In Los Angeles, most people ask you where you’re going for Thanksgiving. It’s a city full of transplants and the freeways always feel a little more free right around the holidays. Most people have gone home.
But this past Tuesday, deep within the winding hills of Bel-Air, home came to Los Angeles, and in the unlikely form of a black-tie Beverly Hills Caviar tasting to benefit the Harold Robinson Foundation. On hand to whip up three-plus courses of caviar concoctions was none other than Top Chef runner-up and star of his own SyFy network cooking show, Marcel’s Quantum Kitchen, Marcel Vigneron.
At first glance, the event seemed anything but home-like, even though it took place in a private residence. Ladies were dressed in elegant evening gowns and men were in ascots and tuxedos. The Malibu String Quartet serenaded guests as they roamed around a mini-convention hall of various vendor booths, including a jewelry line, a cosmetics table, a cheese and dip corner via Pico Boulevard’s Roxbury Market featuring the kind of cheeses you try and fail to not go back to, an icewine sampler, and more. Particularly glaring (and definitely not your average Thanksgiving table decoration), were two prehistoric looking animal carcasses — one a smoked alligator and the other an actual sturgeon from which Osetra caviar is harvested — perched upon the kitchen counter like sleeping cats.
Gator and caviar, anyone?
And maybe it was the flowing tumblers of Courtâge sparkling wine or the audaciously open kitchen, but just as the first course was getting ready to be served, guests began to loosen up. One courageous fellow snatched up a knife and cut right into the gator itself, before kindly serving pink, juicy spoonfuls into the hands and bread chips of delighted onlookers.
Most agreed the sturgeon was better, but the novelty of the gator was not lost. Marcel, meanwhile, hardly the impetuous persona portrayed on Top Chef, cooked calmly behind the counter as eager washes of women (the men not far behind) engulfed the kitchen as their own, awaiting their first salty taste of fish roe.
It is a tribute to chef Marcel that his celebrity status was outright trumped by his simple yet creative dishes. “Basically, I just kind of wanted to really accentuate the actual caviar,” noted Marcel, “and use flavors and different textures that are appealing and that will bring out that really nice, briny, creamy, salty flavor that you get with caviar.”
Nitrous-oxide champagne topped with Russian Malossol caviar.
His initial offering came in the form of a nitrous-oxide champagne topped with Russian Malossol caviar — a fresh take on a classic sweet and salty combination. After many-a-glasses consumed, Marcel put out a surprising vegan dish: a dashi jelly with asparagus cream and crème fraîche Dippin’ Dots, alongside raw vegan caviar (right).
Next up was a house-favorite for sure: a hiramasa tartare with lemon, olive oil, salt, and shallot, finished off with rainbow caviar. And not to let the egg lovers down, the third and fourth dishes consisted of caviar-topped aerated scrambled eggs, first inside a half-eggshell, and then deviled with piquillo pepper sauce — both “simple,” according to Marcel.
By the end of the night, would-be strangers were sharing Cuban cigars on the balcony together or indulging themselves in delicious rum-soaked ladyfingers courtesy of JG Cuisine. The Malibu String Quartet played their hearts out, giving the players on the Titanic a run for their money. A debt of sincere gratitude was extended on behalf of the Harold Robinson Foundation, an organization devoted to providing underprivileged children the means to attend a safe, nurturing, and nature-rich camp environment.
And the huge house in the hills, thanks in no small part to Marcel and his amazing staff, felt a little more like home. “I try to do it as much as I possibly can,” insisted Marcel. “Anytime I can give back to the community, I do what I can do.”
(All photos courtesy Sara Michele)