Imagine it. You purchase a ticket to a dinner event, not knowing the menu. Not knowing the location. Not knowing the entertainment. Knowing only the date and the time and the chefs involved. Good thing you have a healthy sense of adventure!
This is the concept for The Legend Series, a new underground dining series that will feature the best chefs in our region along with a rotating array of artists, musicians and performers. Chef Scotty Schwartz from 29 South and I devised the series after one too many brunchtime cocktails at Orsay one afternoon. I’m producing the events in conjunction with some awesomely talented local restaurant peeps (holla Allan & Crystal!) and Scotty and my other chef buddies (more on them soon).
In January, forty willing subjects attended the inaugural event in The Legend Series. The morning of the event they received an email outlining the location and all converged on Riverside’s Intuition Ale Works that evening, just before sundown.
But preparations had been taking place months in advance. You know how Restaurant Wars is one of the hardest challenges for contestants of Top Chef? Conceptualizing an entire restaurant, building a menu, setting it up, executing, pleasing customers and breaking it all down… all in a single day?
That’s what The Legend Series is like. Only on crack.
We were lucky with our first venue that we had such luxurious amenities as electricity and toilets.
For future events we are not going to be so lucky. We’ll truly be off the grid at the next event.
The morning of the first Legends event Crystal Vessels (miss you!) and I arrived early to the brewery to set up the table. Soon we were joined by Annie, Nicole, Linds, Jason & Macky. They polished glassware and did a myriad other activities to make sure we were ready for dinner service.
Crystal gave directions. And contemplated the seating arrangement.
While I helped set the table.
The entertainment for the evening was my friend Philip Pan, violinist and Concertmaster of the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra. He composed a music piece inspired by each of the five courses we enjoyed that evening.
Photographer Jensen Hande took portraits of the chefs whenever he could grab them from their work the kitchen.
Speaking of the kitchen… I really should put that in quotes. The “kitchen” consisted of some folding tables, a few propane burners, a fryer and a hot box. Amazing the magic the chefs pulled off using such minimal equipment.
For the first hour or so guests enjoyed passed hors d’ouevres in the tap room of Intuition Ale Works. There was roasted quail breast with pancetta and chestnut honey; ceviche; cold-smoked Beau Soleil oyster with jalapeno mignonette; steamed mussel over horseradish “potato salad”; and crispy Mayport shrimp stuffed with baccala potatoes.
We precariously balanced the cold dishes on top of the kegs in our tiny walk-in…
…while the chefs continued to conjure up magic in the makeshift kitchen.
Soon, guests were led from the tap room to the brewery area where we had set up a single long, white linen-draped table between the tanks.
As the sun set, the dishes began to arrive.
Chef Guy Ferri from Black Sheep Restaurant Group set the tone by starting the evening with a roasted marrow bone accompanied by braised oxtail marmalade and brioche toasts.
Each dish was triply accompanied: by wine generously donated by Vibrant Rioja from the eponymous region in Spain; by beer crafted in the tanks around us from Intuition Ale Works; and by Philip’s violin piece.
Chef Guy’s pairings were 2001 Campo Viejo Gran Reserva, Intuition Ale’s The Factor Scotch Ale and Mussorgsky Bydlo (The Ox) from Pictures at an Exhibition.
Next were Strauss lamb sweetbreads, romesco and Tuscan kale from Chef Tom Gray of Bistro Aix.
Paired with 2007 Bodegas Sierra Cantabria Reserva “Unica” Rioja, Triad Belgian Tripel and Chef Tom accompanying Philip on cowbell to Hugh Masekela’s Grazing in the Grass.
Then. Chef Scotty Schwartz of 29 South’s succulent roasted saddle of rabbit stuffed with rabbit confit and prunes. It was accompanied by a potato playfully crafted to look like a marrow bone and stuffed with the creamiest sformato you can imagine. I think I said as I was eating it that I wanted to die inside the sformato and spend eternity eating my way out. Or something like that.sformato with the most complicated wine of the night, a 2000 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva Rosado. O'Connor’s The Road to Appalachia was played as we took our first sip.
Taverna’s Chef Sam Efron perfectly paired his braised veal checks, potato puree, piquillo pepper and Marcona almonds with 2005 Bodegas Dinastia Vivanco Reserva and Quiet Storm Belgian Quad. The dish was brought to the table to the tune of the Pixies Where is My Mind?
As Sam’s course was cleared animal bones were scattered across the tables. Yes. Animal bones. Skulls and such.
Why? you may ask. No biggie. It was just Chef Brian Siebenschuh’s version of nose-to-tail cooking. For his "soup & Sandwich" a la Indochine he used every part of a wild boar. A banh mi sandwich with fromage de tete, braised belly, roasted leg, sambal aioli, cilantro, pickled fennel and fresh cucumber. Pho with raw ribeye, scallion, melted fat, star anise braised ribs, rice noodle and spicy meatballs. And the bones, well, well the bones served as entertainment. Nothing wasted.
The not-so-humble soup and sandwich was served with 2005 Maetierra Dominum Quatro Pagos "QP" and Intuition’s Dubbel Helix Belgian Dubbel. Philip chimed in with an apropos rendition of the Theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
We ended the meal with piles of cheese. Every meal should end with heaps of cheese. There was cabrales brought by Chef Tom, Reypenaer aged gouda from Chef Brian, Epoisses from Chef Scotty, manchego from Chef Guy and Brillat Savarin from Chef Sam.
Then, after the guests had gone, we drank beer. We took some fun photos. We toasted to a successful first event.