Last night I had a totally sensual experience, full of color, light and exotic cuisine. I was delighted to be a guest at Creative Edge's
second Culinary Council dinner of the year, featuring Spanish chef Rafa Peña of Barcelona and Swedish chef Johan Jureskog of Stockholm.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Table setting at Culinary Council"]
Creative Edge is a high-end catering and design firm in Manhattan, creating astonishing events for everyone from Jay-Z to Upper West Side grandmothers. I've been trying to soak in all the knowledge I can these past few months, as I focus more and more on Midnight Brunch
and the event strategy/production side of my business. I am little, but my clients (Conde Nast, Google, etc.) are big and they have big needs. They deserve big execution, too, so I have a ton of growing to do.
Companies like Creative Edge keep themselves on a learning curve, too. One purpose of last night's dinner was to bring in some fresh culinary inspiration for their catering team. Some of last night's dishes may now be translated into offerings for their own clients.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Creative Edge Culinary Council Menu"]
I attended mainly to get some color and design inspiration, but also to soak up some authentic Spanish food knowledge from Chef Peña, who's worked under superstar Ferran Adria
. Peña has been dubbed the "godfather of the bistronomia" movement in Spain, so I was hungry for a taste of his food inventions.
Since I mainly focus on ethnic neighborhoods rather than individual restaurants, I miss out on some really stellar ethnic eats. I feel like Spanish food isn't very well represented in NYC, but I'm sure some of you have your favorites (I'd love if you shared them here in the comments).
On with our show. Here are some photos from the Culinary Council.
I loved how the table settings and arrangements took their cue from the appetizers.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Color cues"]
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Trio of appetizers: Shishito peppers with salt and olive oil, tuna-stuffed piquillo peppers and sardines in olive oil / part 2"]
I asked Chef Peña about Spanish food in NYC, and he said a good reason for the lack of great Spanish food here and elsewhere is that the food simply can't be reproduced without the products and produce of Spain. I overheard some gossip that the chefs had noticed our ham has a higher water content here than does the ham in Spain, and these seemingly minor details can make all the difference in the final quality of a dish.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Chef Rafe Peña of Barcelona's Gresca restaurant and Chef Johan Jureskog of Stockholm"]
I'm a sucker for bone marrow on toast. Never had it with caviar before, but who gon' stop me, boo?!
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Grilled bone marrow with American sturgeon and smoked sea salt"]
The people at my table were seriously fascinating. The two women from Creative Edge nearest me were well-traveled and shared about adventures in the proper way to kill fish for sushi and an upcoming trip to Bali. Another woman was in PR and was enjoying bone marrow for the first time. The gentleman next to me was the representative for the German film industry for North America.
The dish below was lovely. You can barely see the pancetta - it's that faintly glossy layer of fat on top of the fish. It dissolved like a dream as soon as it hit the tongue.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Sardines with Pancetta Iberica"]
This. Duck. Blew. My. Mind. Sweet smoky duck wrapped around salt then the clean taste of tender raw prawn. Saltwater wrapped in smoky molasses.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Smoked duck with Dublin Bay Prawns and Fresh Herbs"]
I raved about this duck dish to Creative Edge's founder after the meal. The only problem is, how do you make it look pretty and "sell" the dish for an American palate? Duck and raw prawn? Huh? It's one of those things that really pushes your boundaries and you'd never guess how well it works until you actually eat it.
Chef Peña's close friend and former collaborator, Chef Johan Jureskog, brought his own flavor to the menu, sharing a traditional Swedish dish of trout, horseradish, lemon butter and dill.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Trout with horseradish, lemon butter, allspice (written on the menu as "old spice") and dill"]
I liked this dish, but thought the dry texture of the fresh horseradish shavings threw off the whole feel of the dish. I would have loved to have seen the flavor of the horseradish incorporated into the dish in a different way.
Not pictured: Chanterelle mushrooms with Comte cheese. It was delicious.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Heart of veal with red wine, celeriac and spinach"]
The veal heart was interesting. The chefs say this is a very homey dish, which is why Creative Edge plated it on such "Grandma" looking china. The celeriac was a perfect vehicle to soak up the red wine and veal juices. I rarely have problems with food textures (see: marrow, raw prawn), but the texture of the meat for me was just a little off-putting. It tasted wonderful, but had the bite of a piece of sashimi. I just couldn't get past it. I ate half, out of respect for the chefs.
After this, it was on to dessert.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Roquefort biscuit with apple and lychee"]
The Roquefort biscuit was like an inside joke between friends. It felt like graham cracker crumbs, but tasted astringent and salty just like you would expect a good hunk of Roquefort to taste. The sweetness of the fruit purees was a fitting contrast.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Red fruit sorbet with Mediterranean herbs"]
The final taste of the seven-course menu cried out for a cocktail pairing, or to be turned into a cocktail itself. The rosemary here would have been stunning with a gin aperitif, even had it been served as a starter instead of the closing act.
Takeaways from the meal:
- Color counts. The red and bright pink hues reflected throughout the food and decor set the stage for a sexy, vibrant event and the energy of the crowd followed.
- Push the envelope, but within reason. The tasting menu gave guests plenty of tastes to love without making them feel guilty if they found one or two they didn't like. It's so important for guests to leave feeling "wowed" overall instead of dwelling on an unhappy experience. It's hard to find that balance when serving up ethnic or otherwise exotic food, so small plates are a good tactic.
- Crowd curation is everything. I learned this at my last job, but it bears reinforcement. The quality of the crowd can make or break a dinner/party/conference as much (or even more so) than the food. A great spread doesn't matter as much if you're surrounded by a snooze of a table. Take a look at your guests' backgrounds, careers, marital status and make sure to shake things up a bit, especially if you're doing assigned seating.
What are your thoughts on parties or fancy meals? Any stories about the best (or worst) dinner or party you ever attended? What about your favorite spots for Spanish food in NYC? I'd love to hear from you in the comments.
I love sharing details about upcoming tasty trips and adventures, so you won't want to miss a bite. As always, please feel free to chat with me on Twitter, join our group on Facebook and keep up with new posts here by subscribing.