(UPDATE) The Commissary to host “Fresh Street” Founders for Pop-Up Dinners plus an Q&A w/ Chef Kim

The Commissary (1400 Dublin Rd., Columbus) has become the epicenter of pop-up dining in central Ohio. Recent highlights include Chef Bill Glover, of Gallerie Bar & Bistro, and his music-meets-dinner concept and an upcoming “Game of Thrones” feast, the third installment of the “Parliament of Rooks” series from Chef Aaron Mercier.

Add to that list the highly anticipated return of dj-turned-chef and pop-up pioneer Kenny Kim, co-founder of the now legendary pop-up Fresh Street Yakitori, formerly of Brewery District night spot Double Happiness. The Commissary will host Kim for a three-night stand, 7/24 – 7/26, and you better get your tickets for this one fast!

To say that people are excited for this dinner is an understatement. A Facebook post soliciting kitchen help for the event has seen significant traffic since its publication a few days ago. (And the number of people volunteering to help cook is impressive; it seems that Chef Kim will be able to afford himself an entire brigade!)

Kim’s original pop-up brought the idea of less-than-permanent dining to Columbus in the form of Fresh Street Yakitori, specializing in delectable grilled meats on a stick. Fresh Street was perfect and had everything you could want from pop-up dining. Ever evolving menus, hand written on butcher paper, illuminated by twee illustrations of the food. It was housed in a cool bar that, if it wasn’t a show night, was usually full enough to be inviting yet empty enough to feel exclusive and special; a haunt for CCAD graduates and an emerging scene of downtown cool kids. Heavily influenced by co-founder Misahko Ohba, the take on Japanese street food was simultaneously exotic and familiar. I’ll never forget the first time I had the pork cheek. Incredibly tender and charred just right over the coals in their little brick grill, this was a special. And the portion was perfect, just enough to really let you taste your food, but not enough to totally slake your craving for street meat. Part of the Fresh Street magic, at least for me, was that I always wanted more. According to Thomas Keller a truly great dish will leave you yearning for “just one more bite”. Columbus has been waiting for that one last taste for several years, and it seems that we will finally get it!

So here’s the line up:

  • 7/24 @ 7:00 PM – Fresh Street Backyard BBQ
  • 7/25 @ 6-9 PM – Fresh Street Taco Shop
  • 7/26 @ 11:00 AM – Fresh Street Japanese Diner Brunch

Just reading the names of the pop-ups has me hungry. Each one of these meals plays to Kim & Ohba’s specific strengths as chefs and should be great venues for showcasing their food. I’m especially intrigued by the brunch. Chef Misako trained at the Vantan Pastry School in Tokyo and I’m curious to see if this pastry knowledge will work its was into the meal.

These dinners are a definite don’t miss. To purchase tickets to one (or all) of the dinners click here.

UPDATE 7.15.15- Chef Kenneth Kim was able to answer some questions about the pop-up. Keep reading for info straight from the source!


W.L. – The dates for the pop-up are 7/24-7/26, will you be doing three seperate dinners?

K.K. – Yup. We want to make sure there are different reasons to go to each even. First night is a Japanese backyard BBQ theme event. Second night is a Japanese taco shop them. Third day is a Japanese-American breakfast/brunch diner.

W.L. – Is this dinner affiliated with The Commissary’s Kickstarter campaign? If so, will non-backers be able to buy tickers?

K.K. – It is (affiliated with the kickstarter campaign) but we need everyone to come. Non-backers are invited for sure. Come one, come all!

W.L. – Do you see this as a continuation of what you did with Fresh Street?

K.K. – We don’t have all the cooking equipment to do fRESHSTREET staples. Our concepts are designed to have fun with everyone. We’re cutting out the fancy shit this weekend.

W.L. – Are you still working with Misako?

K.K. – Yup! I can’t post as many pics of her cooking because we aren’t working side-by-side right now in San Diego, but we are looking to start another venture soon. Also, the Facebook name changed to my birth name instead of fRESHSTREET because I can’t have a business name on a friends page according to Facebook and I can’t figure out how to transfer my page to a business page without losing everything.

W.L. – What have you been up to since you left Columbus? What do you think of the San Diego food scene?

