Friday, June 2, 2017

Chef Jason’s “Iron Chef Gauntlet” Dinner

Of *course* I had him sign the menu

If you’re living in San Antonio and didn’t know about Chef Jason Dady’s (@ChefJasonDady) recent appearance on Food Network’s “Iron Chef Gauntlet” (ICG), well, welcome back from whatever planet you just returned from. (Note: if you haven’t watched it and don’t want to know how it turned out, quit reading right here.) He did a marvelous job, in cooking, presentation, working with the camera, and above all, representing San Antonio to the wider food world. He made it all the way to the Final Three before host Alton Brown eliminated him. It was a great run.

How I didn’t hear about the next part, I’ll never know. (For starters, he didn’t tweet about it, and that’s rather unusual.) A friend heard about a special dinner (three seatings only) featuring some of his ICG dishes. All three seatings sold out within an hour, but she had the foresight to put herself on the waiting list. The night before, we got the call that we were IN!

That's Chef Jason in black

We arrived at a packed Tre Enoteca, and Chef Jason and crew were hard at work. (I cannot imagine the planning and logistics of serving 80 people 5 dishes, all at the same time.) Due to a massive traffic tie-up on I-10, we missed the reception and appetizers, but arrived in time for the dinner. 

The menu

Servers brought in each dish, and while we ate, Chef Jason chatted a bit about the dish and how it went down on the show. I’ll start there:

Chef Jason tells us about the dish and the show

Course 1: Soba Salad with Black and White Sesame Salad and Dashi Broth. He prepared this for the “Yin/Yang” round, where Alton encouraged them to showcase opposites. “You know I f***ing lost, right?” he asked, to much laughter. He said his goals were “not to get cut first” and to represent San Antonio on a national stage. The soba noodle salad was a perfect starter; you rolled up your noodles, then dipped them into one (or both) of the bowls of sesame puree. He was frustrated, though, that the show chose to omit the second part of the dish (and the fact that Alton apparently didn’t “get” the yin/yang theme he presented). Chef Jason made a rich dashi broth, which the servers brought around and poured into the sesame broth bowls. Totally different texture and taste.

The prettiest presentation, in my book

Course 2: Lightly Smoked King Salmon with Soft Poached Hen Egg, Asparagus, and LOTS of Lemon Zest. When the altar rose (and they really *don’t* know what’s under there), they were all surprised to find….nothing. The challenge was “your best dish with only five ingredients.” When this dish appeared on the show, I tweeted “That looks just like a @ChefJasonDady dish!” I’m not a big fan of salmon, but I could have eaten this all night. Delicately smoked, perfectly moist, and falling apart on the fork. The “LOTS of Lemon Zest” was a response to an earlier criticism that a dish was not “lemony enough.”

The coconut was charred under the grill

Course 3: Pan Seared Diver Sea Scallop with Thai Red Curry, Thai Herbs, and Coconut Ice. This week’s theme was “re-imagining a classic combination,” and Chef Jason drew coconut/lime. On the show, as he prepped the dish, Alton was under-whelmed with the “re-imagining” part. So Chef Jason quickly altered course to prepare something Alton had never eaten before. The result was this stunning coconut and Thai curry presentation. My only complaint: the jasmine rice underneath was uncooked (to hold up the coconut shell), and I couldn’t retrieve and eat the spicy and creamy curry sauce that ran out of my bowl. The coolness of the sea scallop perfectly offset the rather spicy sauce. He used liquid nitrogen to prepare the coconut ice. This dish gave him the win for that week of the show.

This reminded me of the "duck confit orchiette" dish at The Lodge

Course 4: Braised Pork Shoulder Ragu with Celery Root Ravioli. This week’s altar ingredient: half a hog. Chef Jason decided on a pork shoulder, with which he has a lot of experience. People often asked him if he practiced, and he tells them, “Only one thing: the pressure cooker.” It always amazes us on cooking shows that the professional chefs don’t think ahead on this score. They don’t use the things, of course (if a dish needs “low and slow,” that’s how they cook it.) But with only 45 minutes, the pressure cooker is the obvious go-to appliance. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve seen an amazingly talented chef waste 10 minutes trying to figure out how to put the fool thing together. So Chef Jason practiced this like a fiend and had it down pat. The pork shoulder just melted in the mouth.

Course 5: Porcini Crusted Elk Loin with Wild Mushroom, Red Currant Bordelaise, Blackberry Gastrique and Micro Arugula. Week One’s theme was “Into the Wild.” If you know Chef Jason, you know he knows his wild game, so he obviously went for the elk. This dish had a lot going on, and he liked how it came together; I’m pretty sure he said this was the dish he was happiest with. Alton had no criticism for him and plenty for the other chefs. So he was a little floored when Chef Izard won the challenge (“I had to keep my poker face on.”)

Dessert was a simple but delicious shortbread cookie. In response to a question, he said he has already been to New York to film something else. He didn’t share any further details, but we’ll be watching.

The event was such a success that I would bet he’ll do it again, if the logistical challenges aren’t too overwhelming. We’re both looking forward to seeing more of him on Food Network and Cooking Channel.

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