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Azureazure.com's Terry Zarikian takes us on a journey through the best dishes of 2015.



James Beard Foundation Best Dishes of the Year 
as revisited by Azure Azure's Terry Zarikian



Crepe cake - Photo by Rina Oh

At the end of every year the James Beard Foundation selects their favorite dishes prepared by chefs who participated in over 250 events around the country. I have been fortunate enough to have tasted most of them, and found many surprising combinations, some as simple as an Avocado with Toasted Pumpernickel to more complex as Veal Brains Meuniere. As I focus on my savory winners, I salute  pastry chef Chrysta Poulos’s Crêpe Cake with Brown Butter Crêpes, Caramelized Georgia Apples, and Apple Butter, a dessert inspired on the French classic mille-feuille, traditionally made with puff pastry, swapped for paper thin and delicate French crepes. Layers upon layers are accented by whipped sweet cream, deliciously caramelized apples and a smear of apple butter. A staple at Atlanta’s Rocket Farm Restaurants, it’s  my favorite dessert this year.

avocado toast - Photo by Ken Goodman

Two chefs to watch for 2016 are Alon Shaya from Shaya in New Orleans and Jose Mendin from Pubbelly in Miami Beach.  Alon, a 2015 James Beard Award winner for Best Chef:South, stands out by taking such a simplistic approach with his Avocado with Toasted Pumpernickel, Smoked Whitefish and Pink Peppercorns. The key to his success is the precision of his star ingredients: molasses-laced freshly baked pumpernickel toast, topped with slabs of perfectly ripped buttery avocado with nicely unctuous smoky whitefish. The pink peppercorns heighten the flavors to an adictive level.

Veal Brains Meuniere with Blue CrabTartar Sauce - Photo by Jeff Gurwin

, on the other hand, took an old French bistro classic, Cervelle Meunière and  reinvigorated it by going over the top and adding a home made tartar sauce enriched with a descent amount of Florida blue crab, crunchy pan sautéed capers, and perfectly pickled sea beens. The secret to his Veal Brains Meuniere with Blue Crab, Tartar Sauce, Soy Brown Butter, Capers and Pickled Sea Beans is the way he expertly browns  the veal brains with the brown butter. Since I was a child I was never fond of mushy brains, regardless of how they were prepared, but this dish made me change my mind, as Mendin achieves a more sweetbread-like firm texture with a myriad of umami filled flavors that make me a new fan.

raw beef - Photo by Phil Gross

In Santa Monica, California, chef Jeremy Fox at Rustic Canyon serves a Raw Beef with Uni, Sunchokes, Shoyu and Ramps, a dish inspired by NYC Estela’s beef tartare, my favorite beef tartare so far. A JBF favorite is celebrated for “The perfect balance of textures, the umami-packed flavor of the uni, the salty bite from the shoyu, and the unexpected, delicate floral notes from the spring lilies all crescendoed into the ultimate rarity: complete silence, the mark of a true culinary slam-dunk” according to Elena North-Kelly, Senior Editor of JBF.

Veal Agnolotti - Photo by Elena North-Kelly

Light and dreamy are two words that come to mind when describing Chef Eric Clarke’s Sweet Corn Agnolotti with Heirloom Green Tomatoes, Toasted Hazelnuts, Black Truffles, and Ham Hock Consommé, a dish she serves at Casa Luca in Washington, D.C. Sweet summer corn filled handmade agnolotti pasta parcels float in a pool of  clear but flavorful ham hock broth, only to be accented by the multi dimensional texture and flavors of crisp green tomatoes, toasted hazelnuts and the fragrant shavings of earthy black truffles. Edible flower petals add small splashes of color, an eye pleasing complement. ■

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