K.K. – Been working a ton of different places, some good and some shitty. I’ve been at gastropus, ramen shops, Asian-Fusion lounges, etc. Misako’s been at bakeries, sushi restaurants, and at a robatayaki spot.

Just like most places, San Diego has some good and some bad. They have a high standard for product there and they like to be a little health conscious. Real estate is more expensive so restaurateurs tend to be more conservative. It’s also a tourist destination, so that changes the food culture here to cater to visitors a bit. There’s a lot of variety here and few spots that nail it, but just like most cities, there’s room for growth. Overall, a better than average food scene. Great Mexican food scene here being right next to Mexico.

W.L.- Your last pop-up at Double Happiness brought in some pretty heavy hitters as collaborators, most notable Jonathan Sawyer and Jenn Louis, do you have any special guests on deck for this dinner?

K.K. – We want this one to be more about local chefs. We haven’t seen anyone in three years or so and we wouldn’t be able to spend anytime with anyone if we brought in “heavy hitters”.

W.L. – Fresh Street has reached almost legendary status in Columbus. To this day I think about the pork cheek skewer and get hungry. If you returned to the city you’d have a fan base ready and waiting. You ever think about coming back?

K.K. – I do. There are a bunch of west coast chefs that I know that want to go to Ohio to try something different. It would be a matter of finding the perfect situation.

W.L. – The Columbus food scene has matured pretty rapidly in the last few years. Are there any places your excited to try while you’re in town? And chefs you’d like to work with?

K.K. – I want to try Hot Chicken Takeover. As for chefs, a lot of the one I like are magically helping out for the event. Like Matthew Heaggans, Lara Yazvac (Pipia), Avishar Barua, and Bekah Lehman off the top of my head. Don’t know too much about the current scene because we been gone.

W.L. – What’s the story behind the Fresh Street logo?

K.K. – It’s just a sleepy hippo with an octopus best friend. I’m kind of the hippo. Misako is the octopus. Just a fun logo that’s different than others. Misako drew it.

W.L. – Final thoughts?

K.K. – These three events are less about showing off skills and more about seeing everyone in fun environments and working with local talent. If you don’t come with any preset ideas of what to expect, you should have a great time.

And there you have it folks, straight from the hippo’s mouth! To see Chef Kim, Chef Misako, and any of a number of Columbus’ best chefs in action GET YOUR DAMN TICKETS NOW! 

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Charred Snap Pea & Date Tacos

So this recipe is intended to be a way for you to use up leftover, prepared chicken, something we never thrown away at our place. I call for leftover rotisserie chicken (yes, the kind you find dripping on those greasy spits at the grocery store.), but you can use whatever kind of chicken, light or dark meat, breasts or thighs, that you have kicking around your fridge.

These tacos are light and super fresh, and have an interesting sweet quality, owing to the sliced dates. They are quick to prepare and make a great summer lunch. The recipe below makes about 4 6″ tacos.

Ingredients

  • Leftover Rotisserie Chicken, pulled apart, 2 oz.
  • Sugar snap peas, fresh, 1/3 C.
  • Dates, pits removed, thinly sliced, 2 EA.
  • Corn Tortillas, small, 4 EA.
  • Cilantro, fresh, minced, 1/4 C.
  • Garlic, fresh, minced, 1 T.
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 1/4 C.
  • Cayanne, 1 t.
  • Radish, julienne, to garnish
  • Brocolli Sprouts, to garnish *As always, if you can’t get your mits on microgreens, supstitute whatever lettuce or greens you have available, the fresher the better!
  • Lime Wedges, to garnish
  • Kosher Salt, To Taste
  • Smoked Maladon Salt, to finish
  • Vegetable or Peanut Oil, to char the beans

Wash your damn hands! Heat your charring oil in a cast iron skillet until it just begins to smoke. Add the peas in a single, even layer and let them do their thing. They should pop and smoke and blister and generally get gnarly looking. You’re charring them, meaning almost burning. Toss them around every minute or so to ensure even charring.

Once they look nice and dark, keep the pan on the stove and cut the heat. Add the chicken and the dates to the pan. We aren’t cooking here, just heating everything up. Let everything mingle in the pan until warmed through. Taste the chicken and then add salt, if it needs it.

While the chicken is heating, make the drizzle. In a glass bowl combine cilantro, garlic, olive oil and cayenne. Mix well and set aside.

