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When Chefs Get Together, Don't Expect A Salad

May 10, 1987|RUTH REICHL

There will be a quiz at the end of this article, so pay careful attention. But first, another question.

What happens when a group of five young American chefs get together and each cooks a course?

The answer to that one is that the pot-luck dinner syndrome strikes.

At least that's what happened at the first in a "series of evenings with American Chefs" held last Monday night at Colette. All the food was impressive and delicious--but the $125 dinner as a whole was sort of silly.

None of the chefs, apparently, could resist the temptation to show off. And when you are served a meal made of high points, about halfway through you start longing for a salad, a soup, the relief of something simple. But at this particular dinner, it seemed that nobody wanted to be sacrificed to salad--so salad was never served.

You also end up with a fine display of the extraordinary range of these young Americans chefs, for each separate course was clearly stamped with the personality of the person who made it.

Roy Yamaguchi (385 North) was up first with an extremely rich appetizer. His classical training came through in this superb layering of feuilletage , foie gras and sweetbreads in an intensely sweet Madeira sauce. This was a dish of strong flavors and varied textures. The creaminess of the foie gras and the velvety softness of the sweetbreads were emphasized by being layered between thin layers of very crisp pastry. The sweetness of the sauce was a brilliant move, for it enhanced rather than masked the other flavors in the dish. Unfortunately, the dish was served with a Phelps Delice du Semillon, which simply added another sugary element.

Ken Frank (La Toque) was showcased next in a dish that could only have been his. This was a quirky and delicious still life of dark, bumpy morel mushrooms stuffed with a mousse of crayfish. It was set off by a little roll of pressed spinach of the sort you might get in a sushi bar. A single crawfish sat on the plate, completing this high-class marriage of land and water. Served with an '85 Mazzocco Chardonnay, the dish was a tour de force.

E. Patrick Healy, comfortable in his own Colette kitchen, presented the most restrained, solidly French dish of the evening, a slice of beautifully cooked steamed salmon curled up in a pair of coulis . The green coulis was made of chives with lots of butter, the red coulis tomato with a strong hint of olive oil. The contrasts of the flavors was as strong as the visual contrast of the two purees. Two little cherry tomatoes shared the plate, each luxuriously filled with Sevruga caviar. The Christophe Sauvignon Blanc added a fine note to the dish.

Nobody could have doubted that John Sedlar (St. Estephe) was responsible for the next dish. It was by far the artiest offering of the evening. First, the waiters went around handing out little scrolls of corn husks. Opened up, they revealed branded tortillas. Then the plates arrived, each bearing a filet mignon topped with big kernels of blue hominy and a few truffles. Little cars cut out of tortillas went tootling along the plates. These were, in fact, the world's most elegant fajitas, and they were served with a really delicious 1980 Bellerose Cabernet Sauvignon.

The last course, Elka Gilmore's (Camelions) mallard in a clean-tasting sauce of roasted garlic and vinegar, was my favorite. The duck was delicious, but the little pancakes served on the side, made of crisply fried risotto, were an absolute delight. Inside each little cake was a surprise, a pungent nugget of chanterelle.

And now for the quiz. Dessert was a collaborative effort, "a symphony of sweets." Each chef had, in fact, invented his own dessert. One was a beautifully crafted cup made of chocolate and filled with espresso bavarois . Another was an adorable mini-ice cream sandwich made out of hazlenut cookies stuffed with hazlenut ice cream. Then there was a pristine little tart filled with pastry cream and Grand Marnier, topped with fresh raspberries and almonds. There was also a chocolate hazlenut tart, a small dark disc with a center made of blood orange custard. And finally a pair of ices, one made of cactus pear with tequila, the other out of grapefruit. These were topped with a cactus cookie.

Here's the quiz part. Which chef made which desert?

Answers next week.

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