I become aware roughly a month ago about a wonderful benefit that was being held to help the Jarrett family defray the costs of bringing their second adopted daughter home to the United States from China. Being born a baby girl was a disadvantage in Chinese culture, but being born blind she was considered essentially a social pariah. Jeff Jarrett, chef at the North End restaurant in Hudson, Ohio, and his wife Tammy, after having three boys of their own, decided to adopt their first daughter, Jasmine, from China. While Jasmine does have some visual impairment, she isn't blind. The joy that Jasmine has brought to the Jarrett household made them consider adopting a second child, Jewel, who is completely blind.
While adopting unwanted children from China used to be more reasonable, lately the cost to adopt a child, even a special needs child, has become very expensive. Friends convinced Jeff that he should hold a fundraiser and allow some of the most prominent Cleveland-based chefs and caterers to come together and help with the cost of bringing Jewel home to the US. I've been told that Jeff was a little reluctant, but what resulted was nothing short of really magical and it just goes to show you that those in the restaurant and food service industry fiercely protect their own.
For a measly $25 donation, the event tonight, hosted at the Cleveland Sight Center on the corner of Chester Avenue and East 101st, had some of the major players in the Cleveland culinary scene participating. There were a total of nineteen different tables, representing sixteen different businesses. Each table had an amuse bouche / small appetizer-sized portion of food. I arrived shortly before 5:30 PM to find each table still setting up and prepping for dinner service. I walked around, spotting a number of friends and food blogging colleagues and prepared for the onslaught of awesome food. At about 5:45 PM, it seemed that the food machine was in full swing, so I started working my way around the room. Fortunately, there was a small area just off the main service room where we could sit, eat, talk, and just enjoy the food.
Let's start working our way through the tables together, shall we?
Table #1: Matt Baber, Naya Bistro and Lounge, Highland Heights:
Not a good way to start the food descriptions, I know, but this was actually the last thing I tried and I forgot to actually ask the chef what it was. What I THINK it was ... braised spicy pulled beef on crostini with a thin slice of cucumber on top. The meat was tender and juicy and had quite the kick to it. The cucumber slice alleviated the spice a little bit, but not too much.
Table #2: Dante Bocuzzi, Dante, Tremont:
This was a tomato jam with a mozarella cheese spheroid and a bit of micro pepper for garnish. The spheroid was the only real instance tonight of "molecular gastronomy." Only the outside of the sphere was set. After placing the entire bite in your mouth, the orb essentially explodes releasing all of the flavor and juice which mingles with the other flavors.
Table #3: Zack Conover, The Leopard, Aurora:
Sadly, this station was empty.
Table #4: Ellis Cooley, AMP 150, Cleveland:
This was a cauliflower panna cotta with a layer of pureed chives and it was topped with a bit of caviar and driblets of more oil. While most panna cotta are sweet, this one was entirely savory and the texture was incredibly smooth.
Table #5: Brian Doyle, World's Fare Culinary / Danny's Organic Marketplace:
This was quite the healthy item tonight. Composed of green lentils, pumpkin seeds, carrots, tomato and cucumber, it was tossed in a light vinaigrette and topped with Chinese Toon plant which gave it a very earthy, mildly spicy flavor. Oddly enough, the Toon plant is considered to be a weed; perhaps the application of it in a culinary setting is enough to elevate it to new heights.
Table #6: Aaron Guzik, L'Albatros, Cleveland:
Chicken liver mousseline on a toasted crostini with an apple chutney and topped with micro pepper. Oh. My. God. This was fabulousness on a cracker! This was a perfect one bite popper and once I started to chew and the flavors began to meld, I was in heaven. In fact, I selected Chef Guzik as my favorite bite of food tonight and there was definitely some stiff competition from the other tables.
Table #7: Heather Haviland, Lucky's Cafe / Vine and Bean, Cleveland:
Lucky's first of two entries was this decadently rich and creamy macaroni and cheese. Apparently this is already on the menu and I can definitely see myself ordering this item the next time I go in. Be forewarned, however, as there was MUCH cream involved in making this dish (they were making it a la minute right at the station). I know that many of you already understand the skinny (pardon the phrase) when you go out to eat. It tastes good because of the cream or butter used in many of the dishes. This version of macaroni and cheese is definitely not diet food.
