Once in awhile, a series of events truly takes your breath away.
In April, one expertly crafted, perfectly timed, delicious meal did exactly that. We opened the door to an empty dining room, gorgeously set tables, bustling staff, and a whirlwind of delicious smells.
Local chef and visionary Jeremy Hansen took a leap of faith and purchased a large Spokane building with the dream to turn it into an artistic event space that would eventually hold not one, but two of his business ventures - Inland Pacific Kitchen and Hogwash Whiskey Den. This space is the former Washington Cracker Building, and to see the potential for the space, you had to dig deep into your soul and see what no one else could. That's where Jeremy took this idea and created a masterfully designed space that housed an incredible event that brought together 15 chefs from around the Pacific Northwest in one of the largest collaborative meals in Spokane history.
This event was unlike the chef competitions that we so often see on television these days. The camaraderie in the kitchen was immediately palpable upon arrival. Despite the fact that chefs can tend to be extremely competitive due to the fight to keep restaurants alive and relevant, every chef was smiling, laughing and then at once, hard at work on the task of the moment. Each chef or chef team (in some instances) was responsible for one course at a time, and their entire effort could be dedicated to the perfection of their respective plates, all the while watching, encouraging, tasting, celebrating and learning together.
We came early anticipating a sold out crowd, and we were glad to see the appetizers in the process of being plated.
The prep kitchen hard at work.
Mr. Plately and myself.
Phenomenal appetizers for the social hour set the tone for a memorable meal. The approachable nature of the chefs hard at work made the experience both interactive and informative. Timena, Jamie and Erika were responsible for these three - from the top: tuna tartare crostini, apple brie wheel with basil, and apple compote stuffed pork loin. Our favorite by far was the pork loin, which had an unctuous texture and the perfect balance of seasoning with a house-made cracker toasted so perfectly that it provided a light, pleasant, salty crunch to counter the sweetness of the onion and wonderfully complex apple compote.
The social hour scene.
Menu. We each tried to guess what our favorite would be, and we were very surprised by the result. Can you guess?
Our friend, Greg Kauwe, of NomNerd fame, who is one of the most hilarious, intelligent and interesting people we know. We were thrilled to see that he was in town for this spectacular event.
A sneak peek at Hogwash Whiskey Den and the MacGyver-style preparations for dinner upstairs. The sous vide machine is going in full-force.
We were already having a great time, and the meal hadn't even begun! This speaks to the wonderfully professional, well-versed, friendly staff, as well as great company.
The Blue Fin tartare was the clear standout amongst the first course of the formally plated dinner. The salmon roe was delightful with the deftly seasoned and prepared fish, and the foie snow was a delightful use of such a luxurious product.
Wagyu tartare was absolutely delicious. The quail egg yolks were deep in color, clearly from well cared-for birds. They everything you'd hope for in a farm-fresh egg - creamy and rich. The quality of the beef and its treatment in the composition made this really come alive. The velvety, tender fresh sage leaves were the perfect herbaceous touch.
Second was the smoked boar with a sous vide egg that provided depth and richness to the pleasantly gamey and deliciously-marinated boar with a pureed arugula and stout pickled mustard seeds. While the egg did tend to run and gave a somewhat challenging appearance, every bite was worth the struggle of its appearance. The flavors were subtle and beautifully matched.
Next was the braised boar belly with smoked shoulder marmalade. We could smell the potency of the smoker when we came in, and we had high expectations for this dish (despite Greg's deep loathing of ramps - which he acquiesced and felt that this was a rare appropriate use for this local spring vegetable). The lentil and sunchoke cake was quite surprising in texture, and very pleasant as an accompaniment. The hazelnuts were the perfect source of crunch and depth for this plate.
Following this was the smoked cherry tomato soup, celebrating the beautiful early season garden fresh tomatoes. It was by far the best dish of the night to me. I was expecting something relatively complex, but this had depth like an ice berg. It was like a fine wine, changing with every millisecond. Jeremy's skill with herbs and spices revealed itself here as never before. The alligator andouille gave it a nice southern flair and spicy exclamation mark.
The tomato and guanciale panzanella was as tomatoes, pork and bread can be expected to taste. DELICIOUS. The guanciale was especially crisp and rich in flavor. Excellent bread and a vibrant vinaigrette made this as delightful as the season.
White bean cassoulet, herb and lamb merguez. The handmade charcuterie shined in this classic. Everything a cassoulet should be.
Pork shoulder steak with white asparagus puree and ramp leaf with the incredible and surprising addition of salmon roe. My favorite on this plate was the puree, shockingly! It was addictive. I wish I had an unlimited supply. Truly a beautifully composed plate both visually and the simplicity of its presentation does not reveal the intricate flavors present.
The Wagyu flat iron roast again featured a delicious puree - this time, cauliflower. I need a stockpile of this. The Marcona almonds were roasted and salted beautifully.
The dessert - Rob and Greg's favorite, and a close second for me. Abbey Pfleuger absolutely NAILED this. I was anticipating that it would be my least favorite - despite my adventurous nature in culinary forays, this combination of "banana cream, mango and fennel terrified me. I was relieved to find that she used fennel fronds, which were a lovely savory and licorice pairing with the sweet and delicious banana cream. The mango brightened the dish. She is a dessert MASTER. This left us feeling perfectly satiated yet not heavy handed with the sweetness.
Giving some feedback and high praise.
A deserved standing ovation for the chefs of the night. BRAVO.
These ladies and gentlemen put on a meal for the books for us here in Spokane. The vision that Jeremy has had for our food scene has put our humble city on the map in a powerful way. The collaboration present in this event gave even more life to an already vibrant scene. Thank you to all who participated! We look forward to next year!