Top Chef at The National

Sometimes, my life is just far too awesome for words.

Place Setting

Sunday night, I was invited by a friend to attend an amazing event at The National Golf Club in Parkville — a 6-course dinner prepared by season six Top Chef contestants Eli Kirshstein and Kevin “Beardy” Gillespie and The National’s Executive Chef, Eric Barkley.

You may remember a few weeks back when I talked about the Top Chef Tour coming to Kansas City. In that post, I said:

[My friend] Eric [who is the Director of Food & Beverage for The National] is actually bringing back Eli and one of my personal favorites, Kevin “BEARDY” Gillespie for a special 6-course event (two by each Top Chef and 2 by Chef Barkley from The National) at their clubhouse in May.

Well, I was lucky enough to be invited as a guest to this amazing event. Alli and I were seated next to the pastry chef and executive chef (and 4-time James Beard Award nominee) of bluestem in Westport, which was really a treat. Not only were we treated to an amazing meal, but we had some great company and got some insight into the cooking side of things from Colby and Megan.

And now, the food…

Walleye with Sweet Corn and Black Truffles

The first course was prepared by Chef Barkley. It was a walleye served on a bed of sweet corn topped with ramps (wild leeks), morels, black truffles with a white wine foam. There were a lot of things that I just typed that I had never eaten before Sunday night, particularly ramps, which are apparently a very difficult to acquire vegetable (unlike normal leeks). As a lead-off dish, this was bright and interesting, but kind of large. The sweetness of the corn counteracted the acidity of the pickled ramps and the richness of the walleye and black truffles. I liked it a lot.

Scallops with Mushrooms

The second course was prepared by Chef Kirshtein, a scallop served on top of black garlic with Enoki mushrooms. I was really looking forward to having some scallops, but was a little disappointed in this dish. The scallop itself was nicely cooked and the black garlic was delicious, but I couldn’t get into the mushrooms. I want to be adventurous in my eating, but these were a little out there.

Chicken with Broccoli Gremolata and Lily Puree

This next dish surprised the crap out of me. I did not expect that Chef Kirshtein’s chicken with broccoli gremolata and lily bulb puree would be my favorite course of the night. I have never tasted a chicken that was cooked better. The skin was crispy and the meat of the chicken was rich and tender and in stark contrast to the vinegar-y broccoli gremolata. Another wonderful surprise about this dish was the lily bulb puree. This was a point in the meal where it was extremely helpful to have chefs Garrelts at our table. I learned that lily bulb was actually a fancy name for onion. So basically, it was like a potato puree, only with onions. And it tasted awesome.

Pigs & Pinot - Pork Terrine with Mushroom salad and pickled cherry

The fourth course was our first from Chef Beardy Gillespie, and it was actually a Top Chef challenge winner from last season’s Pigs and Pinot challenge. What was it? It’s difficult to tell from the picture, so let me help: it was a pork terrine with a pickled cherry and a mushroom salad (not like a green salad, but like a chicken salad…it’s that gray stuff on top of the pork terrine slice). I really liked this dish. It wasn’t amazingly appetizing to look at (although it was extremely cleanly plated), but it tasted salty and sweet and balanced. Yum.

Strip Loin with Gorgonzola Bread Pudding & Vidalia Compote

Our next dish, from Chef Eric Barkley, had my favorite side item of the night. Served with a wagyu Kansas City (they called it New York…I refuse to do so) strip loin topped with a vidalia onion compote was a completely EPIC gorgonzola bread pudding with bacon. (Okay, so the dish was technically centered around the strip loin, but not for me.) So much awesomeness here. If I described it more, you might become insanely jealous and hunt me down.

Colorado Lamb Loin with Sweet Bread Fricassee

The final savory dish was from Chef Beardy and was quite an experience. Now, I’ve had lamb loin before at Perilla in New York. I have not, however, had lamb loin with sweetbread (most mis-named food EVER) fricassee, lemony greens and potato cream. I wasn’t too hip on eating the thymus and pancreas of an animal, but I figured I had to give it a shot. Really weird. The lamb was pretty good too and the pomegranate brown butter that it was served with was quite tasty.

