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Chef’s Night brings out best in food preparation

Imagine what would happen if, for one evening, talented chefs were allowed to cook without thinking about food costs, preparation time or any other rules. The possibilities are endless.

This kind of magic happens every year in the Lisle kitchens of Dave Miller’s Chef By Request catering company.

“It all started out as something just for the chefs,” Miller says. “My friends are chefs, so getting together to cook for each other was fun. There were no guests at first but then we realized, it was more fun if others were allowed to come see this. … It has turned into something amazing.”

After tasting the many dishes, guests and chefs vote to name winners in eight categories.

This year more than 100 guests and chefs gathered in the kitchen and under an outdoor tent April 24 for the annual Chef’s Night. Reverend T and the Soul Shakers cranked out the tunes. Of course, the band could not resist taking breaks to taste the food.

“This is the best food I have had in 20 years,” said Terry Bernett, the band’s saxophone player.

Amy Oliver, a staff member of Chef By Request who lives in Eola, was putting together some pre-event appetizers, including a Mango Shrimp Spoon, Beef Carpaccio Crostini and Sun-dried Tomato Chicken Salad in Phyllo Cups to serve guests while the chefs worked their magic.

Once these delicacies were assembled, she went to work on her Ahi Tuna Poke Cones, her custom entry for the competition. She began the appetizer with a small cone fashioned from wonton wrapper that was fried to a crispy texture and secured to a skewer. She then filled the cone with raw tuna seasoned with cilantro, jalapeño peppers, lime juice, sea salt and freshly ground pepper. A creamy avocado lime mash was then piped onto the cone so “it looks like an ice cream cone,” Oliver said. The skewers were then inserted into a bed of brilliant lemon grass to be served to the amazement of all the guests.

Chef David Russell and chef Dan Burrows spun a tale about their entry of The Box Car Pepe/Roasted Got Tacodilla.

“I have a home in Naperville but also have a farm in Michigan,” Russell began. “Last Wednesday, a goat wandered onto the farm, and I chased it and shot it. We marinated the meat in Buffalo Trace Bourbon. We dug a pit in the backyard and roasted it over an open fire for 8 hours and 14 minutes.

“Then we pulled all the meat and added it to the sauce,” he said with a grin.

“Before we killed the goat, we milked it and made cheese,” added Burrows, who looked over at Russell who was rolling his eyes.

“Too much?” he questioned about his addition to the wild tale.

“OK, the cheese is Billy Bleu from Carr Valley Cheese in Wisconsin. It’s an artisan company that makes great cheese.”

Although some of the details about their entree were false, their cross between a taco and a quesadilla stuffed with goat meat and topped with a rhubarb and serrano chili salsa was truly delicious.

Kevin Molidor and his son Kevin Junior, of Lisle, were serving up a Si-Senor-Tini in a martini glass. The dish featured Recado, a popular blend of spices from the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, including Mexican oregano, cumin, garlic, pepper, thyme, coriander, cinnamon and brown sugar.

“I blended the recado with lime, lemon and orange juice and marinated boneless, skinless breasts in it for three hours. Then I grilled them low and slow,” explained the elder Molidor.

Each serving began with a layer of applewood bacon-infused rice, carefully spooned into a martini glass and topped with mesquite ranch pinto beans. Then came a layer of the grilled recado chicken. A lime and Greek yogurt drizzle was added before sprinkling on a blend of Cotija, Chihuahua and Monterey Jack cheeses. A garnish of a chili lime pita chip finished off the entree.

Molidor, who operates Culinary Art Catering with his son, has appeared on Food Network’s Food Challenge series three times during the years, and won a gold award for his Incredible Edible Food Scape of a farm.

Bill Buchelt, of Lisle, has been to seven Chef Night’s as a guest.

“There is nothing standard here,” he said. “These are a bunch of proud people here trying to outdo each other, and I get to enjoy it. There is a lot of ego in this room.”

Winners were announced at the end of the evening, but every dish was award winning. How can one compare Chef David Miller’s mussels paired with crispy french fried waffle chips to Chef Mike Johnson’s grilled ground beef brisket burger crowned with Gouda, pulled pork and smoked bacon?

As always, it was an evening of culinary adventure guided by experienced chefs who know where to find the best ingredients — and how to prepare them deliciously.

The recipes

Amy Oliver’s Sun Dried Tomato Chicken Tartlets

Prepared phyllo shells

Goat cheese

Cream cheese

Sun dried tomatoes

Boneless, skinless chicken breast

Mayonnaise

Green onion

(Note: Amounts of ingredients depend on the number of servings.)

Season chicken breasts and bake until tender. Pull or dice meat. 

Soak sun-dried tomatoes in hot water until soft and then puree. Add enough tomato to the chicken so that is lightly distributed among the chicken. Add mayonnaise to make a soft mixture. Taste and season with salt and pepper. 

Whip together equal amounts of goat cheese and cream cheese. Finely chop green onion.

 To assemble, first place a small dollop of cheese mixture in the phyllo cup. Top with chicken mixture. Garnish with green onion. Serve immediately.

BBB (Buffalo Bourbon Barbecue) Cocktail with Grilled Apricot Garnish

Dried apricots

Blue cheese

Bacon

Buffalo Trace bourbon

Simple syrup

Earl Grey tea bags

Bitters

Sparkling water

Soak apricots in bourbon overnight or for several hours until they are soft. Fill center of apricot with blue cheese. Blanche bacon in hot water for three minutes. Drain and cool. Wrap each apricot with bacon and secure with a toothpick. Set aside. 

Create a simple syrup by bringing to a boil equal parts of sugar and water until sugar is dissolved. Add one Earl Grey tea bag for each cup of syrup and allow to steep. 

To assemble cocktail, lightly grill apricot garnish until bacon is crisp. In a glass, mix 2 ounces Buffalo Trace bourbon, ½ ounce tea-infused simple syrup and one dash of bitters. Float sparkling water on top of the mixture to fill the glass. Garnish with grilled apricot.

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