I think Craig Deihl might've clinched the James Beard nomination last Wednesday night. Or at least, he clinched his place in the pantheon of celebrity chefs.
On Wednesday, Cypress closed the restaurant for the James Beard Celebrity Chef Tour dinner, which brought some great chefs to town for the special event. Joining Deihl was Tory McPhail from Commander's Palace in New Orleans, David Varley from the Mina Group, Andrea Reusing from Lantern in Chapel Hill, and Trevor Kunk from Blue Hill in New York.
The evening started with a cocktail hour featuring a generous spread of hors d'oeuvres from platters of Deihl's famous sashimi tuna oyster (which I sadly never got ahold of) to a generous charcuterie station. Hopefully diners restrained themselves because there would be an epic meal ahead.
The dinner kicked off with a big plate of Creole crawfish boil, a deconstructed New Orleans classic from McPhail. It was packed with crawfish, shrimp, and blue crab and had a nice bite to it. Not realizing quite how much lay ahead, I went ahead and cleaned my plate. And for propriety's sake, I didn't suck my crawfish head.
Next up was the most ridiculously luxurious thing I have ever eaten. David Varley, the corporate chef who oversees the 16 restaurants of the Mina Group, roasted some chestnuts over an open fire — literally — and then blended the toasty nuts up with some foie gras to make a rich, thick, delicious soup. It came with a slab of foie, shavings of black truffle, and a smear of sorghum marshmallow. I licked my bowl clean and proclaimed myself extremely full. But more food, much more food, was to come.
At this point, everyone at the table was groaning and clutching protruding bellies. We were stuffed. But then came Andrea Reusing's lovely duck dish. Roasted moulard with sake kasu (made from a Texas sake), white sweet potato, and the revelation of the plate — pickled apples. I kept eating, simply so I could keep experiencing that tangy pickle. What a lovely thing it was.
I should mention that Bill Netherland of Cypress chose some amazing wines to pair with each of these dishes. The Badenhorst Family Syrah blend from South Africa enhanced the duck dish perfectly. Probably my favorite pairing.
So, remember how we filled up after the second course? Well, we have TWO MORE COURSES TO GO! I must've been so shocked to see a slab of dry-aged ribeye show up next that I forgot to take a picture of it. But it was so delicious that I ate the whole plate. Deihl's plate was fantastic and showed his talents off. We were proud and even though we weren't hungry, we ate it up.
The final course was a light Meyer Lemon Pudding Cake swimming in Florida citrus. I loved this dessert, which Deihl also made, and found myself savoring every last bite.