Room 39's Ted Habiger talks James Beard dinner

Room 39's Ted Habiger talks about his James Beard dinner.

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Room 39 chef Andrew Sloan roasts lamb chops for this weeks James Beard House dinner.
  • Andrew Folger
  • Room 39 chef Andrew Sloan, left, roasts lamb chops for this week's James Beard House dinner.

It's an honor for any chef to be invited to cook a dinner at the James Beard House in New York City. For Room 39's chefs and co-owners Ted Habiger and Andrew Sloan, it was a dream that came a little earlier than they thought it would. In December, the local chefs were called by the nonprofit organization and were asked to cook a dinner featuring Missouri and Kansas ingredients in late February or early March, according to Habiger.

They agreed, of course, and presented their meal to 50 guests (including a contingent of Kansas Citians who flew to New York specifically for the dinner) on Tuesday, March 5.

"I do think it's a rite of passage for a chef," Habiger says. "It's been a goal of mine since I started cooking seriously. I knew that someday I'd get there. Standing in that kitchen at the Beard House is a little bit of life affirmation. This is a kitchen where legends like Julia Child and Paul Bocuse cooked."

Ted Habiger and Andrew Sloan in a legendary kitchen.
  • Andrew Folger
  • Ted Habiger and Andrew Sloan in a legendary kitchen.
Before leaving Kansas City, Habiger and Sloan shipped the foodstuffs they wanted to use on their menu to two New York restaurants, where they had friends working in the kitchens, and to their hotel. A team of culinary helpers also flew in for the occasion: Habiger's wife, Jackie; Sloan's wife, Shay; Room 39 barista Andrew Folger; and Room 39's chef de cuisine at the Leawood location, Brandon Winn. Amy Michael, from Cafe Trio, also flew in to assist the chefs. A former Room 39 chef de cuisine, Molly Breidenthal (who's now at Brooklyn's Lulu & Po restaurant) was also assisting in the kitchen.

The five-course meal began with an amuse-bouche of candied bacon (from Kansas City's Fritz's Smoked Meats) with a dollop of locally grown blueberry jam. "We also gave a small jar of the jam to each of the guests as they left the dinner," Habiger says.

The second course was a trout salad with Missouri caviar served with creme fraiche and flatbread, followed by chicken livers with bacon, shallots and capers. The next course was a nettle sheep's milk gnudi - a gnocchi-like dumpling with little or no flour - in a nettle cream with house-made pancetta and sided with a parmesan crisp.

Habiger and Sloan's entree was a roasteed rack of lamb crusted with mustard and herbs and served with Good Mother Stallard beans and salsa verde.

"For dessert we made persimmon-and-chestnut doughnut holes with a Bossa ice cream - bossa is the stinkiest cheese that Green Dirt Farm makes - with a little Missouri honey."

The persimmons, frozen from last season, came from Prairie Birthday Farm in Kearney, Missouri.

"The most stressful part of the project," Habiger says, "was getting our local products to New York. That alone cost $500. But once we were in the kitchen cooking, that was pleasurable."

After the meal was over and the pots and pans were cleaned, Habiger and Sloan and crew went out to eat.

"We had a great meal at the Spotted Pig restaurant in the West Village - roquefort burgers and squid stew."

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