Dinners spotlight Kentucky flavor for WEG

refer to Life + Food centerpiece 
John Besh, Restaurant August, New Orleans.
refer to Life + Food centerpiece John Besh, Restaurant August, New Orleans.

Horses are the focus of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, but Kentucky-raised lamb, rabbit, pork and beef are in the limelight also.

The James Beard Foundation has partnered with the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation and WEG for a series of dinners, from Sept. 25 through Oct. 10, which will bring attention to Kentucky chefs and foods.

Celebrity chefs from around the country have been chosen by the Beard Foundation — named for James Beard "the dean of American cookery" and owner of the James Beard Cooking School — to join local high-caliber chefs to create meals that organizers hope will be as captivating as the champion horses.

The Beard Foundation is renowned for its dedication to the educational initiatives, development and recognition of the culinary arts. It annually awards up-and-coming chefs with what are deemed the "Oscars" of the industry.

The WEG dinners, which will cost $300 a person, will be at the historic Farmhouse at the Horse Park, and a commercially outfitted kitchen has been set up in an adjoining tent for the final preparation of the food. The celebrity chefs will prepare their dishes in the kitchens of their host chefs.

Most menus include: passed hors d'oeuvres, three courses and dessert, all with wine pairings.

Bernard Guillas, chef/owner of The Marine Room in La Jolla, Calif., will join Jeremy Ashby in the kitchen at Azur in Lexington. Cooking in the Azur kitchen or the tent kitchen at the Farmhouse will not hinder Guillas' creativity, he said.

"I have cooked in the Amazon rainforest, submerged in a submarine, floating on cruise liners and cooking at the top of the world in Singapore. As I enter the kitchen, I will be able to visualize and implement a plan," he said.

Most of the menus have been planned by long-distance phone calls and e-mail messages between chefs.

Tim Byres, chef/owner of Smoke Restaurant in Dallas, will share the Oct. 1 dinner with Erik Fowler, executive chef at Dudley's in Lexington and Marc Vetri, chef/owner of Vetri in Philadelphia.

"We have divided up the menu equally to showcase our individual cooking styles but are executing the event as a team," Byres said, adding that his speciality is cooking inspired by Southern heritage.

"I cook primarily with firewood and do a lot of curing, smoking and pickling with all natural farm-raised meats. I will be cooking with all Kentucky products and have been in contact with local Fayette County farmers who are shipping me primal cuts to start the long process of curing hams, sausage and bacon. I will be bringing this with me from our smokehouse in Dallas," he added.

The dinner on Oct. 2 will be prepared by John Varanese of Varanese in Louisville; Wally Joe, chef at The Brushmark Restaurant & Acre Restaurant in Memphis; and John Sundstrom of Lark Restaurant in Seattle. Varanese described the menu as "amazing."

"Wally will be doing the striped bass tartar, shrimp dumpling and the pork belly. John S. will be doing paddlefish caviar, quail eggs and chicken liver, and the apple dessert. I will be doing the country ham, squash blossoms and the bone-in filet."

Edward Lee, chef/owner of 610 Magnolia in Louisville, said he and his teammates John Currence, chef at City Grocery in Oxford, Miss., and Mike Lata, chef/owner of Fig in Charleston, S.C., "divided up the courses to see who wanted to do what. With chefs of this caliber, all you have to do is give the logistics. They make the menu happen quickly with their creativity."

For less than $5,000, you can attend all 16 of the dinners. If that's not an option, how do you choose?

About 90 percent of the seats for the opening-night dinner on Sept. 25 are sold, and other days are getting close, said Lisa Wallace, project manager for the dinners. Each dinner can accommodate 75 people.

Chefs for opening night are Jonathan Lundy, chef/owner of Jonathan at Gratz Park in Lexington; Michael Schwartz, chef/owner of Michael's Genuine Food & Drink in Miami; and Traci Des Jardins, chef/owner Jardiniere in San Francisco.

"Ticket sales have been steady and have slowly increased as more people learn about the program and the excitement of this dinner series grows," Wallace said. "We have seen dramatic increases in ticket purchases not just locally but from around the world in the last two weeks and expect that will continue."

Ouita Michel, chef/owner of Holly Hill Inn in Midway, will cook with Michael Cimarusti, chef/owner of Providence in Los Angeles on Oct. 9.

Her thoughts on selecting a meal?

"You can't go wrong," she said. "You won't be able to pick a bad dinner."

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