I didn’t actually photograph the 7th bonus course, which was prepared by the Herndon Career Center from Raytown. The dessert plate was a myriad of deliciousness — a Meyer lemon verbena sponge cake, chocolate two ways, homemade orange “pop rocks” and some nitro ice cream in a macadamia nut cone. The cone was the best part, but considering that it was concepted and prepared by high schoolers, I was really impressed.

After the meal, the chefs came out and answered some questions and told stories of their culinary background and their experiences on the show. I’d heard some of Eli’s stories from the Top Chef event from last month, but it was really fun to hear some of Beardy’s stories, since he was my favorite from last season.

Me, Alli and the Chefs

I can’t thank my friend Eric enough for inviting me and Alli to attend this event. It was such a great experience to each such delicious food. I know that The National is working on another Top Chef-inspired event in September. Be sure to follow me on Twitter and I’ll be sure that you know about the event if you’re interested. If you love food and you love Top Chef, you really shouldn’t miss these special events.

I know that I’m glad I didn’t miss this one.

Shooting Typography

This originally appeared as a guest post on Zach and Simon’s Westside Studio blog.

I’ve always loved taking pictures. I actually even won an award for my sports photography in high school for the Blue Valley Northwest yearbook (back before these fancy DSLRs, I shot on film and developed it myself). I’ve done my best to continue to shoot photographs throughout my adult life, but oftentimes the busy day can hinder the ability to get out there and shoot. I got out of the habit of having a camera with me, so even when I’d see stuff that I wanted to photograph, I wouldn’t have anything with me at all.

About a year ago I read about this photographer named Chase Jarvis who was somehow managing to get some crazy shots out of his simple 3-megapixel iPhone camera. I’m not sure if it was him who coined the phrase (Jarvis has since trademarked it and subsequently released a book, iPhone app and website), but he said:

The best camera is the one you have with you.

When I started working for AMC, I began spending the lunch hour walking around downtown Kansas City with my friend Justin and I began to notice some of the really interesting shots that I might be able to get if only I had my camera with me.

So I started bringing it with me everyday. I just got a new DSLR last year, the Canon Rebel T1i, and I have a nice compact sling bag that make it pretty easy for me to carry the camera, a flash and a couple lenses. I found that I was being drawn to the interesting typography and signage of Kansas City. One of the first shots I remember taking was this sign outside the parking garage at 1025 Main Street. First off, I’m a sucker for Clarendon and most slab serif typefaces. I always thought this was such and interesting choice for a parking garage.

1025 Main

Then behind my office, I found this fabulous Union Carbide Building.

Union Carbide Building

I began to realize that I was being really inspired by James Patrick Gibson‘s New Type York. I began to wonder if I’d be able to start a Kansas City-focused type photoblog. After a day or two and some encouragement on Twitter, I found there was enough audience and interest. Plus, there was definitely enough typography to shoot.

So armed with Tumblr and Twitter, I started I haven’t had a lot of time to spend on designing the template or worrying too much about the details, I’ve just been out there shooting in the places where I find myself on a day-to-day basis. I’ve had a couple guest posts from my brother and my friends Ramsey, Phil and Steve, but there is so much interesting typography and signage in this city to shoot that I rarely have trouble posting on a daily basis.

Usually, I’m shooting with one of two lenses: either my Canon fixed 50mm f/1.4 lens (which is freaking amazing) or a 75-300mm zoom lens that I’ve had for about 15 years. One reason I continue to stick with Canon is because I’ve got so much invested in lenses now that it would be silly for me to switch.

If there’s one piece of advice I could give to people wanting to get into photography (even though I’m grossly underqualified to give photography advice), it’s that you should always have a camera with you. You never know when you’ll have the opportunity for a great shot and there is amazing stuff all around us, even in something as simple as typography and signage.

