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Food, Wine & Spirits in St. Louis

Monday, September 12, 2011 / 11:35 PM

Art of Food Pleases, Teases, Occasionally Brings Us to Our Kneeses: Slow Food StL's Gala is a Hit

Last Saturday night’s Art of Food benefit for the do-gooders of Slow Food St. Louis was a relaxed, convivial, delicious slice of gastronomic heaven.

About two dozen of the area’s most accomplished chefs (up from last year’s single dozen) dished up small-plate treats for about 250 gourmands at the Koken Art Factory, and if you weren’t there, put it on the calendar for 2012, because it was a damn happy time for a great cause. 

The newly opened Perennial Artisan Ales quickly ran out of Hommel Bier and Southside Blonde, which left two decidedly more unusual brews to last the remainder of the night. The brewery’s Abraxas Mexican Chocolate Stout is the most chocolatey chocolate stout this side of Willy Wonka’s liquor cabinet. It’s practically a drinkable mole sauce that just happens to have fermented hops and malt in the mix. Its deep flavor profile, explained Perennial co-owner Emily Wymore, comes courtesy of cocoa nibs, dried ancho chiles, cinnamon, and vanilla beans. It’s a gloriously dense and sweet beer that should have a huge smiley face on the label because that’s what it elicits.

The other straggler at the Perennial booth also refused to go down quietly. Peach Tulsi soda is a soft drink made with fresh peaches and tulsi, an herb popular in India that’s also known as "holy basil." It was crisp and refreshing, and would make a great bubbly punch with fruit chunks, gin, and sherbet, if one wished to navigate a journey to funkytown via that boulevard.

Vociferous Vito Racanelli of Mad Tomato and Onesto was dishing out whole wheat agnolotti stuffed with goat cheese, lemon zest, and basil, in a sauce of roasted red peppers, tomatoes, white wine, pine nuts, and grana cheese. It was every bit as tasty and filling as everything else on Chef Vito’s menus. We say his rustic Italian cooking deserves its TV show, wherein Vito would curse, crack jokes, and generally make Giada de Laurentiis look even more plastic than she already does.

“At Mad Tomato we try to do everything simpler and more natural – the way god intended it to be,” said the grinning Racanelli.

He was talking about the Slow Food mission – delicious, organic food, free from dangerous additives, produced locally using sustainable farming practices, and fairly compensated employees, inasmuch as all these things are possible for any given meal. When you help cater a Slow Food benefit, ya gotta be on board with their philosophy.

Salume Beddu offered spicy and mild Berkshire hot dogs with homemade condiments like fennel mustard and Peruvian pickled onions. Guests loved the hot dogs, the interactive condiment station, and the Salume Beddu workers in their “Praise the Lard” T-shirts. Salumerian Cary Exler informed Relish that Salume Beddu co-owner Ben Poremba "actually went to Slow Food University in Parma. We all understand you have to respect the food, understand where it comes from, appreciate it, and cherish it.”

Niche’s Adam Altnether (also of Taste) plated one of the most elegant--and most popular--dishes of the night, lemon maple custard with shiitake mushrooms and bonito caviar, served in brown half-eggshells (at right). The texture was rich, creamy, silky.       

Josh Allen and his Companion Cafe & Baking showed off their new crunchy chocolate “Breaded Bliss” bark. It’s pain beaucaire bread baked in a stone oven until crispy, diced up, mixed (with a touch of sea salt) into dark chocolate from Lake Forest Confections, spread onto a pan, cooled, and broken into bark. It’s available now at the Wine Merchant, The Wine and Cheese Shop, Local Harvest, Robust, and Whole Foods.      

Local saint/genius Brian Pelletier of Kakao was there showing off his latest, blackberry/honey/lavender marshmallows (below left) that are way too good for a kid’s Easter basket, and a chili caramel made with local honey that played out like a love affair on the tongue – curious, then deeply rewarding, then somehow inevitable, and finally climaxing with a spicy surprise.      

