A culinary Super Bowl
Roy Yamaguchi's dish had 12 distinct and separate
flavor items on the plate.
Next Sunday football fans will be cheering sacks and runbacks and passes. They will be hoping for a spectacular finish – a long bomb on the last play of the game, a field goal attempt from 50 yards out.
For a restaurant brat like me the Super Bowl was last week.
If restaurant world could be reduced to one big game – it was the feature dinner of last week's Culinary Winter Carnival. We had recruited the best players in the Southeast: Chef Brian Landry, of Galatoire's in New Orleans; Chef Kevin Rathbun, of Atlanta; Chef Marty Blitz, of Tampa; and Chef Ray Arpke, of Longboat Key.
The dinner's big draw was the world-famous chef rock star, Roy Yamaguchi.
About three hours before every one started to arrive in town I had an epiphany.
I had invited some of the best chefs in the world to dinner. I better not screw up.
My stomach rolled over and stayed there.
Let me describe that evening's playing field for you.
Each chef was preparing one course of a six course meal which was to be presented banquet-style.
In regular restaurant service, the fish guy cooks the fish, the steak guy cooks the steak and the plates are given to the waiter to serve.
In banquet-style service everybody gets the same thing. Offerings are prepared in large batches and held in banks of ovens, warmers and timers until they are plated.
The plates are moved down a line – usually a long table. Every element of the dish to be served is carefully and strategically placed on the plate as it moves down the table.
I'm generally the "parsley guy". I get to see the whole plate, put on the parsley, or garnish, and tell the waiter to go like hell.
That night it was like a line-up of thoroughbreds in the starting gate. Everything was cooked perfectly, and then reined in, culinary power in restraint, and then I got to say, "Go."
Each chef was responsible for presenting his course with plating assistance from the others. Dish after dish rolled off the line flawlessly – one plate as perfect as the next. After less than an hour, we had moved through four courses, 130 guests, 420 plates. The guests were astounded at the quality of the preparations.
Roy Yamaguchi was last. The level of expectation had been rising all evening.
A hundred and thirty people had just had some of the best food of their lives, and now it was Roy's turn.
The courses thus far that evening had been relatively complex, each with four or five elements to assemble. Generally banquet menus are very simple – everybody gets the salad, everybody gets the macaroni.
There was nothing simple about Roy's dish. There were 12 distinct and separate flavor items on the plate. As banquet presentations go, it was a double back flip off the high board with two-and-half twists.
He first hung pictures along the line so the chefs would know what everything was supposed to look like. He guided the preparations to their places in the starting gate, looked over the table, and just nodded. We were off.
The chef team carefully placed 12 items on each plate: perfectly prepared medium rare, sous vide of Colorado lamb, English peas, a leaf of Brussels sprout, a braised wild mushroom, a baby carrot, olive loaf bread pudding, eggplant mouse, and five separate sauces and garnishes. Everything was plated with reverence. There was an atmosphere of perfect serenity and silence. It was a symphony of movement, flavors and color.
As Roy's plates were served, there was a universal "Wow." Everyone knew there was a star quarterback in the game.
Roy walked out into the room and the guests erupted in a storm of applause.
A magnificent performance, grateful fans and we raised a bunch of money to help repair little kids' hearts.
It was a culinary Super Bowl.
Next Sunday I will be sitting in front of the tube with my nachos and chili like everybody else, but my Super Bowl was a week ago, and Roy Yamaguchi was the MVP.