX event at Allium on Railroad Street was sponsored by Berkshire Farm & Table, which, according to its mission statement, cultivates, "regional economic development through the advancement of food culture in the Berkshires through building relationships, producing events and fostering dialogue."
The cross-connection of the two culinary communities fits exactly into Farm & Table's mission, said Angela Cardinali, co-founder of the organization. She said Bjorn Somlo, chef/owner of Nudel in Lenox, suggested earlier this year that chefs from Hudson and the Berkshires join to present a dinner.
Somlo's said his sous chef, Ray Stalker, asked, "What can we do to get to cook in The Crimson Sparrow's kitchen?" a large, new space with gleaming stainless steel fixtures.
"It grew from there," Somlo said, into two events.
At the first, on April 7 in Hudson, chefs from five Berkshire food establishments -- Nudel in Lenox, the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, and Bell & Anchor, Rubiner's and The Meat Market, all in Great Barrington -- prepared and served a dinner at The Crimson Sparrow.
Monday night's event brought chefs Josephine Proul from Local 111 in Philmont; and Gabriele Gulielmetti and his partner Rachel Sanzone from Bonfiglio & Bread; Benjamin Freemole and John McCarthy from The Crimson Sparrow; Jon Spoto from Grazin' Diner; Hugh Horner from Helsinki Hudson; and Jeffrey Gimmel from Swoon Kitchenbar, all in Hudson, to Allium.
It wasn't a cheap evening -- $100 a person plus beverages, tax and tip. Still, since it had expanded from its original description as a tasting menu of five courses that chefs like to eat to seven unique courses, one quite substantial, the ChefX event turned out to be a deal.
The guests, from young adult to senior, dined on dishes combining mostly local, sometimes organic ingredients into varied, vividly colored courses that featured pork belly with pickled, foraged ramps; grilled asparagus and brined local tongue with foraged ramps in anchovy sauce; local kielbasa with dried cod fritters.
Perhaps the most inventive dish was Freemole and McCarthy sautéed bay scallops in an electric-green broth of black garlic, scallions and cashews accompanied by crunchy black garlic wafers, cauliflower minced with sea urchin roe (eggs) and baby pea-shoot garnish.
The simplest seeming course of the evening was one of the most satisfying. It was created by Helsinki Hudson chef Hugh Horner, a native of the South because, he said, "I wanted to do the most Southern dish I could, yes, ma'am."
Horner served crisp panko-dredged, buttermilk marinated and fried semi-boneless whole South Carolina quail over chopped turnip greens braised in bacon fat on a bed of sweet-potato grits. It was accompanied by a boat of silky dirty South gravy and a glass of (not too) sweet tea.
Everyone clapped and cheered when Allium owner Nancy Thomas, the evening's restaurant host, introduced the chefs after the meal. Many diners packed the front room later for a cocktail hour of chat with them.
Berkshire chefs lending their support to the evening included allium's Daire Rooney; Mark Rirth, owner of Bell & Anchor restaurant around the corner; Bjorn Somlo of Nudel in Lenox; and Danielle Dragonetti, co-owner of Spoon in Lenox.
Dan Shaw, former partner in the Berkshire, Columbia and Litchfield counties' online news magazine Rural Intelligence, was one of Monday night's diners. He said he had been pressing Somlo to do this sort of event for a long time.
"Bjorn has all these connections with guys in Columbia County and Litchfield County," said Shaw, who lives in Falls Village, Conn. "I kept telling him he had to do this. We all live in our little towns and know our 20 people but, after a while, we want to know more people. Making connections like this makes our lives richer."
There were large parties and tables for two.
Peter Stanton, founder of The Nutrition Center now in Pittsfield, spent the evening talking animatedly with all his friends around the rooms.
He told Jake Levin, recently the butcher at The Meat Market and, as of today, produce manager at Berkshire Co-op Market, both in Great Barrington, that his favorite dish of the evening was the scallops because of the unusual flavors and unexpected textures.
Fitting Cardinali's intent "to market the Berkshires as a destination for food and create more reasons for people to dine out," on the spur of the moment, Alex Anzalone of Nyack, N.Y. said she had driven up to join Josh Rosenthal of Lenox for the dinner after they read about it online.
They were cozily ensconced in a darkish corner. Strangers kept stopping at their table to talk.
"It sounded so fun," Anzalone said effervescently, adding that it was as delicious and as much fun as she expected.
Rosenthal said he had lived at Kripalu Center in Lenox in its early days, but now he and Anzlone will be moving to a new development in Lee.
"People here are so friendly," he said.
When asked if she would come to potential future ChefX dinners, South County Realtor Nancy Kalodner answered, "Why wouldn't I? Great food! Great company! A warm and welcoming atmosphere!"
"Both dinners were sellouts," said John McCarthy, chef at The Crimson Sparrow, a rather new restaurant on Warren Street in Hudson.
That achieves Cardinali's definition for success: Breaking even on ticket sales, while both chefs and guests enjoyed the experience.
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