Monday, February 29, 2016

The Food Market's Private Kitchen

The Food Market used to have a pretty sweet employee lounge in the basement of their Hampden location, complete with a couch and big screen TV, but when the demands of their catering business required a prep kitchen, the lounge was the logical place to use. Once transformed into a place to cook, this new kitchen was sometimes idle between catering gigs. Chef Chad Gauss decided to add some decorative elements to turn the utilitarian cooking space into something resembling a Hampden basement and opened it up to special group dinners known as the Private Kitchen.

Seating up to 12 people, the Private Kitchen can be reserved for special events such as business meetings or sports viewing parties. There are three options for your dining pleasure: a monthly five-course chef's dinner; a-la-carte, with selections from the regular menu; and a "slay the menu" option where the guests leave their dining experience to the chef's discretion. The Minx and I were invited, along with other members of the media, to experience the five course chef's dinner option.

Pretzels with beer sauce
We started off with some familiar Food Market snacks: soft pretzels with beer sauce, and fried pickles. Those pretzels provide all the flavor you would expect from a soft pretzel, but are lighter and more buttery tasting. They're so good, they don't even really need the beer cheese dip, but eat it anyway. And somehow that combination of juicy dill pickle and crispy fried batter works so well, especially when combined with bleu cheese and hot sauce, flavors reminiscent of buffalo wings.

Fried Pickles
The first official course of the evening was modestly called Chicken Broth. The broth was indeed a clean and intensely chickeny-tasting chicken stock with a faint whiff of truffle oil. The broth became soup when poured over a bowl of items including roasted, finely diced mirepoix, freshly made farfalle, both raw and fried prosciutto, and an asiago cream. The combination of flavors and textures are incredibly fun to play around with.

Chicken Broth
The next course featured a pear poached in red wine and stuffed with goat cheese. The red wine was enhanced with clove, shallot, thyme, and other elements to further flavor the pear, which sat atop a raspberry emulsion, arugula, and spiced pecans. Again, the balance of flavors and textures was spot on, with crisp and spicy pear and pecan, creamy goat cheese, and fruity emulsion.

Poached Pear Stuffed with Goat Cheese
The seafood course featured a thick chunk of seared wild rockfish decorated with lemony lump crab meat and micro greens. The skin of the fish was perfectly crisp and the two types of aquatic protein provided an interesting juxtaposition of flavors and textures.

Rockfish with Lump Crab Meat
Our entree was charred lamb with salt-roasted baby potatoes, porcini cream, horseradish mustard, and strips of shaved portobello mushroom. The mustard provided a burst of sinus-clearing heat, balancing the hearty cream and potatoes. The medium rare lamb was succulent and tender, and I was not ashamed to grab both chops by the bone to wrestle them for every morsel of meat.

Charred Lamb
Dessert was a deconstructed s'more. A house-made graham cracker was decorated with swirls of rich chocolate pot de creme (sans pot) and toasted marshmallow. A hickory foam served to recreate the illusion of a s'more cooked over a wood fire. It's advisable to not taste the hickory foam on its own as the flavor was a bit harsh, but taken with the rest of the elements, there is a vague smokiness that completes the effect of the campfire treat. The Minx and I are not fans of traditional s'mores, but when each element is made from scratch with this level of care, the effect is quite satisfying.

Along with some incredible food, the cozy atmosphere of the basement kitchen and the ability to watch your meal being prepared in front of you creates an enjoyable dining experience. It's rare when you get to watch chefs of this caliber at work in such close quarters. The whole evening is a bit like having a terrific dinner party--if your host happens to be an award-winning chef.

You can have this same meal (or one like it) at the Food Market Private Kitchen on March 26th, 2016. Tickets are $80 per person, and will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis. For more details and to buy tickets, go to and click the "Private Kitchen" link at the top of the page, then scroll down.

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