Rooks Rising : Chef Aaron Mercier’s “New South Dinner” (video)

Chef Aaron Mercier is the busiest chef in Columbus that you haven’t heard of…yet. Fresh off a culinary tour south of the Mason-Dixon, Chef Mercier brought some of that Sean-Brock-inspired southern cuisine back to the capital city in the form of his second pop-up dinner in as many weeks. Following up on his Dinner Lab debut (and an early spring pop-up at Angry Bear Kitchen, of which i heard the soup course was to die for…) Chef Mercier’s “New South Dinner” was an opportunity to share some of the inspiration he gleamed from dining at some of the South-East’s best restaurants. (Cochon, anyone? Okay, how about The Inn at Little Washington?)

The six-course affair showcased what Chef Aaron does best: thoughtfully crafted menus that are exciting yet accessible and unpretentious. Bucking the trend of the traditional wine pairing, Chef opted for beer in fruitful collaboration with Columbus’ Actual Brewing Company. The combination of his primal, smokey flavors with the often cerebral quality of Actual’s brews proved a match made in dinner heaven.

The stand-out dish came mid-way through the 2-hour affair in the form of a delicious shrimp offering. Large achiote coated crustaceans were served over a bed of creamy corn and pepper chowder (a.k.a. maque choux), a testament to Chef Arron’s time spent in the gastronomical melange that is New Orleans. The dish was garnished with dried corn flowers from Clintonville’s Boline apothecary.

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Maque choux, the dinner’s pitch perfect highlight.

The maturity of this dish, the subtlety of the maque choux punctuated by the savory spicy of the achiote shrimp, shows a chef coming into his own. The plating, rustic and beautiful, while playful and with a deft eye for color. (From a technical standpoint, I’d never seen the blue from the cornflower on a plate before. The effect was powerful.)

Check out the video for a look at the rest of the dishes from “The New South”:

So what’s next for Chef Mercier? In July, look out for another collaboration from Aaron  and The Commissary; this time in the form of a Game of Thrones themed dinner. (Food nerds and regular nerds unite!) At the dinner he also hinted at the opening of a brick-and-mortar concept, Rook’s Rustic Tavern, to be opened “soon” at an as yet unknown location.

If this brief trip through “The New South” was any indication of things to come, we can’t wait for Rooks to find a permanent roost here in Columbus!

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