Two weeks ago, I was lucky enough to sit in a dream kitchen for four hours and, with a glass of wine in one hand, sample over a dozen dishes, whose wildly wonderful flavors will stick with me forever. As the exclusive writer for ArtsMemphis' culinary series, I am challenged to capture each evening -- solely dedicated to local arts -- in a storytelling approach. What better story to tell than one entitled "A Journey of Nonsense!"
Chef Ken Vedrinski, a successful Italian chef from Charleston, “jumped at the chance” to cook alongside Memphis’ beloved Wally Joe once again. The two had cooked together among the top 40 chefs in America at Rockefeller Center decades ago, and Wally Joe invited Vedrinski regularly to cook in his KC’s kitchen in Cleveland, Mississippi among the “best of” chefs 15 years ago.
The culinary duo took over hosts Melissa and Kevin McEniry’s state-of-the-art kitchen, designed by the talented Anne Parker. Anne renovated the entire home as a representation of the family’s art, travel, and music collections. Its vibrant yet elegant eclecticism inspired the dinner’s theme – “A Journey of Nonsense” – which included an outdoor array of colorful umbrella fixtures, a dozen vintage sofas (courtesy of Propcellar), and abundant candlelight. The décor, both permanent and temporary, was remarkable.
Guests arrived to the front of the home for cocktails and passed hors d’oeuvres: foie gras grilled cheese on brioche, General Tso-inspired sweetbreads, and truffle deviled eggs. Besides the unbelievable wine service, the signature drink, entitled “Mad Hatters Hunch Punch,” matched the whimsical theme. The party listened to Opera Memphis before finding their places at the single, long banquet table.
Family-style service transformed the invited guests into a community, collectively appreciative of the plates in front of them and the people & organizations behind them. The entire evening celebrated a sense of genuine camaraderie among the Memphis arts scene, focusing upon relationships, both old and new.
With almost all cuisines covered, Chef Wally Joe explained the menu as a seasonal, meat-centric feast with the McEniry’s favorites from Acre, including his signature quail and shortrib. Chef Ken Vedrinski brought his Italian game (from restaurants Trattoria Lucca and Coda de Pesce) and with out-of-this-world handmade pastas and simple Northern Italian-inspired dishes such as beet carpaccio and white bean salad.
The plates were both inventive and reflective. As I watched Wally Joe plate the pork belly over a risotto-style sprouted rye, he laughed to himself and muttered, “I would cook pork belly twelve years ago before anyone would touch it. Now, it’s the trendiest menu item of establishments, old and new.”
Fanciful culinary touches included mushrooms flown in from Oregon, goat butter rather than the usual (which is an entirely different taste…20% less saturated fat and twice the flavor), and brioche baked just that morning in the Acre kitchen. All throughout the four hours of feasting, Wally and Ken laughed and joked with each other and the guests.
It was truly magical…a journey of nonsense, all thanks to the coordination of ArtsMemphis, Anne Parker Design Studio, Opera Memphis, the Metal Museum, the McEnirys, and – of course – Chefs Wally Joe and Ken Vedrinski.
Hoisin glazed quail with BBQ balsamic glaze on five spice sweet potatoes
Heirloom tomatoes, mozzarella, pesto
Rabbit rillettes with blistered shishito peppers, scuppernong jam and country toast
Brussels sprouts salad, Benton bacon with roasted shallot vinaigrette
Carpaccio of golden beets, tangerines, pickled garlic, and smoked ricotta
White acre pea salad, Moscato vinegar, Taggiasca olives, and grilled mortadella
Pork belly, sprouted rye with miso-maple sauce
Beef shortrib, smoked potatoes, hen of the woods mushrooms, and red wine soy
Gnudi with crushed broccoli, housemade duck Italian sausage, and buffalo milk parmesan
Tortellini, porcini mushrooms, and browned goat butter
Chocolate peanut butter crémeux
Sticky toffee date cake
Coconut panna cotta, toasted almonds, mango