At the James Beard Foundation food matters, and its mission is to celebrate, nurture, and honor America's diverse culinary heritage andfuture through programs that educate and inspire. In keeping with this mission, the Foundation has, over the last three years, hosted Taste America®.
10 Food Adventures in 10 Cities
The menu collaboration allows multiple, distinct culinary points of view to speak with one voice and reflect our country’s diverse culinary landscape and wealth of talent. This annual event hosts fundraising dinners in 10 different cities in America and celebrates the local chefs and cuisine in each city by putting them center stage. These dinners are an intimate collaboration between visiting All Star Chefs and Local Star Chefs and together they create menus that brilliantly embody the vibe, culture, cuisine, and local food scene, as well as each chef’s vision for that meal.
What’s on the Menu
Each event gives the chefs a more visible platform to highlight other contributions in food via book signings, cooking demos, tastings, and interviews. This year, the event was presented in association with the Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card from J.P. Morgan, which lets cardholders turn rewards into exceptional experiences like the Taste America® dinners.
Each dinner began with a walk-around tasting reception featuring local chefs and restaurants that represented their city’s unique food culture. This was followed by a lavish dinner presented by one or more Taste America® All Star Chefs, other James Beard Award winning chefs (JBF winners), and selected local chefs.
Although the All Star Chefs and Local Star Chefs came to these events with different skill sets and career trajectories, sharing their culinary point of view and working together as a diverse team highlighted each region’s cuisine, created a memorable experience, and built a bond of collegial friendship the chefs won’t soon forget. While the perspectives of the All Star Chefs and Local Star Chefs may have been different, their response to the experience was often similar.
In L.A., the evening’s stars wore white chefs’ jackets instead of tuxedos and the chefs who prepared food for the walk around tasting included Local Star chef Ray Garcia, owner of Broken Spanish; JBF Award winner Timothy Hollingsworth of the soon-to-open Otium; Michael Hung of Viviane; Jessica Koslow from Sqirl Kitchen; and Zach Pollack of Alimento.
All of the chefs’ featured dishes told the story of California’s exceptional quality produce; fresh Pacific seafood; Asian and Latin influenced local cuisine; Italian contributions; and the blend of classic old world and modern California cuisine that makes L.A.’s food distinct. As Hugh Acheson put it, “I love the bright diversity of the LA food scene — and how you can always find an amazing amount of value within the market.”
The lineup of chefs for the dinner that followed included Local Star Chefs Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook of Animal, Margarita Manzke of République who prepared dessert, and JBF winner and Taste America® All Star Chef Hugh Acheson, owner of Atlanta’s Empire State South. Together, these chefs cooked a four-course dinner for 300 people at The Ebell of Los Angeles and for All Star Chef Acheson, “Collaborating with all of my fellow chefs was great — everyone just tried to help each other out, it was really very effortless.” Perfectly cooked, plated, and served, together this newly formed team presented a meal that reflected Acheson’s new Southern cooking and the cuisine that has made L.A. a great American food city.
In Minneapolis, the Taste America® All Star Chef was acclaimed chef Jonathan Waxman, owner of Barbuto, and he was joined by JBF award winner and Local Star Chef Gavin Kaysen, owner of Spoon and Stable, who headlined a long list of other exceptional local chefs for the walk around tasting reception. This talented group included a long list of other super local restaurant chefs and chefs from different sectors of the food industry — some of whom served dishes worthy of Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods program.
The list of featured local chefs included host chef Timothy Fischer of Loews Minneapolis Hotel; Thomas Boemer of Corner Table; Lenny Russo of Heartland in St. Paul; TJ Rawitzer of The Third Bird; and Jim Christiansen of Heyday. On hand were chefs from institutional food companies, culinary schools, and local food purveyors. The lineup of guest chefs and foods included sponsor chef Chris Follari of Sodexo; Le Cordon Bleu chefs; chefs from the Food Building, Red Table Meat Co.; and purveyors from the Lone Grazer Creamery.
For chefs used to being in charge, a multi-course collaboration with eight or more other experienced chefs might be challenging, but Taste America® All Star Chef Jonathan Waxman rose to the occasion, and Local Star Chef Gavin Kaysen commented that, “As always it is one of the most inspiring tasks when working with other chefs, you are able to get into their mind for a brief moment and experience their food the way that they always wanted you to see it.”
Following the reception, guests were invited to enjoy a four-course menu accompanied by a live jazz band and horn playing by the Potash Twins. The meal included fresh salads prepared with locally sourced ingredients, chef Kaysen’s smoked sturgeon reminiscent of the German and Scandinavian foods found in the region, and platters of hearty steaks typical in the Midwest and interpreted by Jonathan Waxman. Dessert followed from renowned pastry chef Diane Yang, also of Spoon and Stable, and she served a honey cream cake with fall garnish, which according to chef Gavin is the most popular dessert at the restaurant.
The beauty of events like Taste America® is they acquaint American diners with the incredible wealth of talent and delicious foods in each region but also give chefs a chance to meet and cook with other chefs they might otherwise have never known. For chef Kaysen, the Taste America® dinner made him appreciate that you never stop learning. “I learn everyday, this day was no different, Jonathan cooked potatoes that seemed as though it was something everyone could do, but then you tasted it and wondered how he did it,” he said. And for All Star Chef Acheson, “I always really enjoy working with my fellow chefs, watching how they work, and the way they plate — you can always learn something new from collaborating with other people.”
What surprised rising star chef Gavin Kaysen the most about the Taste America® experience was, “how smooth it went from start to finish.” This collaboration experience reminded him to “always keep an open mind.” And when asked what he enjoyed most about the process, he replied “I enjoyed cooking with one of the most talented chefs of our time.”
Summer Whitford is the D.C. Editor and a food, drink and travel writer at The Daily Meal. In addition to lifestyle topics, Summer also writes about culture and the arts at Woman Around Town. You can follow her on Twitter @FoodandWineDiva and on Instagram at thefoodandwinediva.