I just enjoyed 48 hours of culinary spontaneity in Naperville, Illinois. I dined on exquisite food, laughed so hard I cried and have memories that will last a lifetime.
It all started when Beth Peterson from Beth’s Table invited me to a series of exclusive summer tasting dinners with Food Network Chef Ben Vaughn. I met Beth and Ben in November at the World Food Championships in Las Vegas.
Deep down I really wanted to attend, but I was on the fence since I live nowhere near Chicago. A couple of days later, Heather Tallman from Basilmomma RSVPed yes. Heather and I have been virtual friends for a couple of years. We follow each other on Facebook, and I appear regularly on her online radio show Around the Kitchen Sink.
Her RSVP sealed the deal. I had to go now. I had to meet Heather and spend an enjoyable couple of days with Ben and Beth. So, I hopped a plane from Vegas to Chicago, rented a car and journeyed to Naperville.
The town is so charming. Historic homes line the streets with plush English gardens. I arrived at the Harrison House Bed and Breakfast. As I reached to open the door, Beth appeared on the other side. That’s when the fun began.
The first night, we had a cheese dinner at Chef Amaury at 33 West. After enjoying the five-course meal, we toured the chef’s kitchen. It was quite a treat to go behind the scenes.
The next morning, it was time for Beth’s big event at Liam Brex. Pottery Barn set out an array of patriotic decorations and serving trays. These blonde wood pedestals adorned the front island and were the talk of the party. I definitely need to pick up a set.
Beth and I ventured off to Whole Foods for some last minute ingredients for the chef. I’ve never shopped for Citric Acid and Lecithin before.
When we arrived back at the kitchen, Chef Ben taught me how to break down a whole rib-eye. He said it’s best to use your hands as much as possible, so you don’t tear the muscle. He removed the outer fat to create steaks that had the appearance of a filet with the great marbled flavor of rib-eye. He also produced the deckle, a flavorful cap on the steak.
In no time, dozens of people filled the Liam Brex studio kitchen. Wine, beer and purified water were flowing as Chef Ben plated the first course: Catfish Brandade, Caramelized Vidalia’s, Avocado Mousse and Corn Milk. The fritter had a nice texture complemented by the smooth and creamy corn milk and avocado mousse.
It amazed me how chef plated 70 plates so exquisitely while still keeping everything at a perfect temperature.
Course 2 was Maple Leaf Farms Duck Prosciutto, Duck Crackling and Black-eyed Pea Hummus. Chef Ben spent hours on this dish. He started preparing a duck marmalade early in the morning, and it left a lovely bacony aroma in the kitchen all day.
Next it was time to see what magic he created with the rib-eye. He prepared a Rib-eye Duo of Smoked Deckle of Rib and Eye of Rib Carpaccio with Olive Oil Caramelized Cauliflower. The beef was so tender. It had just a light sear and a hint of thyme. This was my favorite course.
The dinner was capped off with Ben’s One-of-a-Kind Chocolate Cake. This cake was made with duck fat and served with a Duck Caramel Sauce, Clotted Cream and Peanut Butter Effervescent. It had sweet and sour notes. The chocolate, caramel and cream were smooth and silky and the peanut butter was a perfect representation of chef’s playful personality.
I wish I lived close enough to attend the other five dinners. I hear Heather is driving back. Maybe I’ll be able to find a way…or a sponsor…to send me back to Chi-town.
If you live anywhere within driving distance of Naperville, or you just feel like a spontaneous 48-hour thrill, I highly recommend you book a ticket. The next dinners are July 18, Aug. 8 and 28, Sept. 12 and Oct. 3. Learn more at http://bethstable.com/.