iron chef eugene 2013 is chef brad burnheimer!

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UPDATE 8/9:  Iron Chef Eugene Brad Burnheimer had an unavoidable catering commitment, so Chef Mandra will be filling in at Iron Chef Oregon this weekend.  If you’re in Portland, go and cheer on our two Eugene competitors, Mandra and Iron Chef Oregon 2012, Jeff Strom of Koho Bistro, who will be defending his title!

Yesterday was a beautiful day at the Bite of Eugene.   We sampled all manner of goodies from local chefs, drank Kore Kombucha, wine from William Rose and Kandarian Cellars, and beers from Agrarian Ales and Claim 52. Take a look at my full photo set on Facebook.
IMG_5165IMG_5144 Most of all, we enjoyed the passionate battle for Iron Chef Eugene 2013 with competitors Chef Brad Burnheimer of Agrarian Ales/Burnheimer Meat Co., Chef Max Schwartz of The Old Pad, and Chef Nengah I Mandra of Lucky Noodle/Ring of Fire.  The competition had some setbacks, after Chef Brendan Mahaney from Belly fell ill, so he and Taco Belly Chef Justin Trent needed to bow out of the contest at the last minute. Luckily, Festival Organizer Steve Olivier was able to have a wonderful chef fill in, long-time Ring of Fire Executive Chef Mandra, who performed as a true pro would — without prep, a sous chef, his own ingredients or tools, and on the spur of the moment.  I was extremely impressed.  When are you going to open up your own place, chef?

IMG_5155IMG_3784IMG_3785 It was nice to see my Iron Chef pals Jeff Kandarian and Joel Pomerantz, judges for the first round, and meet the rep for the festival sponsor, American Family Insurance, Jonathan Nixon, who served as the remaining judge for Round 1.  I judged the finals with my radio show co-hosts, Boris Wiedenfeld and Ryan Stotz, and Lance Sparks handled the emcee gig with a little help from his wife, Artie Lieder, Steve Olivier, and the judges of the final round. It takes a village!

IMG_5175IMG_3777IMG_5194Many thanks are due to William Rose winemaker Mark Nicholl, who ceded his Round 2 judging duties and instead provided us with a couple of bottles of his wonderful Riesling (I think he must have heard me talking about it on the blog!) to enjoy with the finals dishes, and chalk artist Lester Mayer, who sketched the competitors. His work was auctioned off to audience members and presented as a thank you to Chef Max Schwartz, who has competed in Iron Chef for four years running, each time with a narrow miss for victory.

IMG_5152 IMG_5190After some unusual and lovely dishes for Battle Chinook Salmon and Battle Hazelnuts, including a gorgeous squash blossom stuffed with salmon saltimbocca and a chicken ballantine with hazelnut herb stuffing and hazelnut romesco by Chef Burnheimer; a salmon noodle curry with sauteed apples by Chef Mandra; and a surprising hazelnut flan with a nugget of chocolate-hazelnut spread inside by Chef Schwartz, we decided to crown Chef Burnheimer Iron Chef Eugene 2013.  May he reign supreme at Iron Chef Oregon!

And one more shout of huge appreciation to Steve Olivier, who has put on this festival for five years, often just breaking even, and the volunteers and vendors who make it a wonderful experience for all.  Sure, it’s for a great cause and the sponsors donate money to a range of food non-profits, but what matters most to me is the labor and effort we all extend to make our community better when we get together at these venues.  This is why I’m so proud to participate and would encourage more Eugeniuses to make the effort to attend and appreciate the folks who grow and make your meals.  For every weirdo who takes food from the Iron Chef judging table as the chefs are still making their deliberations (yes!!), there are 10 stories of a successful restaurateur giving advice to an up-and-comer about new city funding initiatives for business development, a sous chef impressing his boss with the popularity of a new recipe, farm secrets shared and giggled over, recipes debated, and new directions open to exploration.

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iron chef at the bite of eugene 2013: allez cuisine!

284436_240790515945191_4018356_nIMG_7092IMG_7013Yes, it’s that time!  My favorite local competition at my favorite local festival: the Iron Chef Eugene competition at the 5th Annual Bite of Eugene.

