This weekend, I had a culinary experience I never thought I would have. I participated in a food festival. I do not mean I went to one (I’ve been to Taste of Chicago once years ago and won’t go again. I am not a huge fan of massive crowds like that.) I was actually behind the scenes!
Millenium Park was the place to be for Chicago Gourmet this weekend. Chef Radhika Desai, the executive chef of English and a great friend of ours, was picked to participate in the kickoff event, the Hamburger Hop. The Hamburger Hop was a burger challenge that pitted fifteen major Chicago chefs against each other. The high-caliber competition included Radhika Desai, English executive chef and Top Chef alumna; Stephanie Izard, owner/chef Girl & the Goat and Top Chef Season 4 winner; Ryan LaRoche, chef at NoMi; Kevin Hickey, chef of Four Seasons Chicago, among many others.
And the judges. Let me tell you about the judges. Well, I will tell you about one judge. Two words: Thomas Keller. Chef and restaurant guru of French Laundry, Bouchon, Per Se and Ad Hoc. The only chef to have three simultaneous 3-star Michelin restaurants in the United States. (By the way, the director of the Michelin Guide also was a judge at the Hamburger Hop!) Oh, oh and the hosts! Chef Cat Cora (of Iron Chef America fame) and Art Smith (Oprah’s ex-personal chef and owner/chef of Table 52 in Chicago) hosted this incredible event.
How good does this sound: lamb burgers with feta, cucumber, mint & cilantro on onion brioche. What were we doing there, you ask? Brian and I were called into action by Chef Radhika to help with her burger station. We had to a) cook and prepare enough burger tastings for 700 people and b) cook and prepare judges burgers. Brian was the grillmaster and I was on assemblage. Brian would hand me a perfectly cooked lamb burger and then I did this: bun→ sauce→cucumber→tomato→feta→greens→burger→bun. About 100 times. I would then hand the burger off to an awesome culinary student, Lisa, who cut the burger into quarters and passed them to the serving table. We were a well-oiled machine. It was a great time and I would jump at the opportunity to help Chef Radhika again.
We didn’t win. *sniff sniff* Chef Radhika’s lamb burger was a-mazing, and I would go back for 100 more (I would even assemble them!) The other burgers we had were very good as well, but I have to say, we were robbed!
At the end of the day, we had 15 significant chefs who make fantastic (and sometimes revolutionary) food in Chicago at Millenium Park making burgers. Great burgers, sometimes with a few bells and whistles. But really, the burger was the star: bun→sauce→accoutrements→burger→bun. Lovely. Sometimes, there is no need for foie gras or caviar. Even the most extraordinary and accomplished chefs enjoy making the “lowly” burger.
Inspired by this ability of these chefs to elevate such an everyday food, while still keeping it accessible, I turned to one of the ultimate and original gastronomic powerhouses in Chicago: Charlie Trotter. His ability to make potatoes better (and potatoes are already pretty good!) is pretty awesome.
Oh, just one more memorable moment from my Hamburger Hop experience…I met Jacques Torres! The ultimate chocolatier and pastry chef. You can keep your Jennifer Aniston and Tom Hanks…these chefs are my celebrities!
Adapted from Charlie Trotter
Here is a good explanation of what a pave is.
6 small potatoes, peeled
2 cups heavy cream (or combination heavy cream and milk)
1 cup buttermilk
1½ tablespoons Herbes de Provence (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons canole or vegetable oil
Line an 8-x-8-inch baking pan with aluminum foil and butter or spray with cooking spray. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Slice the potatoes very thin (I use a mandolin for this, but a very sharp knife and steady hand would work as well.)
Combine the heavy cream, milk (if using,) buttermilk, Herbes de Provence, some salt and pepper into a large bowl. Add the potato slices to the cream mixture and toss everything together. Make sure the potato slices aren’t sticking together and that all the potato slices are coated with the cream mixture.
Layer half of the potatoes in the prepared baking pan. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Scoop some of the Herbes de Provence out of the cream and sprinkle over the potatoes. Pour about 2-3 tablespoons of cream over the potatoes. Sprinkle half of the grated parmesan cheese evenly over the layered potatoes. Repeat the process with the remaining potatoes and parmesan cheese.
Cover the top of the potatoes with a buttered/cooking sprayed piece of aluminum foil. Weigh down the potatoes with something. I used a casserole dish and a cast iron skillet. You can use another 8-x-8-inch pan that fits into the first and something else heavy. Place the baking pan and weights into the oven. Bake for 1½ hours until potatoes are tender.
Remove from the oven. Keeping weights in place, refridgerate for at least 4 hours (or up to overnight.)
Remove from the refrigerator, remove the weights. Remove the top piece of aluminum foil (I forgot to do this, so it is okay if you miss it. You’ll just have to peel it off later.) Flip the pave out onto a cutting board and remove the bottom layer of aluminum foil. With a sharp knife, slice the pave into 9 squares.
Heat the oil in a cast iron or heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. When hot, add 3 or 4 pave squares to the skillet. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes on each side, or until each side is crispy and golden brown and the pave squares are warmed through. Carefully remove from skillet and serve.