From Spoon: One of the high points of a media trip I participated in last month to the “Whiskey Trail” in Tennessee and Kentucky happened the very first night, when we stayed at The Hutton Hotel in Nashville. This chic and comfortable luxury property was named to Conde Nast Traveler’s Hot List for 2010; the magazine called it “the first hotel to truly capture the city’s sophistication.”
At a special dinner that evening for our group of journalists in The Hutton’s sleek, yet warmly appointed restaurant, 1808 Grille, I met executive chef Charles Phillips, who impressed me not only with his contemporary American food, but with his easygoing manner. His enthusiasm for his work and his welcoming smile seemed to exemplify modern Southern hospitality.
The Hutton is owned by Philadelphia-based Amerimar Enterprises, which also owns a property referred to as The Hutton’s “sister” hotel – St. Ermin’s, featuring similar luxury in an historic building in Westminster, London (It was named to Conde Nast Traveler’s Hot List for 2012). The executive chef at St. Ermin’s restaurant, The Caxton Grill, Hus Vedat, collaborates regularly with his U.S. counterpart, so it seemed natural for the two of them to present a dinner together at The James Beard House in New York City.
The “London Meets Nashville” dinner on May 16 was the chefs’ first experience cooking at the storied Beard House – the former home of the late, great James Beard where both big name and lesser-known chefs present dinners that benefit The James Beard Foundation. The logistics and menu took four months to plan and finalize; Charles and Hus collaborated on every detail.
As guests – fans and friends of both hotels – gathered on the Beard House’s back patio on the warm spring evening, sipping champagne and Tennessee Julep cocktails (made with Benjamin Prichard’s Sweet Lucy Bourbon Liqueur), passed hors d’oeuvres gave us our first tastes of the inventive menu: English pea shooters with chantilly; gougères with chicken liver mousse; mofongo with aïoli and chickpea flour–crusted bay scallops with curried tomato confit. Clearly, this was not going to be the traditional English and southern food mash-up some might have expected.
Settled at our table in the second floor dining room – Beard’s former bedroom – we were wowed by each course. The first was named “beet textures” – a golden square of jellied beets, beet powder and beet crisps with fried goat cheese. The second was equally intriguing: nuoc cham escolar, served with appropriately named purple sweet potato velvet and micro bok choy. Next came bresaola (air-dried beef) with a salad of radishes, white asparagus and baby lettuce, followed by merguez-cornbread stuffed quail and porchetta with spiced labne. Dessert was equally distinctive – and delicious: chilled peanut butter soup with chunks of ancho-chili spiked dark chocolate and short bread grissini.
The evening was clearly as memorable for the chefs as it was for guests. “I will remember the buzz of conversation, the fact that friends, family, business partners, supporters and JBH members all came together and connected over dinner,” said Charles. “There was a great energy in the air. This is why Hus, myself and our team do what we do, if our food can in some way help bring us together and provide a delicious memory, we are happy!”
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