Temperatures have dropped, sweaters have been unpacked and heaters turned on as residents accept that fall is upon us. What better time to fire up the grill?
Taste Talks Food & Drink is an opportunity for food enthusiasts of all kinds—top chefs, writers, entrepreneurs, eaters—to gather and talk about the future of taste. Presented by celebrity chef Mario Batali and curated locally by Paul Kahan (Big Star, Publican), the Oct. 3-5 weekend event ended last Sunday with an All-Star BBQ in Palmer Square.
For $40 per ticket, food enthusiasts could choose to attend one of two sessions, 1-4 p.m. or 5-8 p.m. Entry allowed patrons to sample flavors from more than 10 chef-operated tents. Neighborhood favorite Bang Bang Pie Shop hosted a bake sale too; $5 donations went to the No Kid Hungry campaign and in exchange, donors received a piece of pie from Bang Bang, Lula Cafe, Perennial Virant, Sepia or Nightwood.
A Food Trip around Palmer
Arranged so that guests could go in a logical order, I found it easy to navigate the grounds. Volunteers were on hand to check off each table visit—wouldn’t want to have the same thing twice! Not one for desserts, especially those containing marshmallows, I still opted to start with the S’mores on offer from Mindy Segal’s Hot Chocolate collaboration with Dirt Candy NYC and appropriately, Camp Wandawega. The marshmallow was perfectly toasted and graham cracker and chocolate tasty, but I was relieved to find my second stop to be Stephanie Izard (Girl & The Goat, Little Goat) and John Laffler (Off Color Brewing). Top Chef season four winner Izard was present and plating her dish, a grilled clam bruschetta, which helped erase the sweetness left in my mouth from the S’mores. The bread for the bruschetta was baked with the seafood already on it and drizzled on top of the chunks of clam was Izard’s take on a Vietnamese sauce called Nuoc Cham. Perfectly paired with the bruschetta was a sour wheat beer from Off Color Brewing.
My journey around Palmer Square continued with stops for bison heart sausage from Canada’s Charcut and marinated beef shortrib atop a sesame leaf from Edward Kim of Ruxbin/Mott Street before I arrived at a table with what I and Lula’s Jason Hammel described as adult Capri Suns. Using a bag designed to hold candy or nuts, Three Dots and a Dash’s cocktail master Paul McGee presented a vermouth, sherry, orange, lemon-lime and Falernum (rum liqueur from Barbados) concoction to wash down the Cotija-cheese topped lamb pita provided by tablemate Hammel.
As I tried to allow time for the food in my body to begin the digestive process, I stood with Spiderman, Batman and Hello Kitty watching a grown man get the Captain America face painting treatment. This was a family festival; why should the kids get to have all the fun?
With Rick Bayless in attendance, it’s no wonder there was a long line to sample his ribs. My stomach couldn’t handle waiting in line, so I left Mr. XOCO for the BBQ-loving masses hoping I’d return at the end of my food journey. Already stuffed like the sausages seen grilling earlier, I waddled my way to try “Fall on a plate,” which is how one volunteer described what I found at the Boka and Green Acres Farm table. I’m a sucker for a roasted veggie and this grilled squash with mustard greens, pickled mustard seed, pickled peppers, smoked ricotta and crumbled blood sausage did not disappoint. More meat awaited from Matty Matheson (Parts & Labor) and Nick Colella (Great Lakes Tattoo) who served up a lettuce wrap filled with goat, burnt cabbage kimchi, “quick pickles” made that morning with salt, sugar and vinegar and a perfect dot of something yellow and spicy known as smoked Scotch bonnet sauce.
Doug Psaltis (Bub City) & Alessandro Bellini’s (Viola) wood-grilled porchetta never made it to my lips because by 6:30 p.m., they had run out of food and were already packing up and moving out. My filled-to-capacity stomach didn’t mind. I was ready to go. Except I noticed no line for Bayless; I felt obligated to get my taste. What I got were two chunky rib slabs lightly covered in a spicy sauce, complemented with a chayote and jicama slaw dressed in an orange-lime juice, a side I preferred to the meat.
My top three picks in no particular order:
Grilled Clam Bruschetta (Stephanie Izard)
Grilled Goat Lettuce Wrap (Matty Matheson)
Grilled Fall Squash (Lee Wolen)
Food coma? Nothing as comfortable as that. If I had followed the “two bite” rule other attendees had implemented, I might not have been in pain when I returned home Sunday evening. But I hate wasting food and besides, how often do chefs of this caliber convene for a food celebration within walking distance of my house?