Getting a Taste of the Taste of Newport

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How do you feed thousands of people over three days?

That’s the question we wanted to pose chefs from various restaurants participating in this year’s Taste of Newport, which runs today through Sunday at Fashion Island.

Taste of Newport features more than two dozen restaurants who sell samples of their cuisine to thousands of hungry diners attending the three-day event—not an easy task when you’re off-site with limited cooking apparatus.

So, Stasha and I decided to taste-test some of the food in advance and find out what challenges chefs must overcome to successfully feed Taste of Newport foodies.

Our first stop was Palm Terrace at The Island Hotel, where Executive Sous Chef David J. Man prepared for us the two entrees that his restaurant will serve: macaroni and cheese, and lamb lollipops.

“So why mac and cheese, and why the lamb?” asked Stasha.

The macaroni and cheese is a signature dish here at the hotel,” replied Chef Man. “Our Executive Chef, Bill Bracken, created it, and it’s been on our menu for many years. As for the lamb, when we were the Four Seasons we used to do a lamb dish that was similar and became very popular, and even though we are now the Island Hotel people expect it. However, we’re doing this dish the Island Hotel way.”

Chef Man watched as we sampled the dishes.

“This ain’t your daddy’s mac and cheese,” I said with a laugh. “This is fantastic. No wonder it’s a signature dish.”

“What are the ingredients?” asked Stasha, a former chef. “I see truffles, but I can’t place the cheese.”

“We use Taleggio cheese to make a cream sauce with white wine, mushroom, leeks, and cream,” explained Chef Man. “Then we add crushed truffles and truffle oil.”

“Black or white truffle oil?” Stasha queried.

“White truffle oil. We then finish it with a little parmesan cheese, and some chives.”

“I have to say, the lamb presentation is certainly different than a typical lamb kabob you would normally find at an event this size. It’s classier and elegant—a good reflection of the hotel,” said Stasha, as she cut into a piece. “Oh, the salsa verde tastes very summery—the parsley and hint of citrus is a really nice compliment to the meat.”

“It’s light and healthy, more California style,” said Chef Man.

“What ingredients did you use for this dish?” I wondered.

“For the salsa verde we used lots of green herbs, including parsley, rosemary, thyme, tarragon, mint, oregano. We added lots of garlic, some lemon zest, a very nice California extra virgin olive oil, and salt and pepper. We mixed that with the feta, and some nice sweet tomatoes.”

“And now the big question: How do you prepare food like this for several thousand people over three days?” I asked.

“We have a whole brigade working on this,” said Chef Man. “We have a butcher  who prepares and chops the lamb for us, a couple of guys that pick herbs and cut  tomatoes for the salsa verde, someone to cut cheese, and another person to make 25 gallons of the Taleggio cheese sauce. We also make things as we go—we’ll make it the day before Friday, see how much how we go through that day, then prep more for the next day.”

“And on-site?”

“Out there, doing the cooking, we’ll have two to three cooks, and probably two chefs. I’ll be there the entire time, and Chef Bracken will be out there. We have a slew of volunteers from the hotel who will be promoting the hotel and restaurant, and assisting with handing out the food.”

“It’s a lot of work, but we use our past experience with Taste of Newport,” added Chef Man. “We keep track of what we do every year, so we can look back and say how much of this did we serve, and use that as a guestimation for how much to prepare and bring for the next year.”

“So what happens if you run out of food?” asked Stasha.

“I don’t think that will happen,” said Chef Man, smiling.

Based on his experience, we had a feeling The Island Hotel had the Taste of Newport situation well in hand.

So too did Executive Chef Dennis Brask at Five Crowns. We stopped there to sample their Taste of Newport offerings: roast beef sandwich and crème brulee.

“Those are two of our signature items—they’re what we’ve become known for,” said Chef Brask.

“Easy to see why,” I said, biting into the sandwich. “This is fantastic. I thought it would be difficult to eat, but the entire sandwich is moist and the beef is amazingly tender with the au jus on top.”

“We’ll serve 4,000 of those over three days,” stated Chef Brask. “We go through more than 800 pounds of roast beef. We have been doing some version of this dish for all 21 years of Taste of Newport. I know for a fact that if I did not do it, I would be lynched. This is not all we do, but it is our signature dish and I cannot go to Taste without it. In fact, I think we hold the sales record for the Taste of Newport in terms of sheer volume.”

“I can see why,” I said. “And, I have a feeling your roast beef sandwich – and other Taste of Newport dishes – will add a few pounds to my sheer volume this weekend!”

See our 10 Questions with Chef Brask on page 7. For more information on Taste of Newport, visit www.tasteofnewport.com.

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