See more of my pictures on Flickr. Also, be sure to check out my KC Type blog.

Donut Day

Donuts in the Case

Once every 3 years or so, my family has this ridiculously excessive tradition. We wake up early on a Saturday and have a donut tasting.

And it is exactly as awesome as it sounds.

However, this is an amazingly un-local thing. The local-est place that we go is Lamar’s, but we also tried Krispy Kreme and Dunkin’ Donuts this year. After my devotion

Then, there’s this.

Meesha is organizing a meetup at John’s Space Age Donuts in downtown Overland Park on May 19, the same day that the new Dunkin’ Donuts opens up just down the street. I’ve got some friends who freaked out when Dunkin’ Donuts came to town. After my donut day, I can categorically say that Dunkin’ Donuts is very MEH and they certainly can’t hold a candle to Lamar’s. I’m going to try and make it to John’s on May 19 and give them a try.

It seems like they’re the awesomest. What are your KC suggestions for my family’s next excessive donut day?

The Top Chef Tour

I got to check out the Kansas City stop of the Top Chef Tour last Friday.

Eli Kirshtein and Nikki Cascone on the Top Chef Tour

Eli Kirshtein from Season 6 and Nikki Cascone from Season 4 came into KC and showed off their culinary chops and answered some questions in four sessions outside Cosentino’s Market. The first 15-20 minutes were spent making a quick Scimeca’s Sausage meatball with sauerkraut, aioli and topped with some gala apples.

Sausage Meatball on sauerkraut with aioli and apples

By themselves, I like very few of the components in this dish. Sauerkraut? EW. Mustard? No thanks. But as a dish, it totally worked. The flavors worked together to create something really simple and tasty.

My favorite part of the event was the Q&A, though. As someone who’s been watching Top Chef since season one (and I’ve talked about it plenty), I was interested in hearing about the show and their experiences. One of the things that cracked me up was Eli and Nikki talking trash on some of the more well-known chefs of the world, particularly Bobby Flay (“Just throw it on the grill with some chipotle in adobo and some cilantro.”).

I was actually really surprised at how open and honest they were, pulling no punches about the contestants they competed with (Eli still hates Robin, it seems) and the challenges they competed in.

It was a really nice event and I have to say thanks to my friend Eric from The National, who got me the tickets. Eric is actually bringing back Eli and one of my personal favorites, Kevin “BEARDY” Gillespie for a special 6-course event (two by each Top Chef and 2 by Chef Barkley from The National) at their clubhouse in May. As amazing as the event sounds, the price tag might be a little out of my range.

For the rest of my pictures, check out my Flickr photoset.

We Will Make You Whole Again

We Will Make You Whole Again

One of the main reasons I was able to get my awesome new job at AMC was my connection with their social media manager extraordinaire, Justin Gardner. Justin and I have become friends over the past couple years and we have now been working together for almost 2 months.

I was so thrilled to be able to watch as he and Trevor Hawkins of MAMMOTH MEDIA worked to premiere their short film, We Will Make You Whole Again on Tuesday night at AMC Mainstreet. The trailer:

For these guys, this has been a labor of love, a film that they’ve been working on for the past two years. Completely shot in Kansas City (with KC actors and an amazing score by KC’s Olympic Size) on a Nikon DSLR camera (a pretty cool feat unto itself).

The movie is really great. They’ve did a terrific job telling a compelling story about 6 strangers that feel disconnected from the world and each other because of things like age, race, sexuality, gender, language and culture, while revealing the common, everyday actions and emotions that unite them all. I was really proud of my friend Justin and his film. For someone to get out there and create something…that’s something to admire. (Not surprising for someone married to an artist who is constantly creating work that requires her whole self.)

Give the trailer a look and become a fan of the film on Facebook. Justin and Trevor are currently prepping the movie to be available for purchase via digital download and are scheduling other screenings in Kansas City. The Facebook page is the best place to find information.

Whether you do it this way or in your own way, art is such an important of education and communities. Please support art in Kansas City or your own community.