Last night Maestro was host to what literally was the greatest assemblage ever of Washington area chefs for the James Beard Foundation's Centennial Celebration Dinner. This was a dinner with each course prepared by Jose Andres (Cafe Atlantico, Zaytinya), Jeffrey Buben (Vidalia, Bis), Patrick O'Connell (The Inn at Little Washington), Roberto Donna (Galileo, Laboratorio), Bob Kinkead (Kinkead's, Colvin Run), Michel Richard (Citronelle) and Fabio Trabocchi (Maestro and the Host chef). Six of these are James Beard Award winners as the best chef in either the Mid Atlantic, California (Michel won first at Citrus in L. A.) or the U. S. (Patrick O'Connell) and the seventh was nominated as the "Rising Star Chef of the Year" by the James Beard Foundation. Each brought their own support staff. Several, including Patrick O'Connell brought their own serving plates. Maestro, as the host hotel, supplied the food and the wine pairing which was picked by Vincent, formerly of Jean Louis where he, too, won a James Beard Award as America's best sommelier, which is considered the food service industry's equivaent of an "Oscar."
Ninety people were at the Black tie affair which at $300 per person (all inclusive) seemed like a true bargain considering the 11 different canapes offered prior to the start of the dinner, each of which is featured at Maestro as an amuse or special course. The four hour dinner (including the canapes and eception) featured seven courses (essentially a total of EIGHTEEN) plus seven wine pairings such as '99 Arrowood Cabernet, 2000 La Court Barbera d'Asti, Rietine Chianti Classico Riserva '97 (superb) and an excellent Trockenbeerenauslese, '99 Muskat Ottonell from Austria.
The dinner was augmented by the auction of chef's coats that each wore in the food preparation. Several of these included inducements for higher bids including dinner at the Chef's Table at Citronelle, Laboratorio and the top one which included two nights in the Presidential Suite (3,500 square feet) at soon to open Mandarin Oriental downtown which will rival the Four Seasons and Ritz Carlton. Of interest was that with so much generosity from so many chefs (particularly Fabio, Roberto and Michel) one of the lower prices for a chef's coat was for Patrick O'Connell's who did not offer dinner at The Inn as part of the package.
In an upstairs ballroom tables were set up representing 11 stations with each station featuring the preparation of a different dish by a member of Maestro's staff, fourteen of whom were credited in the informational package everyone was given. Guests would walk from one to the next, stopping at as many as they liked.
For the canapes:
Potato Foam Rossini (excellent)
Campari Pineapple Ravioli (superb!)
Rolled beef carpaccio, Maestro style (very superb!!)
Seared Branzano with Fennel Compote (three visits)
Confit Foie Gras with Griottine Cherries (missed)
Anise Shot with Marinated Taylor Bay Scallops (imaginative, interesting)
Fondue in the Egg Shell with Proscutto Sticks (Another very superb!!)
Chilled Gazpacho with Confit Cherry Tomato and Nepitella (excellent)
Mosaic of Wild Salmon and Aspic of Conch Meat Salmon Roe (Imaginative, unusual, delicious)
Maestro Crispy Cup with Buffalo Mozzarella and Olives Tapenade (Excellent)
Maine Belon Oysters with Cauliflower Froth and Golden Osetria Caviar (I had four of these with absolutely
no inhibition or shame for robbing three others with my greed. I felt this was justified since these were just superb.)
During all of this Ca' del Bosco Brut was frequently poured.
After an hour, many were well on their way to being fully sated as well as a healthy start on inebriation.
Guests were then shown to their tables downstairs.
It should be noted here that John B. and his wife along with two friends were given the single best table in the entire restaurant directly in front of the open kitchen's serving table.
These are the following seven courses:
1. "Guacamole in a new way with trout roe." Jose
2. "Sweet potato, wild mushrooms, leek and sweet onions Napoleon with truffles and chevril." Jeff Buben
3. "Fricassee of Maine lobster with potato gnocchi and curried walnuts" Patrick O'Connell. Considered by many to be the dish of the night.
4. "White Alba truffle risotto." Roberto Donna. More intense, creamier than at the Chowhound dinner. Incredible that so many of the 90 diners bent so close to the dish for so long smelling truffles. Having eaten 11 or 12 of Roberto's risottos this was perhaps his best. Directly comparable to the old Guido outside of Alba.
5. "Roasted turbot smoked in hay with lightly smoked crushed potato baby pearl onions in smoked hay sauce."
Fabio Trabocchi's excellent recreation of his signature dish from Maestro.
6. "Rack of lamb and stuffed loin." Bob Kinkead. So good that I now need to go back to Colvin Run Tavern!
7. "Autumn Souffle." Michel Richard showing why many consider him to be America's premier pastry chef. Superb.
At times there were as many as thirty people in the kitchen preparing the various dishes. There was also a great deal of animated discussion among the various chefs. When the meal was over, after ten o'clock, a long table was set up in the rear of the room. My guess is that over 20 of the chefs and their sous chefs and assistants ended up back there celebrating an extraordinary evening.
With the luxurious setting of Maestro, the superb Michelin correct service of its staff, seven Beard Award chefs preparing dinner and Maestro's staff preparing 11 superb (even "very superb!") first courses or tastes this was a landmark meal in the history of our city.