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C-CAP Benefit 2008: A Taster’s Digest

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Revolution and Sterno were in the air at the tenth annual C-CAP (Careers through Culinary Arts Program) benefit at Chelsea Piers as sweet beat out savory for the first time in half a decade. In another surprise turn, the once ubiquitous soup shooter was nowhere to be seen. Tuna and lemon (from Meyer to regular to -grass) were the new favorite ingredients, while pork bellies, truffles and foie took a well deserved rest from center stage. Below are a few highlights from this year’s offerings.

1. Blue Hill: Pork Part Petits Fours

A ganache of pork offal purée rolled in cocoa nibs and sandwiched between Mexican-spiced chocolate crisps. Sounded awful, tasted great. Reminiscent but not derivative of Wylie Dufresne’s now classic foie, anchovy, cocoa nib creation from a few years back. Added points for creating a single-serving portable portion on a night when so many chefs favored plates better suited to sharing amongst a seated threesome.

2. Dovetail: Rabbit terrine and kumquat skewers

After Fraser’s 2007 foie and Rice Krispy masterpiece, I knew his stars (had two, has three) were on the rise. This year’s rabbit terrine on a skewer confirmed it. Loved witty allusion to 2006 C-CAP (Year of the Kumquat) in fruit accompaniment. Kudoes as well for producing plateless dish easy to carry and fun to eat. Skewers also good for poking people dithering in front of Craft dessert station.

3. Craft: Caramelized banana tatin and malted milk ice cream

Butter, sugar, banana, milk alchemy. Everything elevated comfort food is supposed to be, especially on a typically cold C-CAP benefit night. Speed and consistency with which DeMasco turned out toaster tatins were a reproach to all of us with small kitchens: It’s not the equipment; it’s the cook. For the record, I only “doubled down” the first time chef offered…and the second time her back was turned.

4. Four Seasons NY: Lobster saltimbocca

“Saltimbocca” was taken literally at this highly interactive station: They just about put the generous chunk of lobster in your mouth while ladling the sauce with it. Souvenir chin drips of sage-infused brown butter were delicious and blotted from face only after spousal reprimand.

5. Town: Squash parfait

Kabocha squash interleaved with goose mousse and set against blood orange emulsion renewed my faith in foam and kept the foie for fatty liver’s amazing versatility. John Johnson makes the best composed cheese plate in New York. Little did I know he could produce similar wonders with an unsung winter vegetable.

OTHER NOTABLE NOSHES

Felidia: Burrata and asparagus

I love the burrata’s delicacy and the spike of spring flavors from the delicate asparagus spears. On a side note, Chef Fortunata Nicotra should win a chef’s award for trying the most dishes by his colleagues. I was in line with him at half a dozen stations and saw him at a dozen more.

Aretsky’s Patroon: Steak tartare

Nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide with steak tartare. Everything must be right and everything was. Peet pulled it off again this year in a perfect bite size (canapé, mezze, tapa, you name it) portion. Went well with the night’s red wine selection.

Aureole: Lemongrass yogurt and passion fruit tapioca

C-CAP superstars Rachel Lansang and Amar Santana delivered again this year. Sweet-sour balance was pitch-perfect on the palate. Tastier and less baroque than the tapioca pearl masterpieces by Claudia Fleming at the North Fork Table & Inn and Pichet Ong at Spice Market, this tightly edited creation left my tongue so perked up that I made another run at the savories.

Gotham: Alaskan king crab risotto with assorted delicious things

Hard to get texture and temp right with risotto in a crowded room over Sterno. Portale’s team nailed it. Only gripe was horizontal nature of plate. I had high hopes for a signature vertical creation. Pleasure wasn’t lacking, just more gustatory than visual.

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