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Chefs

A Fête with Chef Graham Dodds at the James Beard House

We relished the warmth of Texan hospitality on a cold winter’s evening.
By Wes Wells |
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Roasted beets with Windy Meadows Family Farm chicken livers and warm chèvre. Photography by Alexander Richter.

With the possible exception of a third Michelin star, the most coveted award in the culinary field is marked by the image of one man: James Beard. This chef was so celebrated by his colleagues that, upon his passing in 1985, Julia Child personally recommended that his brownstone in Greenwich Village be transformed to the headquarters of what would become the premier non-profit organization dedicated to gastronomy—The James Beard Foundation. Today, the Foundation does so much more than disseminate awards. For the recreational chefs there are featured books and recipes, for the aspiring professional chefs there are scholarships, and for the industry’s most accomplished artisans, it offers the opportunity to host dinner at the James Beard House.

This past Saturday, Dallas’ own Graham Dodds of Hibiscus, was asked to sharpen his knives and formally lead his team through a five-course dinner in one of the most revered kitchens in the world.

Chef Dodds preparing beets. Photo by Alexander Richter.
Chef Dodds preparing beets. Photo by Alexander Richter.

The fête, entitled “Texas Heritage Meats Celebration”, boasted a series of dishes, each incorporating at least one carnivorous element, all of which were enhanced with fresh ingredients flown directly from Dodd’s favored gardens and farms in the Lone Star State. In keeping with the gamey theme, the wines paired with the seated courses were sourced exclusively from Donkey & Goat Winery in Berkeley, California. The bottles selected for each dish were robust and tested each participant’s range of varietals (my personal favorites being a lovely 2013 Testa Vineyard Carignane and a “Stone Crusher” Roussanne of the same vintage).

Dis & Dat Scotch eggs. Photo by Alexander Richter.
Dis & Dat Scotch eggs. Photo by Alexander Richter.

In typical New York fashion, the evening began with guests standing shoulder-to-shoulder, less than arms-length from a fiery kitchen, while sipping Val de Mer Sparkling Rosé from Burgundy, and sampling passed appetizers. Dodds’s creativity fashioned “Dis-and-Dat” scotch eggs, and Windy Hill Farm goat chorizo skewered with Caprino Royale manchego made of goat’s milk. Two additional samplings proved to be favorites: A New Frontier Farms sourced rabbit pâté blended with fois gras, and a fatty porchetta di testa from Falster Farms with a small, crunchy cube of pickle and cheese.

Windy Hill Farm Cabrito with Housemade Honey, Crispy purple potatos, crème fraîche. Photo by Alexander Richter.
Windy Hill Farm Cabrito with Housemade Honey, Crispy purple potatos, crème fraîche. Photo by Alexander Richter.

The formal segment of the dinner commenced with Windy Hill cabrito with fresh Texas honeycomb, crispy purple potatoes and crème fraîche. Paired with the aforementioned 2013 “Stone Crusher” Roussanne, the young goat was perfectly seasoned with a rub that consisted of Calabrian chili purée, oregano, garlic, and thyme. Dodds then grilled and braised the flesh to perfection. For a bit of heat, a combination of cumin, coriander, lemon zest, smoked paprika, and turmeric was added, in addition to chopped parsley and copious amounts of honey and olive oil. The purple potato displayed a crispy exterior, yet maintained a supple core, which provided the ideal serving mechanism for the spicy cabrito and cool crème fraîche. It was an excellent “official” opener.

New Frontier Farm rabbit agnolotti with rabbit lonzino, herbs and Veldhuizen parmesan. Photo by Alexander Richter.
New Frontier Farm rabbit agnolotti with rabbit lonzino, herbs and Veldhuizen parmesan. Photo by Alexander Richter.

We subsequently enjoyed rabbit-filled agnolotti topped with thinly shaved rabbit lonzino. A dense, creamy sauce was created from a reduction of Donkey & Goat Improbable Chardonnay with cippolini onions, tarragon, and, of course, copious amounts of butter. Additional fresh herbs were then added to the mixture, and the dish was completed with a grating of Veldhuizen Parmesan, which lent a natural salty element that nicely complimented the cured hare. The handcrafted pasta was soft and velvety, but maintained the requisite amount of structure and rigidity to grasp the sauce – an elementary, but often overlooked necessity of quality pasta.

Roasted Beets with Windy Meadows Family Farm chicken livers and warm chèvre. Photo by Alexander Richter.
Roasted Beets with Windy Meadows Family Farm chicken livers and warm chèvre. Photo by Alexander Richter.

Chef then presented a beautiful array of roasted beets, rested on a bed of blended chicken liver, fresh arugula, caramelized pearl onions and a circle of warm chèvre. Visually stunning, the play on a traditional “beet and goat cheese” pairing was well executed in that the sweetness of the caramelized onions and fat derived from the liver were quite evident, but did not overpower the flavor of the beets, or take away from the familiarity of a classic.

Our final savory course was a pork cassoulet, paired with a Donkey & Goat Testa Vineyard Carignane. Light pink in color, the Falster Farms pork and traditional Toulouse sausage (made of pork with white wine, garlic and nutmeg) sat atop a traditional blend of white beans, onions, celery, carrots and fine herbs. The heaviest dish of the evening was matched by a 2012 “Broken Leg” Pinot Noir from the Anderson Valley, which displayed notes of lavender, cinnamon and Asian spice.

Texas Honeybee Guild honeycomb. Photo by Alexander Richter.
Texas Honeybee Guild honeycomb. Photo by Alexander Richter.

For dessert, we were offered a playful “Mum’s Mince Pie”. Fittingly, the dish showcased Dodds’s mother’s beef filling, consisting of her beef suet and her renowned fruit preserves. Hailing from Scotland, but now residing in Texas, this dish incorporated traditional spices such as cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, and made for a heartwarming homage, as his mother was in attendance.

The “Texas Heritage Meat Celebration” turned out to be a warm and gregarious evening, particularly for the many Texans that made the commute. Adoration also came from numerous New York City based members of The James Beard Foundation that not only experienced some of the finest items to come out of our fair state, but also relished the warmth of Texan hospitality on a cold winter’s evening.

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