What’s the Bite of Eugene?  Let the organizers tell you: “The 5th annual American Family Insurance Bite of Eugene is a celebration of our local food scene and culinary culture with a focus on sustainability. This year’s event will be held on July 20th from 11am-10pm at Alton Baker Park in Eugene.  Admission is $5 for adults, children 12 & under are free. Food and beverages at the event will be priced and sold by the various participating local vendors. Food booths will be offering “bites” of their locally created provisions. Local beer and wine will also be offered along with non-alcoholic beverages. A wide array of entertainment is also available, including cooking classes, foodie seminars, local music, family/children’s area, and a live local Iron Chef competition.”  See the full schedule of entertainers and other details here.

I’m thrilled to be back in action this year at the Iron Chef competition.  Last year, I was going to be the emcee again, but couldn’t even stand up in July thanks to a car accident that smashed my knee, so I had to cancel.  This year, I’ll be joining my co-hosts on Food for Thought on KLCC, Boris and Ryan, as not-so-distinguished judges for the final battle.  Check out this amazing line-up:

IRON CHEF EUGENE 2013

With Emcee Lance Sparks

3:00pm: Battle Chinook Salmon
Chef Brendan Mahaney (Belly)
vs. Chef Brad Burnheimer (Agrarian Ales/Burnheimer Meat Co.)

Judges: Jeff Kandarian (Kandarian Cellars), Joel Pomerantz (OR Restaurant & Lodging Assoc.) and Ray Walsh (Capitello Winery).

5:00pm: Battle White Elm Mushrooms
Chef Justin Trent (Belly Taqueria)
vs. Chef Max Schwartz (Old Pad)

Judges: Mark Nicholl (William Rose Wines), Clive Wanstall (LCC), and Artie Lieder (Restaurant Consultant).

7:00pm: Iron Chef Eugene Championship: Battle Hazelnuts
Winner Battle Chinook Salmon
vs. Winner Battle White Elm Mushrooms

Judges: KLCC’s Food for Thought’s Boris Wiedenfeld, Ryan Stotz, and Jennifer Burns Bright, aka Levin, aka Culinaria Eugenius, aka yours truly!

Any local foodies will also be interested in the fantastic cooking seminars, featuring local talent and some of our best chefs, wildcrafters, fermenters, activists, and more. The headlining cooking classes will feature two past Iron Chef Eugene (and Oregon) winners.

See you there; can’t wait!

CULINARY CLASSES

With Host Mac Chase

  • 12:00-12:45 : Iron Chef Oregon 2012 Jeff Strom of Koho Bistro
  • 1:00-1:45 : Iron Chef Oregon 2010 Gabriel Gil of Soubise
  • 2:00-2:45 : Chef Emily Phillips of Red Wagon Creamery (making ice cream!)

SEMINARS

  • 12:00-12:45 : Food as Medicine with Sue Sierralupe (Occupy Medical)
  • 1:00-1:45 : Making Ravioli with Sarah O’Grady (Pasta Plus)
  • 2:00-3:00 : Fermenting Fun with Yaakov Levine (NTP)
  • 3:15-4:00 : Food Bill of Rights with Paul Cienfuegos (Support Local Food Rights)
  • 4:15-4:45 : 5 Pesky Weeds You Can Eat with Erin McIntosh (Mountain Rose Herbs)
  • 5:00-5:30 : Pairing Beer & Cheese & Wine with Jamie Floyd (Ninkasi)
  • 5:45-6:15 : Sustainable Food Systems and Preserving the Summer Bounty for Winter with Paul Fuller (Sweet Creek)
  • 6:30-7:00 : Foraging for Fungi (TBA)
  • 8:00-8:30 : Brewing Kombucha with Cutis Shimmin (Kore Kombucha)

the unexpected pleasures of savory watermelon

As soon as the sweet, dense, singular Eastern Oregon-grown Hermiston watermelons hit the market in late July, I try to keep a tub full of ready-to-eat slices close by in the refrigerator, just in case a heat-related emergency arises.  But heat and watermelon can be even chummier, I realized last night at an illuminating supper.

