Street Food Extravaganza: Cooking For Solutions 2013, Monterey CA
The Cooking For Solutions dinner on May 18, day 2 of the events hosted by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, took a bold turn. In the open air and far more casual than the previous night, thirteen chefs made their own versions of street food. We walked, talked, and sampled some of the most gourmet finger food imaginable; granted, a few forks were used, and some items would never be produced in a roach coach, but the theme inspired the chefs to outdo one another in the quest for flavorful bites that highlight the importance of sustainable food harvesting practices.
Sierra Nevada collaborated with the monks of the Abbey of New Clairvaux in Vina, CA to make this saison, a pale ale brewed in a Belgian style. Locally grown mandarin orange mingled with lemon and pepper for spicy but very refreshing sips to go along with the food.
Stewart & Jasper of small Newman, CA brought many goodies to drool over, and we sampled four types of glazed almonds. Cinnamon, strawberries and cream, and apricot pepper were all good, but the red velvet cake stole the show. These could easily become an addictive snack.
Chef Sarah LaCasse with Earthbound Farm Organic tossed us another delicious salad, this time with a mustard vinaigrette. With it she paired a rich curried sweet potato soup and an immaculate grilled cheese sandwich of fontina d’aosta, balsamic onions and mixed baby kales. Grilled cheese, soup, and salad is a standard combination, but the flavors and quality found here were anything but standard.
Some of the patrons walking by were impressed by the big fish at Chef James Waller’s table for the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa. Zach knew, though, from growing up in Martinez, CA where the sturgeon are giant, that this was just a baby sacrificed for the sake of presentation. Regardless, the roasted pico de gallo sturgeon tostado was good, and the spicy creamy slaw only made it better.
Chef Art Smith was up to his usual wonderfulness of providing “healthy comfort,” tonight in the form of shrimp and grits. August feels that grits are good at any time of day (breakfast, lunch, dinner) so why not make them accessible in any kind of venue? Grits, too, can have their place in street food, especially when accented with big, succulent, well-seasoned shrimp. For being very hearty, it was very light calorie-wise.
We were happy to be able to chat with Chef Sam Choy a little more this evening while sampling his char siu pork with firecracker fried rice. His team was busy assembling all the elements that made an impactful flavor combination.
August has always liked Asian-style pancakes, but these rank high on the list of favorites because they were so decadent. Freshness is key in order to achieve quality, something that chefs Susan Feniger and Kajsa Alger take seriously at Chef Susan’s STREET.
The deep fried sea marshmallow topped off this extravagant taco with a bed of fruity mango slaw and smoky pork belly. The Whole Beast‘s Chef John Fink delighted our palates with the naturally sweet and savory mix, and it seemed to be one of the favorites among the crowd.
Chef Michele Ragussis was working the crowd for the second night, personally preparing and serving up arancini, or Sicilian fried rice balls. Her talents are further proof that vegetarian can be anything but boring. Zach would love this in a sandwich with marinara, mozzarella, and fresh sauteed spinach.
Affable Chef Tim Wood created a clam chowder that would have made the Santa Cruz chowder competitors shake in their boots. We’re going to have to plan a trip to visit his restaurants at Carmel Valley Ranch soon, and make an excursion out of it by doing the beekeeping experience, as well.
Now we can cross geoduck off the list of weird foods to try. Chef Richard Blais combined geoduck sashimi with crispy clam and uni (sea urchin roe) tartare sauce – odd on top of odd, but flavorful and rich.
The Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa provided one of the desserts of giant strawberries, scratchmade marshmallows, chocolate sandwich cookies, and candied pineapple for three different melted chocolates (milk to dark to more dark). They used Tcho chocolate from San Francisco, practically in our backyard, so we want to take a factory tour sometime soon to see the process that goes into the delicious confections.
Chefs Mary Sue Milleken and Mike Minor impressed us yet again with these ideally textured churro tots. Crunchy outsides coated in sugar and cinnamon encased fluffy, tender insides, and each tot sat on dollops of chocolate, a marshmallow-like sauce, and caramel to be dipped/swirled/rolled. There is no such dessert on the Border Grill menu, so were were happy for two reasons: 1) we got to try something totally unique for this event, and 2) there’s so much more waiting for us for our next Las Vegas trip.
Chef Emily Luchetti of Farallon and Waterbar brought four kinds of sandwich cookies. Dulce de leche was delicioso, as were the walnut cookies with milk chocolate filling and the raspberry filled delights, but the chocolate sea salt cookies were mighty tasty with a creamy marscapone filling, turning these into the most decadent Oreos you could find.
While we waited in line, a man handed us each a promotional $10 gift card for Macy’s that expired in less than two weeks. We were a bit perplexed, but then we saw the huge display table tempting us. Not only did we have $20 between us to spend for free, but everything presented was 50% off, no kidding. We thought they first said 15% so Zach selected an eight-quart enameled cast iron round casserole from the Martha Stewart Collection, but then it was rung up and we realized that it was at 50% plus the $20 discount. Oh, wow!
We felt like we made out like bandits with the steal-of-a-deal casserole, in addition to the fabulous fare and casual conversations with the chefs. All the while, Chef Carla Hall had a mock-studio and interviewed various chefs who were willing to talk to her (some were too busy preparing food for the guests, sorry Carla!). But after all the outdoor eating, we know of someone else besides us who was a very happy camper – this brazen seagull. He probably had the meal of his lifetime!