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If they can make it there . . .

S.L chefs to showcase dishes at James Beard House in N.Y.

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About 94 diners had a chance to be food critics last week at Bambara, as three chefs showcased the dishes they planned to serve at the prestigious James Beard House in New York later this year.

But none of the trio — David Jones of Log Haven, Jonathan Perno of The Metropolitan and Scott Blackerby of Bambara — seemed nervous. They joked and bantered while arranging strips of Peruvian potatoes into tic-tac-toe shapes and topping them with Lemon Pepper Cured Lox, which had been stuffed with Peekytoe Crab and Mushroom Salad. A handful of micro-greens and a spoonful of Artichoke Brown Butter Vinaigrette later, the first course was soon on its way out to the dining room.

Maybe the chefs are saving the stage fright for October, when they embark on one of the highest honors of the culinary world. An invitation to cook at the James Beard House is somewhat like a singer being asked to perform with The Metropolitan Opera. James Beard, a cookbook author who pioneered some of the first television cooking shows, is widely recognized as the father of American gastronomy. After he died in 1985, Julia Child and other friends wanted to buy his New York City house and preserve it as the foodie gathering spot it was throughout Beard's life. Today, the James Beard Foundation promotes the culinary world through events, scholarships and annual awards.

On a regular basis, foundation members select distinguished chefs from around the country to present a dinner at the James Beard House. Other Utah chefs who have been honored in the past include Gerard Brunett of Valhalla at Stein Eriksen Lodge in Park City; Sundance chefs Jason Knibb, Barbara Hill, Bill Wilkinson and Jean-Louis Montecot; and Clark Norris of the Mariposa Restaurant at the Deer Valley. Before he came to The Metropolitan, Perno visited the James Beard House twice while working as a sous chef to invited guest chefs from outside of Utah.

Adam Borden, a Beard Foundation committee member, said he initially became interested in featuring Salt Lake City chefs while on a Utah ski trip. Two other committee members had dined at the restaurants and recommended them. Metropolitan's name had already come up a few years ago when it was nominated for a James Beard Award for restaurant design. The timing now seemed right, he said, for an Olympics-themed dinner featuring a Salt Lake City restaurant.

But the honor isn't without some effort. The restaurants must provide their own transportation and lodging, and all the food for about 80 people.

"I had spoken with (Metropolitan owner) Karen Olson, and she wasn't sure she wanted to do something on her own," Borden said. "We like to find restaurants who want to work together."

The three have already shared kitchens in a "Four Chefs, Four Seasons" dinner series and other local culinary events, so teaming up to take on the Big Apple wasn't a major stretch.

Each chef created two dishes for the six-course dinner. Last week, Utahns could sample the same menu for $100 per person, with the proceeds helping to finance the trip.

Diners were given comment cards, and most didn't hesitate to express opinions. Although the cards hadn't been thoroughly reviewed as of press time, Perno was already scratching his head, as well as his two dishes — a brandade of salt cod topped with roma tomatoes and a peanut-butter mouse dessert. The salt cod idea came from a London chef Perno once worked with, he said. The dried fish is soaked for several days, then cooked in milk with potatoes. It was topped with a tomato relish and a grainy mustard sauce to give some acidic and pungent notes to the dish. But diners rated it less than stellar.

"I'm not really sure what direction to take, because some of the comments were conflicting," Perno said. "It kind of bums me out, but that's OK. I realize it's very strong in it's fish flavor. If you don't enjoy some of those aspects of fish, you don't let yourself get through that. I think people in New York would have a better understanding of this dish; they might be more open to it."

And the dessert? "I wasn't too happy with it; there was some avenue of error in it. I'm now thinking about nuts, like pecans, and other fall ingredients, like squash and cranberries."

So why not just do something that's already on the existing restaurant menu, since James Beard officials obviously enjoyed them enough to issue an invitation? "To me, that would be lazy," Perno said. "I enjoy a challenge."

Using fresh seasonal ingredients is one of the hallmarks of today's good cooking. So it was a challenge to serve an autumn menu in June, said Blackerby. Some ingredients may be switched — the banana-squash puree will probably instead be pumpkin this fall.

"This gives people an opportunity to be food critics for a night, so we'll be able to test the menu and see what we need to do before we get to New York," he said.