Taco Belly (which no one calls by its official name, Taqueria Belly) is the fancier new Belly’s scruffy kid sister, but no less beloved by its owners and staff and customers.  The regular menu is good, but the specials…well, sometimes the specials just Knock. It. Out. Of. The. Park.  I submit to you Exhibit A:

A grilled watermelon “salad,” special du jour du yesterday.  Watermelon salads are usually fussy things, with little cubes and precious dots and twiddles and fringes.  This was big, luscious slices of watermelon, grilled on a hot fire with the rinds on.  Then the slices were topped with pepitas, fresh goat cheese (I think), a simple roasted salsa roja, and a smattering of white onion and cilantro.  The pile is crowned with a few edible nasturtium flowers, which add not only fiery glory but a peppery and slightly bitter note.

This morning, admittedly high on watermelon, I found an elegant appetizer of salmon sashimi draped over a spiced watermelon refrigerator pickle from the slightly odd blog My Man’s Belly.  You can find her recipe linked in the watermelon category of the Punk Domestics preservation collective blog.  You might try smoked salmon, homemade gravlax or quickly seared salmon, as well.  Oregon salmon, of course.

But we can’t stop there.  I’ve been saving a recipe from the Bite of Eugene last year for exactly a moment like this, an original recipe that Iron Chef Oregon 2010, our dear Gabriel Gil of Rabbit Bistro & Bar served at the festival and distributed to attendees. Watermelon gazpacho. Yes.  It’s a subtle and perfect blend of watermelon and sweet, acidic summer tomatoes, with red peppers, cucumbers, onion and garlic to provide the underpinnings a good gazpacho needs.  It was my favorite soup last summer, so I asked Chef Gil (last year, hope he remembers) if I could post it on the blog.  And I trust my delay will be your future pleasure!

The soup should be started the night before you plan on serving it, since it needs to sit for 12 hours.  I suggest using dark, high acid tomatoes and Sungold cherry tomatoes, but any garden tomato is a winner in August.  You might want to reserve some of the vegetables for a little garnish in each bowl.  Straining the soup through a fine sieve is really an important step for a mind-blowing texture that will make your guests roll their eyes back into their heads in delight, but if you don’t have a sieve and don’t mind a more rustic finish, the blender will do.  You will still be loved.

Rabbit Bistro’s Watermelon Gazpacho

  • 2 lbs. assorted heirloom tomatoes
  • 1 pint basket heirloom cherry tomatoes
  • 1.5 lbs. clean watermelon, no seeds
  • 1 English cucumber, peeled and diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 baguette, diced
  • 1 medium Spanish onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1 cup dry red wine, preferably Spanish
  • 1 cup olive oil, preferably Spanish
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a large container, mix all ingredients well and press on the tomatoes and watermelon, ensuring that they release enough liquid to almost cover the mixture. Cover and place in refrigerator for at least 12 hours. Blend, in a blender, in batches, and pass through a fine sieve.  Serve in chilled bowls.  Serves approximately 8.

iron chef eugene 2012: chef jeff strom of koho bistro!

Last night at the Bite of Eugene festival, four stalwart souls faced off in the annual Iron Chef Eugene competition.  The dishes were tasted and the results were tallied by judges including our very own Boris Wiedenfeld (above, at last year’s competition).  After heated battles in which Anthony Parshall of Lewis & Clark Catering bested Codi Lapoint of Falling Sky Brewing, and Jeff Strom of Koho Bistro emerged victorious against Jen McElroy of Wild Duck Cafe, we have a new champion.

Chef Jeff Strom reigns supreme as Iron Chef Eugene 2012!

Visit the restaurant (Koho Bistro’s website) tonight to extend your congratulations, and listen in to our interview with Chef Jeff on Food for Thought on KLCC (89.7FM) on Sunday at noon.  We’ll hear more about the competition, secret ingredient, and how the battles were won.

UPDATE:  Listen to the show archive here.

Also on the show, we’ll be interviewing David Gremmels, co-owner, president, and cheesemaker extraordinaire at one of Oregon’s delights, Rogue Creamery!  They’re in the middle of making the award-winning Rogue River blue cheese, released once a year in its signature pear brandy-macerated grape leaf wrap.  We’ll hear about the process and other important developments in the cheese world.  We’ll also hear the latest in garden developments and how the summer produce crops are doing this year from our friend and frequent contributor Ross Penhallegon of OSU Extension in Lane County.  It should be a great show.  Don’t miss it!  Listen to KLCC on the radio in Eugene, one of our many sister stations in Oregon, or live on the internet!

breaking news for bite of eugene’s iron chef 2012!

