Last year, I didn’t have the nerve to say a word to him. But last Saturday night at the frenzied-but-fabulous For the Love of Chocolate gala, we arrived early before the hordes descended on Rick Bayless. I got a chance to talk to him and asked him what is the best way for a home cook to make salmon.
He told me that salmon doesn’t like medium heat. I asked him about broiling or baking the fish, and he nixed those ideas. Bayless told me to sauté the salmon in a searing hot pan—such as an iron skillet—until it forms a nice crust on both sides. And he said he actually removes the fish from the heat when it still looks raw in the middle.
For me, talking to Rick Bayless was just one of the highlights of the fete, which benefited the scholarship program at the French Pastry School of Kennedy-King College. Here are some other highlights of the night.
With 75 chefs and so many luscious, chocolaty options from which to choose, after awhile, some of the sweet selections became a blur. But one of the most memorable selections was Rick Bayless’s warm, bittersweet, petite chocolate cake. Sort of a fudgy, flourless chocolate cake offset with a slightly salty tamale square and a spoonful of avocado cream, it was topped off with a sprinkle of crunchy microgreens. Odd-sounding, I know, but the complex combo of textures and tastes was delectable.
The other standout dessert was a chocolate passion fruit creation with black sesame and a frozen chocolate truffle from executive pastry chef Patrick Fahey of the Café des Architectes, who was very sweet (no pun intended) and totally unassuming.
Other desserts worth mentioning:
I got a kick of the chocolate smoothie with house-made marshmallow served in a shot glass from Zed 451. I smile at the thought of the edible chocolate straw, used to drink up the smoothie. It made me think of Next, which, from what I’ve heard, is the ultimate in creative restaurant experiences. I dream of going there, but as I imagine most other people, I just can't justify the cost.
The cream puff (I think green tea was the flavor) from Slurping Turtle was yummy, practically bursting with creamy filling—just they way I like them, but I would have loved to have tried a noodle dish—especially since reading about the eatery in the Dining section of the Chicago Tribune. And I felt a little sorry for Slurping Turtle's owner because the room in which they were located was fairly empty, which I believe was because the music was deafeningly LOUD! As I said in last year's post about the party (but nobody seemed to have paid any attention): Organizers, you put together an unbelievably great event , but please turn the music down!
Eli’s Cheesecake’s chocolate-dipped hazelnut shortbread cookie was buttery good and presented in a very cool earth-toned envelop-like package with a chocolate-caramel “seal” on it. It wonder if you can order them in bulk? It would be a great leave-behind to offer at parties.
The artisanal cheeses --aged gouda, sharp cheddar and blue cheese-- from the Great American Cheese Collection were wonderful and a nice counterpoint to all the sweet choices. This place has cheese tastings the first Saturday of every month, and I’m definitely going to check them out.
The savory trend at the party this year was meat selections but alas, no chicken in sight. Some of the meat dishes were hearty and good. Others not so much.
One of the best things about the For the Love of Chocolate event, besides all the delicious goodies, is that food lovers get to hobnob with the hottest chefs. I got to speak to Paul Kahan of Blackbird fame. I asked him about the gray, crispy topping on the sturgeon dish, which his restaurant was serving at the party. He told me the topping was made from the skin of the fish, which I could have done without.
The annual gala is a black-tie affair, but does that mean the women have to wear black too? Ninety-nine percent of the women wore black, including yours truly. It felt a bit like we were all wearing a uniform. I wonder why we all made such a safe, boring dressing choice at such an original affair? Just saying.
Never mind. The For the Love of Chocolate event is one of the most decadent, fun and sinfully delicious parties ever, and it's all for a great cause. Tickets were sold out this year so if you're smart, next year, you'll order your tickets early.