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To plate, heat tortillas in the microwave for ten seconds. Add the snap pea/chicken/date mixture in an even layer on the tortilla. Next, drizzle the cilantro and garlic oil then top with broccoli sprouts and radish. Add a pinch of smoked salt and serve with a lime wedge.

As always, if you try these let me know how they turned out, what you substituted, or ways to improve the recipe!

Columbus Cajun – Home cookin’ with Louisiana Lynn Leonard

Things I know to be true about Louisiana-

1- Its hot.

2- Titular territory  in Thomas Jefferson’s grand land acquisition from the French, circa 1803.

3- About as exotic and far away from Columbus as one can get without the requirement of a passport.

Finally, and most importantly, Louisiana is the native home of one of my favorite Columbus citizens, Lynn Leonard, formerly of Lake Charles, Louisiana. Lynn has that confident and polite bearing of a real Southern gentleman, a 21st-century incarnation of someone from a Mark Twain short story. He is possessed with a brand of culturally engrained hospitality that while seemingly foreign in its application,is at such ease in its execution as to appear totally natural. In other words, Mr. Leonard makes good manners cool.

Lynn also has great stories, marking him as the ideal dining and drinks partner. He has lived many lives (though you’d never know it by his youthful and energetic face); he has sailed the seas, spun pre-dubstep house and techno as a nightclub DJ, surveyed the country as a long haul truck driver, worked on grand oil rigs and refineries, and owned a record store before High Fidelity made it cool. All of this results in the kind of personal narratives and anecdotes that prove invaluable at a dinner party. So imagine my elation when I was recently invited to his home to sample some delicacies recently returned from his homeland. Here is what I learned:

Food & Drink

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Tiger Sauce, Where have you been all my life?

Our dinner started, as many meals are apt to do, with an appetizer of cheese and crackers. Cream cheese to be more precise. Cream cheese topped with a with what appeared to be a thin, dark red liquid, that upon further inspection turned out to be hot sauce. According to Lynn this wasn’t any ordinary hot sauce, oh no. This, my friends, is the hot baby of the bayou known as Tiger Sauce.

The flavor is like a more mature, deeper version of Tabasco. Spicy but not so hot that you can’t discern any of the other flavors, topped with a nice vinegar note. What really impressed me was the color, a deep redish brown hue that looked great on the stark white of the cream cheese. The entire dish reminded me of a favorite from my house as a kid, that perennial cocktail-hour classic of cream cheese and pepper jelly. This homey, less William-Sonoma version would be perfect for entertaining unexpected guests and it pairs great with an ice cold beer.

As expected, this first cajun course was paired with an equally cajun tale. It started with the planned execution of a chicken for Sunday dinner and ended with an accidental gunshot wound to the stomach.

Of course The Fox, in all of her mixological wisdom, was prepared with the perfect drink for the occasion, one she called Cajun Lemonade.

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Cajun Lemonade, perfect for washing down some Tiger Sauce!

The recipe is simple:

Combine equal parts Pimms with white rum and two parts lemonade and thinly sliced lemon wheels. Serve over ice and top with a dash of hot sauce and Mexican 7-UP. Garnish with lemon.

The result is a sweet, but not too sweet cooler with a hint of heat and the perfect amount of fizz from the soda. Definitely my new go-to summer-time part drink! Perfect for whipping up a pitcher and sharing with friends around the pool or BBQ.

The next offering in Lynn’s culinary Tour de Louisiane was as delicious as it was unexpected. Presented on their own, simply and without any accoutrement, our second course appeared to be small, pan seared sausages. Their ordinary appearance masked their novelty, both in texture and flavor. Allow me to introduce: boudin.

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Bou-damn.

Pronounced boo-dan, this catchall term literally means sausage, and can refer to a wide range of pork based meats in a natural casing. The cajun boudin blanc is a smoked pork sauce that has the addition of eggs, some dairy and rice. This results in an incredibly delicate texture that falls apart in your mouth. The smoke is stronger than european sausages of the same ilk and the seasoning stronger. Ours were served without any traditional garnish or side sauces because they simply didn’t need them. Lynn’s pick for the best boudin, and the one we were lucky enough to try, comes from Rabideaux’s Sausage Kitchen, also of Lake Charles.

