What do you get when you put a group of chefs together with an interesting ingredient and challenge them to come up with something new?
In the case of the recent Plate Chef’s Table Lunch, you get some innovative menu items using California raisins.
The event, hosted by Plate magazine and sponsored by the California Raisin Marketing Board, with wine pairings from Goose Island Beer Company, was inspired by an informal meeting of a group of chefs in Chicago. “We had lunch,” explains Chandra Ram, Editor of Plate Magazine, “and it was a nice opportunity to talk about what things they were all doing. We wanted to see what would happen if we put the chefs in the kitchen together.”
What happened was a lunch time tasting of everything from a sardine appetizer, to lamb stew, to bread pudding—all made with California Raisins as a key ingredient. Paul Kahan, Executive Chef and part owner of the Chicago-based restaurant group that includes Avec, Blackbird, The Publican, and Big Star, played host for the event at Avec. “These guys don’t get a chance to cook together,” he said, of the chefs who gathered at Avec. “It’s a good opportunity—they all like one another.”
The various chefs echoed the sentiment. “It’s rare that I get to hang out with all these people,” said Brian Huston, Chef de Cuisine at The Publican. Also cooking for the event were Chef de Cuisine Koren Grieveson of Avec, Chef de Cuisine Dave Posey of Blackbird, Chef de Cuisine Justin Large of Big Star, Pastry Chef Patrick Fahy of Blackbird, and Mixologist Lynn House, also of Blackbird.
Chefs from other restaurants in attendance included Patrick Sheerin of the Signature Room at the 95th, Michael McDonald of One SixtyBlue, Paul Virant of Vie, Bill Kim of Urban Belly, Hillary Blanchard-Rikower of One SixtyBlue, Andrew Zimmerman of Sepia, Mike Sheerin of Three Floyds, Kim Schwenke of 312 Chicago, Giuseppe Tentori of BOKA and GT Fish & Oyster, Josh Habiger of Aviary, Radhika Desai of English and Jean Tippenhauer of Fred’s at Barney’s.
“This is an opportunity for us to get together, say hi, catch up, hang out, and enjoy good food,” emphasized Ram. “This is an incredible time and place for food, in Chicago, right now. And when I get on a plane and go to New York or San Francisco, that’s what the chefs there say to me as well.”
While friendships were cemented, the food took center stage, with each chef presenting his creation. One introduced a golden raisin and shallot jam; another presented lamb stew with a topping of mustard seed, pickle, and raisins. Ingredients bandied about included yellow mole, chilies, cinnamon, Mexican oregano, tomatillo, masa dumplings, and, throughout each recipe, raisins. Rick O’Fallon, Director of the California Raisin Marketing Board, touted the health benefits of the raisins in addition to the great tastes. “Raisins give sweetness without added sugar,” he said. “And there are lots of products, like raisin juice, that chefs can use besides the raisins themselves.”
Todd Downs, chef consultant with the Raisin Marketing Board, said, “It’s fun to see what the other chefs do with a product you work with every day.”