Updated:  Congratulations to Chef Jeff Strom of Koho Bistro, Iron Chef Eugene 2012!

Don’t forget about the Bite of Eugene festival, tomorrow, Friday, July 20, from 3-10 p.m.

The Iron Chef competition will feature battles among four local restaurants:  Chef Codi Lapoint of Falling Sky Brewery and Chef Anthony Parshall of Lewis & Clark Catering will face Chef Adam Peterson of Wild Duck Café and Chef Jeff Strom of Koho Bistro.  (Edited to add: Previous reports that Chef Mike Meyer of Red Agave was a competitor were mistaken.)  Celebrity guest judges will include Boris Wiedenfeld, Lance Sparks, and last year’s Iron Chef Eugene, Chef Heidi Tunnell.  To give you a taste of what’s to come, check out some of the dishes in the championship battle of 2011!

And keep in mind that the action extends to sampling other eatery “bites” from local venues like Café 440, Cornbread Cafe, Davis Restaurant, Delacata, Excelsior, Falling Sky, Rabbit Bistro & Bar, and Wild Duck Café, Coconut Bliss, Divine Cupcake, and co-sponsor Lochmead Dairy. (if I missed anyone, let me know!)  A $5 suggested donation will support the Willamette Farm and Food Coalition. There will be plenty of bike parking, music, and an area for the kids.

iron chef eugene 2011 recap

****BREAKING NEWS**** Nicole Peltz of Field to Table Catering will be subbing for Heidi Tunnell at the Iron Chef Oregon competition today in Portland.  We wish her all the best of luck and Heidi a speedy recovery!

The Bite of Oregon and the Iron Chef Oregon competition is here!  Starting this evening in Portland’s Waterfront Park, Iron Chef Eugene Heidi Tunnell of Heidi Tunnell Catering will battle three chefs from elsewhere in Oregon.  Allez cuisine!

I’ve been thinking about the Iron Chef Eugene competition and what a success it was.  Heidi managed to pull off her win while almost 9 months pregnant, and she had a healthy baby boy a week later (congratulations!).  Even better, this year’s Bite of Eugene raised over $9,000 from our generous title sponsor, American Family Insurance, and the matching donations from our community for Willamette Farm and Food Coalition.  And another $1,000 or so in tips that the festival donated to the Eugene Rotary, whose volunteers helped serve the crowd.

I don’t think I need to say how profoundly your donations will impact WFFC’s efforts to improve sustainability and local food awareness, but I will.  Thank you so much.

The competition didn’t go off without a hitch — we had problems again with the gas line for the stoves.  We called this one The Inferno.  It was less a problem with the stove itself than the hookup, I think.  I wonder if we might solicit a donation of on-site labor for an equipment tech crew from the stove folks next year?  It would be much appreciated and would enable us to stay on schedule.

By the time the day was over, the final competition round dishes were served in a spotlit stage.  This is the final plating just prior to the finish of the competition.

I’ve already mentioned my favorite dish of the competition, Mike Meyer of Red Agave’s interpretation of arroz con pollo that featured caul fat-wrapped, chorizo-stuffed chicken breast and saffron rice with greens (puh-lease add the chorizo to the arroz on the menu at RA!!!! I know it’s a crowd pleaser dish as is, but OMG it was so good and the chorizo gave the whole thing a boost of spice and juiciness).  But there are others that linger for me. I can’t stop thinking about Heidi’s simple pot de crème with a caramelized chicken cracklin’.

Mike’s chicken drumsticks over a warm bourbon slaw, too, was inspirational — literally.  I ended up making a warm Riesling slaw for a party a week later, based on that idea of a boozy warm cabbage. Yum.

Heidi’s chicken under a brick, a traditional Italian preparation, served over fried cauliflower, potatoes, and garnished with roasted lemon, looked homey and delicious and won raves from judges.  A bigger triumph was her ingenuity in shipping it off to her own brick oven at the vendor area of the festival when our ovens stopped working.  Here it is with Mike’s almond cake with chicken liver mousse, a pairing that would have worked a tad better had there not been so much mousse.

