On Thursday night, Guerrilla Cuisine did the unimaginable: chefs from Stars, Closed for Business/Monza, and Mercato cooked a 10-course meal for 80 people without a working oven. "But, that's Guerrilla Cuisine," chef jimihatt says.
As guests at the Michael Mitchell Gallery enjoyed the first three (uncooked) courses, they had no idea what sort of trouble was ahead. They were just out to enjoy a nice evening and help Darkness to Light, an organization that was benefiting from the dinner.
Up first was an amuse bouche from Ben Ellsworth of Mercato. His clam crudo — using Clammer Dave's product — came in a shell with bacon miso jus, scallions, sesame seeds. The wee mollusk was beaten up a bit by the bacon miso's strong smoky flavor.
We quickly moved on to the second dish, a pork rillette with plum mustard, pickled mushrooms, and micro-arugula. Prepared by Italo Marino from Closed for Business and Monza, the plum mustard brought the pretty little dish together nicely.
Next up was a raw bit of fresh cobia with pear chow-chow, hot sauce vinaigrette, benne seeds, and fennel.
At this point of the night, the time between courses grew longer. But the wait staff kept the wine flowing telling us to "take it slow, it's like foreplay," and guests seemed content talking amongst themselves. And then the fourth course finally arrived, a pho and ramen broth soup that riffed on the classic Chinese egg drop soup. Ellsworth's version used scrambled tofu with turmeric and had a pretty awesome surprise at the bottom of the dish — ramp kimchi. That kimchi would be hard to beat.
With a can of PBR in hand, Ellsworth explained his next plate, a deconstructed reuben. Beef tongue, brussels kraut, and a Russian-esque dressing dressed up the deli fave, and we were encouraged to get a bit of each element in every bite. Sauerkraut never needs to be served again after tasting brussels kraut.
An hour went by before the next course, and we were all getting antsy, but this was before we knew about those damn ovens being broken. Tom Swift and his Electric Cohorts provided some music while guests mingled and shopped around the gallery. At this point, I checked out the outdoor kitchen set-up and found that they were just setting up a light borrowed from a photographer as the lights from the parking lot were not cutting it. It must have been dark for close to an hour at that point, so the fact that they managed to put out any dishes at all is fairly remarkable.
This is also when we noticed the make-shift yakitori grills. Made out of cinder blocks, they had coals blazing and, compared to the two defunct ovens, were at least able to cook some food. Those ovens were turned into warming stations, using borrowed sternos from Fish.
Slightly hangry guests milled around, waiting for the next course and palpably relieved when Hatt took back to the mic to thank the crowd again for their donations to Darkness to Light. And to apologize for keeping us out so late, but since "it's delicious," he hoped it was worth it.
And, truly, the curry sauce in the next dish was indeed worth the wait. People licked the bowls clean — literally. The lamb yakitori, which was slightly overcooked, and peach lassi that accompanied the meal had no chance to shine over the yogurt curry dipping sauce.
Getting a good sear on a scallop is an art form, so managing to do that in one pan for 80 diners is a Michelangelo-like feat. But that's what showed up on our plate next. The massive diver scallop sat in a Sichuan sauce with dollops of coconut cream and a sesame cracker. The cream helped disarm the heat in the tongue-numbing sauce.
The last savory dish featured rabbit in a celery-citrus jus with a side of potato salad. The rabbit was delicious and resembled pulled pork, but the potatoes could have been left off the plate.
After eight heavy courses, we were more than ready for a sweet turn of events. The coconut sorbet and coconut broth with caramelized pineapple, basil seeds, basil oil, and some sort of bread crumbs was meant to be a palate cleanser. But Leila Schardt's (from Monza and Closed for Business) dessert was too delicious just to be considered a palate cleanser.
The final course was a doozy: a blondie with almond biscoff puree with a bacon pretzel brittle and malt powdered ice cream. The blondie was on the sweet side, but the salty-sweet combination of the ice cream and brittle was spot on.
After five and a half hours, the dinner was finally over. Guests said their goodbyes and thanked the chefs and hosts, but not before being a handed one last treat (as if we hadn't eaten enough): dark chocolate from Sweeteeth.