Here's what was on the menu:

Lemon Pepper Cured Lox Cannelloni, Peekytoe Crab and Enoki Mushroom Salad with Peruvian Potato and Artichoke Brown Butter Vinaigrette — David Jones of Log Haven

Apricot-Laquered Squab, Ricotta Almond Cake with a Granny Smith Apple Reduction, Banana Squash Puree and Blood Orange Cognac Syrup — David Jones of Log Haven

Salt Cod Brandade and Roma Tomato Relish, with French Grainy Mustard Sauce — Jonathan Perno, Metropolitan

Roasted Golden Pineapple Sorbet — Scott Blackerby, Bambara

Porcini-Crusted Grass-Fed Organic Beef Tenderloin with Goat Cheese Potato Dumplings and Veal Marrow Jus — Scott Blackerby, Bambara

Fresh Ground Peanut Butter Mousse, Caramel & ScharffenBerger Chocolate Sauce — Jonathan Perno, Metropolitan


ROASTED GOLDEN PINEAPPLE SORBET

2 very ripe, fresh pineapple

2 cups sugar

2 cups water

Take 1 pineapple, cut off the top end, and roast in the oven with skin on at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Allow to cool to room temperature. Slice the other pineapple thinly. Place on cookie sheet between two pieces of waxed paper or a silicon mat. Bake for 1-1 1/2 hours at 300 degrees, until slices are golden brown and dry to the touch. Meanwhile, mix sugar and water together and bring to a boil to make simple syrup. Peel off the outside skin of the pineapple, and puree, then pass mixture through a sieve. Use a ratio of 1 cup of pineapple mixture to 1 cup simple syrup, and freeze in an ice cream freezer according to freezer directions. Serve scoops of the sorbet garnished with the pineapple slices. — Scott Blackerby, Bambara


CRAB AND ENOKI MUSHROOM SALAD

12 ounces fresh crab meat, picked through

12 ounces caramelized enoki mushrooms (saute over low heat until golden brown)

4 shallots, finely diced

4 cloves garlic, blanched and finely diced

1/2 cup celery root, diced finely

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Juice of 2 lemons

Dash Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons chopped thyme

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Salt, black pepper, cayenne to taste

Mix together all ingredients and chill until needed. Serve in Lemon Pepper Lox.


LEMON PEPPER LOX

6 pounds whole salmon, filleted with skin left on and pin bones removed

1 cup lemon thyme, chopped

1 cup chives, chopped

1 cup Italian parsley, chopped

Zest from 6 lemons

1/2 cup kosher salt

1/2 cup coarse ground pepper

1/4 cup sugar

Peruvian potatoes, cut in strips and blanched

Combine ingredients except salmon and potatoes. Place 1/4 of the curing mixture on a sheet of plastic the length of the salmon filet. Lay one salmon filet over this (skin-side down). Spread half of the curing mix over the salmon filet. Place other half of the salmon filet on top with the skin side up, and spread the remaining cure mixture over the skin. Wrap the salmon tightly in plastic wrap. Then wrap the salmon in foil. Place salmon on a non-reactive pan with a weight on top of the salmon. Refrigerate the salmon for three to four days, rotating the salmon three times each day. When ready to cook, remove marinade from the fish. Scrape off all excess mix with knife and trim fatty edges off salmon. Slice on the bias with a very sharp think knife as needed. Hold in the refrigerator for up to one week or in the freezer up to 2 months.

Slice 4 4-to-5-inch wide biased cuts of salmon. Place 1/4 of the Crab and Enoki Salad in each piece of salmon and roll firmly into cigar shape. Trim edges and place on top of blanched potato stacks. Spoon on Artichoke-Brown Butter Vinaigrette (See accompanying recipe.) Garnish with chive blossoms and mustard oil. Serve promptly. — David Jones, Log Haven


ARTICHOKE-BROWN BUTTER VINAIGRETTE

6 medium cooked artichoke hearts, finely diced

3 shallots, finely diced

5 cloves garlic, finely diced

1 cup browned sweet butter (butter cooked until it turns golden brown)

1/4 cup Champagne vinegar

Juice of 1 lemon

Dash of sugar

2 sprigs fresh chopped tarragon

2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and minced

Salt and pepper to taste

In a saute pan, heat the butter with the artichokes, shallots and garlic. Simmer 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and add remaining ingredients. Serve at slightly-higher-than room temperature. — David Jones, Log Haven


E-MAIL: vphillips@desnews.com