A bit more unusual was Shane Tracey of Nib Modern Eatery’s seared scallop pillowed in a bowl of blackcap raspberry foam (with judge Clive Wanstall, below).  Shane raised the bar in the competition for molecular gastronomical experimentation, to mixed reviews.

I found the dishes quite easy on the eyes and was happy he was there to showcase some of the latest techniques in making sauces and rather intriguing spongy cakes.  And no matter what the judges said, I was all for the black raspberry swath on the plate.

Chef Max Schwartz also held his own in the competition.  He was the most junior member of the competition, a new sous chef at the new Agate Alley Laboratory, which has some eyebrow-raising items on the menu.  He was the only chef to tackle an Asian dish — fermented black beans braised dungeness crabs eaten by Boris, last photo.  I was most pleasantly surprised by the lavender-tinted scallop ceviche that he turned out, replete with a sour curing juice with lime and blackcaps.  No picture, sorry, but these lamb chops with a raspberry sauce and meaty reduction with blue potatoes had panache.

Thanks to all the wonderful chefs and their good humor and willingness to take criticism and perform in front of a live audience in the spirit of sharing good food and raising money for our local foodshed.  I wanted to thank the judges, too, for their honesty and banter.  I’ll admit I was pretty jealous that I didn’t get to hang out and eat with them, but I’m not sure if I could have kept up with the demolition crew.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen food disappear so quickly.  Plus, if I had been a judge again, I wouldn’t have been able to rock my Chairman Kaga jacket (can you believe that I didn’t arrange for a photo of me biting into the pepper? WTF?).  But still.

Photo courtesy of Lara Bovilsky

If you’d like to see more photos, go here.  If you’d like to read more about the competition, go here for the Register-Guard story or here for a link to the KLCC “Food For Thought” interview with me and Heidi, hosted by judges Boris (top) and Ryan (bottom) (photos, not confirmed orientations).

Thanks go most of all to the event organizer, Steve Olivier, who wanted me to emcee and make mah own Iron Chef dream come true.

on the eugene restaurant scene

It’s been a few days now since the Iron Chef Eugene 2011 competition, and I’ve been thinking of the restaurant scene in Eugene in general. It has really improved since I’ve been here, and for that I’m thankful, but it still has a long way to go.  It seems that the Bite of Eugene was a big hit this  year, both with the crowd and the vendors, and I’m still floaty-happy with what I saw and ate, especially the dishes in the competition.  I’m still planning to write out my thoughts on the competition, but first I have to rant about restaurants I *don’t* like.

Folks who have taken my Changes to Culinaria Eugenius poll so far have overwhelmingly indicated their desire to have me write more restaurant reviews (but I must add that “keep the CE mix it is now” is a close second, thanks!).

I don’t like writing restaurant reviews for several reasons.  I will certainly share when I find a restaurant or dish I like, but I’m not out for comprehensive coverage. First, we don’t have many good restaurants here, so my reviews would be overwhelmingly negative.  Second, to write a good restaurant review takes a great deal of time and effort.  One needs to visit the place on several occasions to do the review justice. I don’t, frankly, have the stomach (or budget) for that if the restaurant cuts corners with commercial produce and meats, and charges as if it doesn’t.  I also understand that we live in a small town, and small business owners can easily be ruined by bad press, and who wants that kind of bad karma?

Plus, many people are perfectly fine with family-owned, family-oriented restaurants — or expense account restaurants, for that matter — that cater to a quintessential “American” palate.  You can read their reviews on Yelp or Urbanspoon.

I’m not willing to apologize for elitist tastes, since you can eat like I do in many cities in very non-elitist places, but I’m very willing to acknowledge that my tastes are unusual.  We’re pushed to like certain kinds of food and many people don’t want to push back.  That’s fine for diabetes them.  And it would seem that many restaurateurs and chefs in Eugene don’t travel much and don’t explore different kinds of cooking, so we don’t even have a chance to broaden out our tastes in town.  Worse yet, the ethnic food in town is mostly sweetened up to American tastes so the places can stay in business.  Every Asian joint in town has to serve teriyaki to survive.  Ugh.  That’s a big downside to living here: the lack of diversity.

