Share |

Garden Spring Fling at the Beard House

            Spring in New York City brings beautiful flowers, budding trees, and time spent outside enjoying the sunshine with good friends, great wine, and exceptional food.  This was certainly the case at the James Beard House for the Garden Spring Fling dinner staged by Chef Mary Dumont and Pastry Chef Brian Mercury of Harvest, a Cambridge, Mass. institution of extraordinary cuisine.

            With the pleasant weather, the evening started in the garden with hors d’oeuvres that highlighted New England in spring.  The Butter Poached Scituate Lobster with Lemon Balm and Brioche proved to be one of the favorites.  The waiters scarcely had the trays through the door before they were emptied by guests eagerly awaiting their arrival.  The lobster, served on top of a crispy piece of brioche, was a perfectly prepared small, open-faced lobster roll.  Both the lobster and the brioche were intensely buttery and deliciously rich but the citrus of the lemon balanced them nicely.

            During the main meal, Chef Dumont demonstrated her culinary prowess with each and every dish.  Her presentations were flawless: modern and evocative, but still approachable.  The standout dish was the Seared Dayboat Scallop with Green Garlic, Asparagus, Morel Mushrooms, and Spring Blossoms.  Everything in the dish worked in harmony to produce a fantastic flavor.  Dumont prepared the scallop so that it was seared on the outside, but still soft and delicate in the middle; it melted in my mouth.  Moreover, the briney sea flavor still present balanced the fatty richness.  When these flavors were matched with the sweetness of the morel mushrooms, everything came together beautifully.  The wine pairing, a 2012 Viogner Blend from Les Laurelles in the Côtes du Rhône region of France, could not have been better picked.  The sweetness of the wine played off the briney flavor in the scallop, and all the flavors of the dish brought out the crisp apricot flavor in the wine.

            Though perhaps not as intensely delicious, the Vermont Rabbit Roulade with Thumbalina Carrots, Sugar Snap Peas, Fava Beans, and Red Quinoa provided a glimpse into Chef Dumont’s creative process and gastronomic talent.  The rounds of rabbit were topped with carrots, certainly, but not in the form one would expect.  Rather than sautéed rounds or diced carrots, the vegetable topped the rabbit in a foam that delivered the flavor but did not interfere with the tenderness or texture of the rabbit.  Another unique Chef Dumont addition was the Chocolate Mint pureé that accompanied the Coffee Roasted Lamb.  Although both dishes were good on their own, her artistic flourishes finished them both perfectly.

            The final standout of the evening came from Pastry Chef Brian Mercury, who prepared not one, but two desserts for the evening.  His Taza Chocolate Pâté with Coffee Quinoa Crumble, Donut Mousse, Apricot Pearls, and Earl Grey Caramel was absolutely incredible. However, in presentation I would urge Chef Mercury to put all of the various pieces and flavors together exactly as they are supposed to match.  I found myself confused and unsure which flavors to combine. Nonetheless, the sweetness and creaminess of the donut mousse intensified the dark chocolate pâté.  He took the dish one step farther, too, with his addition of sea salt to the dark chocolate. His unique take on caramel, steeped in Earl Grey tea, provided a playful addition to a seriously delicious dessert.

            Chef Mary Dumont is no stranger to the Beard House. This spring marked her third time cooking there and her second time in charge.  She felt excited to be in New York because “it’s the perfect time of year to come and do a dinner at the Beard House. I love everything about spring food.”  Although she grew up in the hospitality industry, Dumont initially thought she wanted to be a writer.  However, after spending time in San Francisco and seeing the way local food shaped culinary culture on the West Coast, she reentered the family fold.  She feels lucky to have rediscovered her passion for food and believes it was “somewhat meant to be.”

            When Chef Dumont moved back to the East Coast, she brought back many of the ideas she saw out west and began establishing relationships with local farms in order to get the same high-quality ingredients she desired. While Dumont recognizes she cannot possibly source everything locally, especially in New England’s climate, she is careful in choosing which farms to work with. “The important thing is looking at the farms that are really doing the right work and supporting them, they may be out of my local radius, but their product is high quality.” 

            Recently, Dumont won Boston’s Cochon 555 competition; this contest, started by Brady Lowe, brings family farm raised heritage breed pigs to the forefront of culinary consciousness. The competition helps promote their extraordinary products while simultaneously fostering creative competition between professional chefs.  Chef Dumont was excited to be a part of this, both for the competition and the encouragement of local food culture. She heads to Aspen to compete in the next stage, the Grand Cochon, on June 22.

            Pastry Chef Brian Mercury was thrilled to be at the Beard House.  Though he had helped as a prep chef there before, he said, “getting to go and have the spotlight be more on me and show what I can do, it’s very exciting. Having the chance to work in a restaurant where so many great chefs have cooked, it’s very humbling.” Recently he has gained national recognition, in 2014 Food and Wine named Mercury Best New Pastry Chef for the East Region.  Brian humbly discussed the stiff competition he faced and surprise when he won, “I was over the moon,” he exclaimed.

            For the Beard dinner, Mercury kept his focus on the spring theme and said, “I’m trying to keep flavors bright and refreshing.”  He certainly imparted his own personal style on the meal. He has started creating his own sea salt by boiling down seawater.  At the Beard dinner, Mercury’s salt featured both in the bread service and the dessert. For the bread, he smoked the salt, which added yet another layer of complex flavor.  His “white gold” also played a vital role in the Taza chocolate pâté, where he demonstrated his mastery of the current trend in combining salt and chocolate.  Mercury believes salt, like you might talk about wine, has a distinct terroir.  He makes his salt with water from Maine because it’s “almost kind of peppery and there is a lot of minerality to it.”  This specific flavor beautifully complements his pastry.  Mercury has a strong work ethic and tries to “work hard and put my heart into it.”  Although he has already been honored by Food and Wine and this dinner at the James Beard house, he says, “I feel like I’m just getting started. Let the good times roll.”

Your rating: None Average: 4 (2 votes)