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Intro's Rising Star Menu Is The Best Way To Experience The James Beard Awards

By Melissa McEwen in Food on May 6, 2015 6:20PM

Erik Anderson's poussin, lobster, white asparagus, morels, snap peas, red pepper

As of writing this article there are still tickets available for the Rising Star Chef dinners at Intro. That's insane, because this is one of the best dining experiences I've had in a long time. And it's a chance to enjoy the cooking of the winner of the James Beard Rising Star Chef award, Jessica Largey, as well as that of nominee Ari Taymor.

While most James Beard awards go to those the food world already recognizes as important, the Rising Star Chef award is an exception. And perhaps why these dinners aren't sold out. I haven't been to Ari Taymor's Alma, but I've been going to Manresa, where Jessica Largey is Chef De Cuisine, for years. Full disclosure: Gene Lester, my cousin, provides citrus to the restaurant. Which is how I ended up there. For everyone else, it is a little bit inconvenient since it's a bit south of San Francisco, in Los Gatos. It's a bit of a slog, but in my view completely worth it for the way they showcase California's coasts and orchards.

Jessica Largey's smoked steelhead with roe

But the Manresa team is well respected throughout the culinary world and Largey is no exception. Her beautifully intricate cooking is highly creative and most importantly, delicious. Her course of smoked steelhead with roe and umeboshi plum sounded frankly a bit intimidating aggressive, but was balanced beautifully and accented with chive blossoms and little breakfast radishes.


The other courses were no exception. Taymore placed little rounds of tender carrots on top of a soil of sorts made from frozen foie gras, smoked maple and crunchy coffee granola that tasted a bit like Cocoa Krispies.


Then we moved on to CJ Jacobson's perfectly cooked egg in a bed of spring vegetables, oyster cream and juices from lightly fermented vegetables. Jacobson just wrapped up his Intro Chef in Residence stint at the end of April.


Ben Sukle from Birch in Providence had one of the most surprising dishes of the night, though probably the least photogenic. Turnips and parsnips, those hardly ugly ducklings of vegetables, had been cooked into silky melt in your mouth medallions swimming in a brown butter infused with dried shellfish and cherry blossoms.


Intro's next Chef in Residence, Erik Anderson, made a tender poussin with lobster, white asparagus, morels, snap peas and red pepper. Afterwards we were served a delicious fried drumstick from the poussin with a honey-spicy crust.


Finally the last guest chef, Pastry Chef MIchael Laiskonis, served up a Vacherin, a traditional French dessert made with filled meringue, but his was deconstructed and surrounded by mandarin ice cream and rhubarb and basil accents.

And while I love the bootstrapped little tasting menu places Chicago has, sometimes it's nice to experience something a bit more professional. One of the main complaints I have about tasting menus is their excessive length and absurd pacing that makes the whole night more like a Wagner opera than a relaxing dinner. Intro, being part of the Lettuce Entertain You Empire, is not like that. The tasting menu here is concise and perfectly paced. We were through with dinner in two hours.

So if you're not doing anything tonight, Thursday, Friday or Saturday, we suggest you snag those tickets.

Disclosure: We ate this menu at a discounted media rate.