Robert Appelbaum posits that a restaurant is a unique place in society — it’s both public and private, individualized and generalized.  And the clash of expectations when something is private and individualized versus public and generalized offers perspective on why folks might react so strongly to dining in Eugene.  I’ve seen and heard of people actually becoming angry when confronted by a dish that isn’t familiar to them (and thus not the private, individualized experience THEY are seeking.  I use the term ‘confronted’ because that’s what people seem to feel is happening.  It’s as if any experience that doesn’t mimic one they have had at another restaurant (or, perhaps, at home) is an actual challenge to their way of life.

There seems to be a spectrum on which customers might be placed.  On one end, there are those who are seeking a familiar experience, and on the other, those who are looking to try new things that take one far out of one’s comfort zone. Every once in a while, someone will write to me and ask for a restaurant recommendation.  If they say, “I’m interested in a healthy lifestyle and we usually eat chicken breast and grilled veggies and salad at home,” I know they’re looking for the familiar.  Someone who says (often rudely) to a server, “I don’t even know that that is!” “Everyone likes hamburgers!” or “Where do they think up these things?” is also probably seeking the familiar.  These types of diners just want nourishment and not a challenge (to their eyes, tastebuds, or social milieu) while eating.  And that’s just fine, I suppose, as long as I don’t have to eat their food.

But I — we — do.  There is a very serious down side to exclusively eating familiarly, and you can see it in our growing problems with Big Ag.  Standardization means less variety.  You want a tomato that looks like a round, perfectly red tomato?  One that fits on your burger?  And all you eat is burgers, and therefore all you want to buy is that perfectly round red tomato?  Then the market will give you that and only that.

My blog is more for the person for whom “make it new” appeals, and I hope that Eugene’s dining scene continues to improve in providing for those customers.

For now, however, if you’re interested in change and culinary diversity, go forth, young people!  Stop settling for sugary meals.  Explore small, excellent, family-owned restaurants in Portland.  Better yet, go to Woodburn and try some of the Mexican places there.  There’s great, non-teriyakified Chinese food in Seattle.  At the very least, go up to lunch at Gathering Together Farm in Philomath, where they serve Frank Morton’s healthy farm-bred lettuce hybrids selected for flavor, not storage capacity.  You’ll never eat commercial mesclun again.

But, if you want to know what I’d say if I were willing to write more restaurant reviews, I’d come down hard on my least favorite kinds of menus:

  1. big chain restaurants: salty, low quality meats, vaguely Asian sweet sauces, steamed vegetables, overpriced frozen seafood, achingly sweet cocktails and desserts featuring ice cream and chocolate, and mesclun salads;
  2. sandwich shops: sandwiches made of subpar cold cuts and big, dusty, sweetened wheat bread (or the alternative, tortilla “wraps,” ugh), sweet mayonnaise, and mesclun salads;
  3. hippie joints: bowls of goop, including some kind of soy product and vegetables, then drowned in a too-sweet sauce, and mesclun salads;
  4. “comfort food” places: see #1, plus an obsession with bland, white foods.  For me, comfort isn’t bland, and it certainly is not macaroni ‘n’ cheese or mesclun salads; and
  5. mesclun salads.

That encompasses about 75% of Eugene dining.  Another 20 percent is BBQ places (all with sweet sauces) and fast food (burgers and pizza).  Honestly, I’d rather eat at a fast food place where I can get dill pickles on my burger and fries without ketchup than at a place that non-consensually coats me in sugar.  Even the vegetables at these places are at best, uninteresting, and at worse, befouled with sugar.

And I just hate mesclun.  It’s the new fast food — standardized, bred for longevity, not taste, and dull.  Look at your salad.  There are several greens in there.  Why do they all taste the same?

When I go to a restaurant, I look for the dishes that have the best balance in flavors.  If anything, I tilt toward vinegar.  Strong flavors are better than bland ones.  Pickles, sour sauces, garlic, tomato, chili, sesame, lemon, mustard. I’m not a huge fan of organ meats, but I’ll take something with the slight bitterness of liver, say, than a dish that presents as five kinds of sweetness.

That’s me.  What about you?

Photos from top to bottom: dessert wines at King Estates Food Justice Conference dinner; lunch at Montana food conference; Iron Chef Eugene 2011 Heidi Tunnell’s chicken-under-a-brick and Chef Mike Meyer’s almond cake with chicken liver mousse; Tunnell’s grilled radishes.