Harvest ’s “Jones Heritage Farm Mini-Choucroute” featured Jaegerwurst with bacon-braised cabbage balanced on slices of red potato (below right), courtesy of owner/chef Nick Miller. A unique Super Bowl snack, you say? Indeed.   

                            

Ya Ya’s Executive Chef Rob Uyemura created a dish of smoked trout with Moniteau Blue cheese, plus a vegetable salad of chiles, green beans, zucchini, and squash grown from heirloom seeds at Ron Benne’s farm in St. Charles (below left).

Maplewood’s Home Wine Kitchen offered a rabbit rillette with house-made mustard and radish shoots on a cracker, plus a vegetarian version starring house-made ricotta, roasted tomatoes and pea shoots (below right). “I think Slow Food has to do with respect for the food and how you prepare it,” said Home’s Cassandra Vires. Her rabbit, she added, hopped its last at Farrar Out Farm.

                            

Clarksville, Mo.’s Overlook Farm, its kitchen helmed by Tim Grandinetti, surprised guests with a Korean-inspired barbecue beef lettuce wrap with quick Brussels sprouts, kimchi, and chili crema (below left). Overlook kitchen intern Angela Commean told us that she “loves making everything from scratch. Slow Food is all about that, and the farmers and restaurants working directly with each other to create a superior product that people really enjoy.”

                                

Maude Bauschard of Maude’s Market served cantaloupe soup with fig compote and basil, and a roasted vegetable tartine with arugula, sweet-corn puree, tomato, eggplant, and sautéed crispy leeks. Her small grocery dovetails perfectly with the Slow Food mission. “Our philosophy is absolutely in line with Slow Food,” she said. “We provide everything direct from the farms, as local and organic as can be. We’re all about making local fresh food more accessible to everyone, not just for foodies.”

The many other delectables included adorable chorizo chubs on homemade tortilla crisps with jalapeno crème fraiche and corn salad (above right) from Farmhaus’ Kevin Willmann; mini-chicken pot pies from Winslow’s Home’s Cary McDowell; and zucchini bread French toast with a maple-orange Chantilly from Sanctuaria’s Chris Lee.

John Perkins of Entre, Kevin Nashan of Sidney Street Cafe, Clara Moore of Local Harvest Café, Chris Williams of Franco, Matt Abeshouse of The Crossing, and Wes Johnson of Salt were all in the house too, plating up delicious, original creations that disappeared before Relish could inhale them. It was just a murderers’ row of great chefs and stellar food.

Kaldi’s head barista trainer Joe Marrocco, who kicked butt at the big barista championship last spring showed up with his pals at the Kaldi’s table to offer mini-cappuccinos, lattes, etc.

Slow Food St. Louis Co-Leader [and SLM contributor] Bill Burge explained that he purposely designed booth placards that had the chefs' names in a bigger font, the names of their restaurants in a smaller one. “People like to say, ‘Ooh, we’re going to Niche!’ Well, it’s called Niche, but it’s really the guy there, and he’s a good cook,” said Burge. “It’s the people in the kitchen that make a restaurant great.”

It was also nice to see so many of those people in one place. By the end of the party, the tired, hard-working chefs were drinking, laughing, sharing war stories, and noshing on one another’s food.
      
They all seem happy to lend a hand when it comes to Slow Food, a group whose common-sense philosophy only seems to grow more popular and influential each year.

“When we have a booth at an event, like a festival, so many more people have heard of the movement and of Slow Food St. Louis these days,” said local Co-Leader Kelly Childs (at right). “We’ve seen a huge change from three years ago ‘til now.”

Remember, though, that the event was called Art of Food. In addition to the comestibles, there were gift certificates and goodie bags from local restaurants--and even "A Night with Ned" (Kelly's husband), where Ned pays for everything--plus walls lined with food-themed art and photography, all available for silent auction.   
      
Guests at the Art of Food could pick up a “Think Before You Eat” handout that makes it very clear how you can advance the cause. Check that out here.
      
After the party ended, recycling and composting services were provided courtesy of St. Louis Earth Day. The biodegradable cutlery and plates made it that much easier to do the right thing. 

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