Kentucky foods have never looked so good.
Local mushrooms, freshwater prawns, bison, squab, pork, lamb, pumpkins, squash and collard greens will be transformed into dishes designed to knock the socks off visitors at the FEI Alltech World Equestrian Games, Sept. 25-Oct. 10 at the Kentucky Horse Park.
Forty-nine chefs from across the United States, including 16 from Kentucky, have been recruited by the James Beard Foundation to stage a world class culinary event.
Sixteen dinners, one for each night of the Games, will be held in the historical farmhouse at the Horse Park. Tents will be extended from the country house to provide extra kitchen space and dining areas.
If high-dollar restaurants in big cities aren't on your radar in the new future, here's an opportunity to enjoy them at home. Tickets are $300 a person, but oh my, look what you get.
It's an opportunity to see Kentucky as "more than just fried green tomatoes and grits," said Anthony Lamas, chef at Louisville's Seviche, a Latin Restaurant. Lamas is a 2010 James Beard Foundation best-chef nominee from the Southeast. "While we are proud of our American Southern culinary heritage here in Kentucky, the state offers international diversity as well. Global influences combined with access to fresh farm ingredients have made Kentucky a great place for a mix of restaurants to showcase innovative flavors."
Edward Lee, owner of Louisville's 610 Magnolia, which features new American farm-to-table cuisine, said he hopes the event isn't misunderstood.
"People outside of the culinary world may not understand how big of a deal this is, but we are being given the opportunity to represent Kentucky's culinary scene on somewhat of an international stage," Lee said.
Andrew Myers, executive chef at Bellini's in Lexington, agreed. Myers will cook with James Boyce of Cotton Row Restaurant in Huntsville, Ala.
"I hope that our visitors will see that our state is full of culinary talent," Myers said. "Our food has always been centered around so much of what our state produces. Of course, Kentucky is known for bourbon, but we have so much more to offer.
"Hunting seasons throughout the year give us wild turkey, rabbit, dove, quail and deer, while growing seasons offer up too much to name," he said. "I hope that those who come to Lexington for the Games get to taste the best of what Kentucky has to offer."
Erik Fowler, executive chef at Dudley's in Lexington, will cook with Marc Vetri of Vetri in Philadelphia. For Fowler, the cooking experience with the James Beard Foundation is about enhancing Kentucky food.
"I want this dinner to showcase our local farmers and producers as much as, if not more than, our own talents," Fowler said. "Everyone knows about the squash and tomatoes and corn that are sold at the farmers market. We wanted to bring in some other ingredients that people may not realize they have access to here in the state.
"From Asian pears and pawpaws to the locally produced fresh and aged goat cheeses to farm-raised catfish and local all-natural pork, we wanted to expand the ingredients that people will hopefully become more familiar with," Fowler said.
Fowler plans to use Blue Moon Farm's garlic to make candied garlic-beet cannoli, and he'll be filling it with mousse made from goat cheese from Sapori d'Italia in Nicholasville and chestnuts. He'll turn Asian pears from Iris Hills Farm into slaw, and he'll serve it with smoked Kentucky catfish.
WEG visitors get to experience the flavors of not only Kentucky but other areas of the United States.
Two Portland, Ore., chefs, Vitaly Paley, chef/owner of Paley's Place Bistro & Bar and the winner of the James Beard Best Chef Northwest award in 2005, and Philippe Boulot, chef at Heathman Restaurant, and the winner of the James Beard Best Chef of the Pacific Northwest in 2001, will share the kitchen with Lamas on Oct. 8.
Paley will prepare Dungeness crab salad-stuffed piquillo peppers with heirloom tomato vinaigrette and grilled onions.
"It's always a pleasure to bring our amazing Oregon Dungeness crab on the road," Paley said. "The crab is very versatile and lends itself to various preparations. In this case, the dish is West Coast meets East Coast: Our Oregon crab will be paired with Kentucky local heirloom tomatoes and Vidalia onions for a dish that sings with flavor."
John Besh, chef/owner of Restaurant August in New Orleans, will bring a taste of the Deep South to dinner on Sept. 29.
"I'm from south Louisiana, and my food is influenced by the gumbo of cultures that came together that we now know as Creole cuisine," Besh said.
"As a young cook, I honed my skills in Germany and France, which influences my treatment of classic Louisiana ingredients, from crawfish to the Mangalista pigs from my farm.
"American chefs have been fortunate to know no boundaries," Besh said. "We continue to define new American cuisine through its constant evolution, while becoming more and more focused on sustainable cuisine."
The celebrity chefs were chosen by the Beard Foundation, for which the dinners are a fund-raiser.
Ouita Michel, chef/owner of Holly Hill Inn in Midway and a James Beard Foundation Award finalist for the past three years, looks forward to welcoming the guest chefs: "It's amazing, this many top chefs coming to our little spot in the world."