The third Young Guns Dinner was hosted by The Stand Gastro Bistro in Birmingham on Sunday night, and it was another huge success. Chef Paul Grosz (The Stand and Cusine) graciously opened his kitchen to a crowd of talented young chefs and their assistants as they served a six course meal (not including the hors d'oeuvres, intermezzo, and dessert courses) to 160 guests.
These are social affairs, and many of the guests sat at communal tables. Sharing notes on the food and pairing a different wine (or cider in one case) with each course made for increasingly lively conversation and a great atmosphere. By the end of the evening multiple tables were toasting heartily with each new wine and business cards and pet pictures were eagerly exchanged.
Chef Paul prepared hors d'oeuvres, including a light beet cured salmon and ceviche salad and a warm veal sweetbreads and hunter sausage dish for the reception in the bar. He also prepared the intermezzo course, a whiskey sour sorbet that paired perfectly with the fun (and boozy) atmosphere. The Stand's manager, John Kelly, and a large team of waitstaff kept the dining room running smoothly as they served, cleared, poured, and introduced each course during the well-paced dinner.
The first course went to Andy Hollyday of Selden Standard, who chose dungeness crab and asparagus with a lot of bright acidity that a tablemate noted was indicative of his style. Doug Hewitt of Terry B's chose to prepare grilled octopus with chorizo and pickled ramps, which was a standout.
The dinners, according to "Founding Father" James Rigato, chef at The Root, are not overly concerned with progression or cohesion, and the next few courses made that clear. Justin Vaiciunas of The Jefferson House served skate tempura with an uni hollandaise, which was showstopping in presentation and taste. Each guest was served a sea urchin, spines intact, on a bed of salt with the salad inside. After this (still-ongoing?) winter, the briny ocean smell radiating from the plate was a welcome vacation.
The richness of the dish was followed by Chef Paul's whiskey sour sorbet, which served its purpose. However, James Rigato's decision to showcase pork belly made it clear that this was not going to be a light meal. The generous portion was expertly prepared and served with cheddar grits and sauerkraut. Matt Green from The Reserve grilled quail which were accompanied by a kumquat marmalade and foie gras. The quail was perfectly cooked and tender, but the progression of uni, pork belly, and foie gras was intense. Lamb was the last protein of the evening, beautifully prepared by chef Jeremy Kalmus of Local. Lamb sweetbreads were also featured, and were the best part of the dish.
The evening's dessert was bright and not too heavy. Emily Davis, pastry chef at The Root, and Kevin Kearney from The Stand prepared a buttermilk almond cake with fresh thyme, blueberry, and a light ice cream.Evan Barrett, sommelier at Plum Market, chose the wine pairings for the evening, showcasing both local and international wines. Great Lakes Coffee provided after dinner caffeine to those needing a boost for the drive home.
The open kitchen at The Stand allowed the energy of the kitchen to spread to the guests during the reception, and likely vice versa. The dinners aim to showcase the individual talent of each young chef, and while that means the meal might lack a bit of cohesion, in the end a perfectly planned meal isn't the point. The mystery of what's for dinner (menus are only given to the guests at the end of the meal) encourages a sense of adventure and that expectancy is part of the fun. Young Guns IV is already in the works, but it's likely to sell out just as quickly as the last one, if not more so.
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