by John Tarpley
Wednesday night brought local food fiends to Chenal Valley’s Euro-bistro, Ya Ya’s, for their first five-course “showdown” between two in-house sous chefs, Nate Miller and Derek Jones. Co-sponsored by Diamond Bear, the two promising young cooks were challenged to construct a menu around five local beers while retaining an emphasis on local and locally grown foods.
Find the course-by-course rundown after the jump.
1. Charcuterie (Honey Weiss)
House made bratwurst infused with foie gras, atop brioche with a three onion kraut
Foie gras pate, duet of green peppercorn and blackberry marmalade with local gherkins
Chef Nate took off with this course, demonstrating his flair for progressive slow food and providing the night’s dining room with a taste of what’s to come. The liberal swath of fois gras, spread on a crispy bit of melba toast, may have been the backbone of the dish, but the gutsy, unfamiliar peppercorn/blackberry/gherkin combination was the star.
2. Wild Game (Pale Ale)
Beer and mustard braised red deer tenderloin with gruyere white polenta
Grilled rabbit tenderloin, red quinoa, micro greens, heirloom tomatoes and baby sorrel
Between the two, this was the best course of the night. Chef Nate showed terrific work with texture in his rabbit/micro greens interplay, but Chef Derek stole the show and provided the dinner’s best meat dish with an expertly cooked deer tenderloin. The tender, strong, but not overpowering, notes of game were balanced out with a dollop of gruyere polenta: a creamy, woodsy twist on a “grits n’ game” hunter’s breakfast.
3. Local Fare (Southern Blonde)
Confit of chicken, corn and black bean fritte, blonde gastrique drizzle
Petit jeans farms pork belly, mini cornbread soufflé with gastrique caramelized pear
Too close to call. Chef Derek’s presentation was gorgeous; the tee-pee of spiced slices of chicken with a buttery corn and bean accompaniment was delicious, but uneven with the spiced meat overpowering it’s partner. Chef Nate deconstructed southern barbecue with his cube of smoked pork belly and, like the best of barbecue, it wasn’t much to look at, but plenty to taste.
4. Cheese flight (Party Porter)
Petit jean whole milk cheese wafer with sliced prosciutto and candied pistachio
Lazy Lady Farms “Big Bang” with black cherry and coffee reduction
Chef Nate ran away with a cheese flight that brought audible “oh wows” from the dining room. The complex, triple-crème cheese from Vermont worked perfectly with a rich reduction made from local black cherries and Guillermo’s coffee. In short, it was so good that a friend and I swept our proper manners under the rug and literally licked our plates clean in polite company.
5. Dessert (Presidential IPA)
Derek and Nate:
Sweet and sour candied apple turnover
A joint effort between the two promising sous chefs, the meal concluded with a small, gently fried turnover that provided a nice “back to basics” dessert to end a night of progressive gastronomy. With a buttery, flaky pastry at once crispy and smooth around small, caramelized bits of Granny Smith and (fingers crossed) Arkansas Black apple, the bite sized morsel exemplified the culinary fundamental of good, simple food done simply and well.
At the end of the service, our table came to the consensus that Miller’s informed, dynamic angle on his cuisine nudged out Jones’ offerings, which were reliably delicious but not as daring and forward as his challenger.
After the official scores were tallied up by the night’s judges, consisting of local farmers and visiting restaurateurs critiquing quality, preparation, originality, presentation and so forth, Derek Jones emerged as winner with a eke-defining three point win at 163-160.
In total, we were lucky to be part of a fantastic night of food and drink from two young, talented and promising chefs. Here’s to looking forward to a second installment.
(Also, next time you visit Ya Ya’s, treat yourself to their fantastic Old Fashioned, made from an in-house fruit muddle and Basil Hayden bourbon.)