In between bites of spicy cheese, smokey sausage and sweet lemonade we managed to make room for another swampland libation, this time in a slightly less adulterated form.

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“Rule number 1, I’m number one. Rule number two, gator’s number two.” – Joe Dirt

The spiced rum tastes like Captain Morgan after he’s spent a long weekend in the French Quarter, but its the satsuma that’s really special! Imported by the Jesuits to “New Spain”, the satsuma (citrus unshiu, tangerine) was traditionally grown north of New Orleans. From there it found its way into rum, which in turn found its way into my glass. (What a world!) The result is a sweet and tart combo that is delicious when served chilled, preferably in the company of something spicy.

Our final dish, the entree for the evening, was the one Lynn was most excited for us to try. This dish was actually the impetus for the entire evening, and our invitation went something like this:

Come over. Bring the lady. I’ll make up a stuffed chicken!

My interest surly wasn’t piqued by the name; stuffed chicken, it souned so generic. Mom’s make stuffed chicken for Sunday dinner when they aren’t feeling too terribly inspired. But something in Lynn’s voice belied his excitement; he sounded generally hungry for whatever this banal sounding bird could be. (I puzzled over what stuffed chicken could mean. What was it stuffed with? Was this a normal chicken? Was this some sort of swamp dwelling super bird? Perhaps “stuffed chicken” was just a bad translation of some sexier creole word. One could hope it actually meant something more exciting than poultry filled with breading.)

So imagine my disappointment when we arrived and stuffed chicken turned out to be just that. Chicken. Chicken that had been stuffed…zzzzzzzzz. Somebody wake me up for dessert, because I’m going to assume that stuffed chicken, even by way of Louisiana, is just as boring as her midwestern cousin.

But I was wrong. So, so wrong.

And I didn’t even get a picture. Because it didn’t look all that special. (It looks like a whole roasted chicken.) And I probably wasn’t going to write about it, so why take a picture? And because it probably won’t be that good. And because I’m a dick. And, because karma is real, it turned out to be so delicious, that by the time I decided to snap a picture, we had already ravaged the poor girl beyond recognition.

And here is the funny part. I’m not even sure what it was that made this stuffed chicken so much better than all of the other stuffed chickens that had preceded it. It was stuffed with a cornbread stuffing and roasted. That’s it. But I’ll be damned if it wasn’t some of the best chicken I’ve eaten in my life!

Final Thoughts

So what did I learn? First, never judge a chicken by its cover. Two, we should be turning all of our tigers into sauce and putting that sauce on cream cheese. Three, if you happen to have some of that illicit tiger juice, combine it with lemonade and booze for a fun summer beverage. If that booze is from the bayou, even better.  Four, boudin isn’t the sole domain of Ray Finkle’s mother. (If anybody gets that joke, I’ll give them some of the rum and hot sauce I made off with…)

And lastly, if you get the chance, be like my friend Lynn. Be kind. Open your home up to your friends and share the food that you love. Be just as free with your stories as you are with your wine (or in his case, rum). Do these things in the spirit of friendship. Take a tip from your southern neighbor and sow the seeds of hospitality. For when you do you’ll reap the harvest of a life well spent, I gawr-on-tee!

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!

“So what do you do now?” – A Wanderlünch F.A.Q.

So I’m back home for the next week, recuperating from the madness that was the Rolling Stones. (My first day home I slept for 14 hours straight.) I’ve just completed my first “run” and feel like I can confidently answer some of the questions I’m frequently asked about the job. So here we go…

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A rolling stone gathers no moss…

 

Been in KC since yesterday. Travelled all night from Green Bay and it was one of the best rides of my life. The totally free feeling of traveling on the tour bus is pretty unique. Looking out at the stars as we drove through northern Wisconsin was indescribable. 

Caught a ball game at Kaufman Stadium in the afternoon yesterday. 

  
The home team got blown out by the visiting Red Sox 12-0. I was asked not to return to any KC ball games because I’m apparently bad luck. 

 

Arrowhead Stadium

 
Today we are back to work, doing prep work for the Rolling Stones show. We are making food for the steel workers who are building the stage. So we are making a lot of food. Those boys can eat! 

This weekend we are catering for the crew and Saturday night is the show. To say I’m excited about watching the Rolling Stones from backstage is a bit of an understatement. Updates to follow!