It’s not easy to picture Wahoo’s Fish Taco co-founder Wing Lam of Newport Beach trading surf and sand for the sidewalks of New York, but that’s exactly what he and his brother Mingo Lee did in October when they were invited to host a dinner at the revered James Beard House in New York City.
More than 60 guests reportedly enjoyed elevated versions of Wahoo’s signature dishes paired with world-class wine from Lombardi Wines of Petaluma and Coursey Wineries from Santa Rosa.
According to Izabela Wojcik, Director of House Programming at the James Beard Foundation, it’s extremely rare to have a fast-casual restaurant host at the James Beard House. Wahoo’s was selected as part of the James Beard Foundation’s mission to celebrate and promote sustainable seafood stories.
Chefs are invited by Izabela based on rigorous criteria such as national or regional reputation, the use of high quality, seasonal and/or local ingredients, and a demonstration of excellence in a particular discipline.
The Wahoo’s menu for the James Beard dinner included Grilled Carnitas Sliders, Fried Baja Rolls, Banzai Vegetable Pizza, Seafood Ceviche, Seven-Layer Salmon Salad, an Enchilada Duo with Polynesian Shrimp in Red Sauce and Blackened Chicken in Green Sauce with Cauliflower Rice, a Taco Duo with Grilled Wahoo Taco with Roasted Tomato Sauce and Fried Haddock Taco with Roasted Jalapeño Sauce. Dessert was Churro Chips and Crispy Rice Treats.
“We were the first taco guys at the James Beard house,” confirmed Wing Lam when I talked to him last month. “We ran into a handful of our customers that had moved to New York and were regulars at the James Beard House.”
Wing said that was the first time in years that he and his brother had served a formal plated dinner.
“Mingo spent three hours peeling and deveining shrimp, which he has not done in 30 years,” said Wing. “While he was doing that, I was slicing and dicing steak, and had to filet and marinate salmon. We brought enough for 80 people. Plating that many at a time is hard, it’s heart palpitating.”
Wing noted that the event was not solely about the food. Proceeds from the event go to charity.
Overall, said Wing, “it was probably the most fun we’ve had in a long time. One of the James Beard staff said it was the most amazing dinner they had done. It was fun and relaxed. We were just happy to be there.”
And in case you didn’t know, Wahoo’s is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, and is adding a couple of new menu items. I’m having lunch with Wing Lam to sample the dishes and will report back next week.
For more information about Wahoo’s, visit Wahoos.com.