Table #8: KY-Wai Wong, Lucky's Cafe, Tremont:
Lucky's second entry: This was an apple crisp topped with whipped cream and a homemade caramel sauce. The apples were sourced locally and I have to say I enjoyed this dessert as it wasn't too sweet and the textural play between the apples, the crisp, and the whipped cream was a nice contrast.
Table #9: Mark Cleland, North End, Hudson:
Here you have the first of two pork belly dishes presented this evening. This was a cube of braised pork belly and plantain chip served over a pineapple saffron sauce (which also felt like it had been mounted with some butter as well). The pork belly was incredibly tender and the crispy plantain chip added some nice texture. The acid from the pineapple sauce cut through some of the fattiness of the pork.
Table #10: Jeff Jarrett, North End, Hudson:
This was a beet cake topped with something creamy. I popped the entire bite into my mouth and while this had a little bit of sweetness from the beets, I would still characterize this as a savory dish rather than sweet. This would make an excellent amuse bouche.
Table #11: Jeremy Kisy, KJ Greens and Adam Bostwick, Melange, Beachwood:
This was a homemade chocolate ravioli filled with foie gras and topped with macerated strawberries. The woman standing in front of me was confused as to what the addition of a savory element like foie gras meant in terms of dinner service. The chef reassured her that it was definitely dessert. She looked unconvinced, but when I tasted it, it definitely tasted like dessert to me. While it was tasty, this was one of those times where I felt that even a couple of grains of coarse sea salt sprinkled on top would've really catapulted the taste through the roof.
Table #12: Mike Nowak, Bar Cento, Ohio City:
This was a braised short rib and mushroom ragu topped with crispy coriander dusted potato chips. As with most dishes served at Bar Cento, the flavor was rich and complex and the playfulness of the chips worked well with the tender braised meat.
Table #13: Lauren Stephenson, North End, Hudson:
This was an Alinea-esque play on a chocolate dessert. The chocolate bar was topped with toasted nuts and a strawberry "leather." I tasted individual components on the dish separately and was pleased, but it wasn't until I scraped the entire contents onto my fork and ate it as a whole that I was rewarded by a sweet, bitter, chocolate, and crunchy mouthful. It was incredibly complex and most importantly, good.
Table #14: Matt Mathlage, Light Bistro, Ohio City:
This was the second sighting of pork belly. These finger sandwiches were comprised of braised and shredded pork belly and topped with what tasted and smelled to be micro oregano. This two-bite sandwich was absolutely fantastic and easily took the number two spot on my favorites tonight.
Table #15: Matt Mytro, Stove Monkeys, Cleveland:
This was being promoted as "faux sushi." Here you have an infused cream cheese filling along with melon and cucumber wrapped in a prosciutto nori.
Table #16: Jonathon Sawyer, The Greenhouse Tavern, Cleveland:
On the left, a potato and leek (aka vichyssoise) shooter and a miniature fried bacon arancini to the right. The potato flavor of the vichyssoise was quite prominent (in a good way). Both were delicious on their own and tasting the soup after chewing on the arancini really married the flavors together well.
Table #17: Stacey Stoudemire, Simply Elegant Catering:
This was a curried rice and curried turkey meatball. The curry was incredibly light in both components of this dish.
Table #18: Eric Wells, Skye LaRae Culinary Services:
There were two kinds of bruschetta being served at table #18. The first was a quite decent tomato, reduced balsamic, micro basil and grated Parmesan cheese.
The second was a roasted red pepper, bleu cheese and reduced balsamic vinegar.
Table #19: Wendy Thompson, A Cookie and a Cupcake, Tremont:
The final table held about ten varieties of mini-cupcakes. While there were definitely flavors for every palate, I decided to go with two that sounded appealing. On the left was a chocolate and raspberry cupcake and on the right was an espresso cupcake. Both cakes were incredibly moist and tender. The flavor contrasts (raspberry and espresso) were in the toppings and while both were good, there wasn't enough oomph to serve as the counterpoint flavor they should have. That being said, I still think they were really good cupcakes.
As you can imagine, gentle reader, by the time I ate myself through the entire room, I was quite full. It was like having an eighteen course tasting menu. Fortunately, I had picked up a complimentary bottle of water before sitting down to start tasting the food. The water served as both my palate cleanser and a way to make sure I remained hydrated during my dinner tonight. While the event is obviously over, I would like to encourage you to either make a donation to the Jarrett's through their website or visit one of the many businesses listed above to show them how much you appreciate their support of this fantastic cause.