January 27, 2011
By Frank D. Quattrone
Montgomery Newspaper, Ticket Magazine Editor
For an unprecedented second straight year, The James Beard Foundation invited Michael Wei and his chefs to prepare a special feast at the James Beard House – the former home of one of the greatest chefs in American history. This honor is the culinary equivalent of winning back-to-back Best Actor Oscars.
I asked Wei how the second invitation came about. “The James Beard House was so happy with our dinner last year they hoped we could return. But they don’t do the same kind of dinner twice. So we chose a different winemaker and decided to do a French-Asian fusion.”
Most of the dishes came from the menus of Wei’s fine restaurants – with a little bit of tweaking to make things even more interesting. “So people can try something new,” Michael said.
According to Yangming chef Vince Viola, “Michael Wei has this incredible palate. He’s able to add subtle flavors that no one else could do.”
The other chefs who prepared the French-Asian fusion dinner are James Huang, head chef at CinCin; Lindsay Criscuolo, head pastry chef at Nectar; Patrick Feury, Wei’s partner at Nectar; Vince Viola, co-chef de cuisine at Yangming (with Mu-Yang Shen, who also serves in that capacity at Mandarin Garden). Also on hand was Henry Lee, Wei’s partner at CinCin, who also helped with the evening’s preparations, and Jeff Cichocki, Bonterra Vineyards winemaker, who worked on this year’s wine pairings.
The five course dinner was served in the famous Library room, where portraits of James Beard smiled down approvingly at the assembled guests.
The first course was Pan-seared day boat scallop on a bed of Maine Lobster Risotto, surrounded by julienne snow peas, bull’s blood microgreens and a winter mushroom ragout. It was accompanied by Bonterra Vineyards’ viognier, a fruity white wine made from organic grapes with a strong aroma of peach, honeysuckle and jasmine.
Roasted Japanese Black Cod came next, with a dill-pine nut crust, kimchi-striped bass cake and Chinese broccoli tips in a saffron pine nut chardonnay sauce. Bonterra’s characteristic green and baked apple notes pervaded the accompanying creamy chardonnay.
Patrick Feury’s Tea Smoked Squab was the third course. Served with duck foie gras and citrus sausage, roasted Kabocka Japanese pumpkin salad, spiced cashews and kumkwat, it was washed down amiably by Bonterra’s smoky, fruity merlot.
The final entree was Pan-seared Filet Mignon, served with panko-crusted golden Yukon Gold potato cake, baby zucchini, sunburst squash and wild Japanese mushrooms in a cabernet-thyme-peppercorn reduction. The accompanying wine was Bonterra’s McNab Cabernet Blend of biodynamic cabernet sauvignon, old vine petite sirrah and merlot grapes.
The meal was capped by Lindsay Criscuolo’s Valrhona White Chocolate Torte, served with yuzu curd and green tea mousse, accompanied by Bonterra’s divine Muscat, with delicate notes of hineysuckle and orange blossom.
At the end of the feast, Micheal Wei and his star chefs, as well as winemaker Cichocki, received a hearty round of applause from guests from afar and near. According to Michael Wei, “It was a beautiful marriage of East and West.” I was fortunate to be invited, and fully concur with his assessment.
Wei was further honored when world-famous Sotheby’s New York Auction House invited him to be the featured chef in its Terrace Cafe to complement an exhibition of prized classical Chinese ceramics. When Wei arrived at Sotheby’s to plan the menu, he realized that this was the prized collection of one of his special customers at Yangming.