I’ve been lucky the last three years to be able to attend all three of the Chef’s Tour visits to The Palisades Restaurant in Eggleston, Virginia. It is the closest restaurant to our house, which is convenient as it also happens to be one of our favorites. All three Chef’s Tour events have been something special but this year really stood out! Five chefs conceived of, developed and served five amazing entrees along with four hors d’oeuvres. I don’t even know how to start talking about how good it was, but before I do I want to point something out…
No one has ever, not even historically, called Eggleston a large town. A community, yes, a town, sure – but the definition is strictly small town. The first year that the owner of the Palisades, Shaena Muldoon utilized her connections to talk the tour coordinator into including her restaurant on the Celebrity Chef Tour, which was founded to benefit the James Beard Foundation. If you don’t know who James Beard is, that’s ok, but Wikipedia him now. He is considered to be the father of American Cuisine and was a major inspiration to Julia Child. The coordinator was a bit dubious, but agreed. The event sold out in one hour. In Eggleston.
This year, it sold out two nights in a row. The hos d’oeuvres included a spring pea, ricotta and pistachio toast prepared by Top Chef contestant Jennifer Carroll. Chef Aaron Deal prepared an absolutely succulent, falling-off-the bone tender lamb rib with sorghum molasses and crispy garlic. Why yes, please, I will have another. By this point, mingling was out. I strategically placed my family and I near the door to the kitchen so we would be the first ones the servers encountered on their way out, a fact that was not lost on the servers themselves, most of whom we know very well. Host Chef Ashton Carter prepared an amazing sweet and spicy beef cheek, which took me a bit by surprise in the complexity of the taste. But drum roll, my favorite of the night were winter duck oysters with menguez sausage and a hint of cilantro oil. Oh, my, God. Chef Barton Seavor prepared these oysters, which were sourced from the Rappahannock river basin in the Chesapeake Bay. I ate so many Laura began to laugh, but I could not help it. They were so creamy and delicate, perfectly shucked and succulent, with the flavors of the Bay just bursting in your mouth. I don’t know if I will ever eat a better oyster, but that’s ok.
Chef Ashton Carter, who is an acclaimed chef and advocate of the grow your own, slow food movement, served us a Togarashi Carpaccio with Oshinko Turnip and Spinach Gomaae along with fresh dandelion greens. His take on the dish is that this is the time of year when all you are likely to have left in your cellar are root vegetables and you just can’t wait to get your hands on something, anything, green. It was beautifully plated and perfectly balanced, a wonderful way to start the meal. Oh, wait. I had already eaten somewhere between twenty and forty-one oysters.
The next course up was prepared by Chef Barton Seaver, who didn’t wear chef whites in honor of the full-time chefs present. He looked a little tired, as well he should be. He had literally just flown in from Norway in time to conceive of and prepare his course. It was a collection of locally picked watercress and other spring greens in a not-so-simple salad with smoked trout. Like Ashton, his inspiration was the early spring that we were enjoying – with all the local greens exploding out of the ground it was hard for an environmentally aware chef such as Barton to ignore such bounty.
The next dish pushed everyone’s boundaries just a bit, which is exactly what Chef Jennifer Carroll had in mind. She served a wonderfully palatable Hudson Valley Duck Heart dish plated with sweet grilled ramps along with Uni Tapioca. The heart was tender and perfectly chewy and the ramps proved to be much milder than I remember them being as a child. Chef Carroll didn’t announce that it was heart until after it was eaten, which was perhaps intentional. I’ll eat nearly anything and recognized it as heart immediately, but several at our table were a bit unpleasantly surprised to realize the components.
The last dish received a standing ovation, but it wasn’t my favorite. Chef Aaron Deal served us a local Lamb Saddle along with perfectly cooked sweetbreads, red peas and baby carrots. Carrots are by far my favorite vegetable and I am a huge fan of lamb and sweetbreads. Everything was cooked to perfection and even though by that point I was bursting at the seams, I nearly licked my plate. I really have nothing else to say. It was absolutely wonderful. Which brings us to the standing ovation…
Bacon ice cream. Yes, you heard me correctly. I’m not a huge fan of dessert, even though that seems to be changing a bit as I get older, but this dish came in nipping on the heels of the lamb and sweetbreads. Famous pastry Chef Dana Herbert served us a colorful play on breakfast, his favorite meal with a twist on one of my breakfast favorites, French toast. He used sautéed apples, bacon and an almond lace tuile along with homemade bacon ice cream and maple syrup. I think a few people fainted. A guest to my right actually did lick his plate. By this time I really was bursting. We savored the company and enjoyed ourselves immensely.
We were amazed at the fluidity and coordination of the service. It is a testament to Shaena’s management and the speed of the chefs at how quickly and smoothly things went on the surface. I know that the kitchen was a zoo, since I took the opportunity to snoop around a bit, but how could I not? It was a controlled zoo, don’t get me wrong, but a zoo. And yes, Celebrity Chefs sweat too. A lot.
I volunteered to be the designated driver for the event, so I have little to say about the wine. The opinions of the people around me were that they were all perfectly paired to the course and the few sips I did have confirmed that opinion. In particular, there was a 2007 Domain Serene Rock Block Syrah paired with my favorite dish, the lamb, which was incredibly good and perfectly matched to the dish.
All in all, this event continues to be a success year after year, drawing a packed house. The demographics are wildly varied, with people from the area, from Charlotte, NC; Richmond, VA; Washington, DC; and various other points all over the country, and in the case of Chef Barton, the globe!