I’ve been struggling since the Taking Nashville to Higher Ground benefit dinner Tuesday night to give ya’ll an accurate portrayal of just how special this event was. You know how sometimes you’ll go to a restaurant, have a meal and then think you could make that better at home? This was a meal that you will never in your wildest dreams ever be remotely able to make at home. Now I have photos from professional photographer Ron Manville so I’m just going to show you and be done with it. I wanted to call this entry “food porn” but I was afraid all kinds of perverts would find their way here and then I’d never get rid of them.
We will start our culinary tour with hors d’oeuvres from Nick Seabergh of Giardina’s in Greenwood, Mississippi. I want you to bear in mind that these photos are from the event. They are not touched-up studio shots. This is what the food actually looked like. Nick made smoked pimento cheese on sweet corn callas (kind of like a blini) with crispy sage, a salt-and-pepper charred shrimp with tomato jam, mint and crushed peanuts (in the spoon) and a Benton’s bacon rillette with celery and pickled peppers on a homemade soda cracker. Just tell me that doesn’t look mouth-watering. Yes, indeed, it was.
I’m going to apologize right now that I don’t have a photo of the Pate of Tennessee Foie Gras that Kelly English of Restaurant Iris in Memphis made. When I get it I’ll post it because I promise you if you’d been able to try it you would have licked the plate clean.
So next on the hit parade was Gulf Shrimp with Avocado, Smoked Bacon and Grilled Romaine from Lee Richardson of Ashley’s in Little Rock. I mean, just look at that? It looks like a painting. Noah came over in the middle of the meal and just gushed about it. He had also never seen a shrimp with eyes before. Getting a good culinary education, that boy is. Didn’t phase him one bit. Even Betsy, who can be a little picky when her food is staring back at her, liked it.
The next course was was a Buttermilk Glazed Sunburst Trout with a tomato and cornbread panzanella and saffron pickled fennel from John Fleer of Canyon Kitchen at Lonesome Valley, North Carolina. This was ridiculously good. All the chefs brought their own ingredients to the party and I think you can all agree that North Carolina trout has no rival. Or if you can’t agree, be quiet. It doesn’t. And if you’re wondering how saffron pickled fennel is, it’s extraordinarily tasty. A prime example of what you can’t make at home.
After the trout, we had an exceptional heirloom chicken thigh with creamed sweet corn, lady pea salad and giblet jus from Linton Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene in Atlanta. I apologize that I don’t have a photo of that either, but I’ll post it when I get it. Licked my plate on that one, too.
John Currence of City Grocery in Oxford, Mississippi, presented us with a Grilled, 24 Hour Butter-Braised Chuck Short Rib with Horseradish/Big Bad Bacon Heirloom Grits, Summer Tomato/Fresh Herb Carpaccio, Pickled Red Onion and Asher Blue Vinaigrette. Can you say over-achiever here? Definitely not something you can make at home. Currance was also the “chef wrangler” for the event and if you think keeping kittens in a box is hard, try corralling six other star chefs, nice though they may be. I have to pause here to say all the chefs were genuinely nice. They are all Southern, after all, so I suppose that’s no surprise. Betsy swooned over the grits. Absolutely swooned. I thought we’d have to get her a cold compress.
The dessert. Ah, the dessert. David Gaus of Damgoodsweet Consulting Group made the most elegant Cruze Farm’s Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Basil Syrup, Bourbon Poached Peaches and a Honey-Graham Cracker. I have to tell you I had never thought of using basil to make a syrup but it was extremely tasty as was the whole dish. You’d think after six other courses, I would have been pushing myself away from the table but I was not. I have to remind you again that these are not food magazine photos. These are photos of the actual food that magically appeared at our tables. And magic it was, from start to finish.
So to conclude, I have to show you a photo of the chefs. Please note that they are not all gussied up in full chef white regalia with toques on their heads. They’re wearing jeans. And regular aprons, just like I have at home. Approachable. Nice. I am quite sure that none of them would give me any of their recipes but they would smile nicely while politely declining. The fellow on the left? That’s Thomas Williams, the most amazing man in Nashville. He did this wonderful thing for CRC and Mobile Loaves and Fishes almost single-handed. Emcee John Egerton called Thomas a lap dog for chefs. I personally think he’s a miracle man. He modestly said he just made a few phone calls. All to the right people.