Executive Chef Julio Peraza is starting a new dining tradition at his fl.2 restaurant in the Fairmont Pittsburgh downtown that will bring together a cast of distinguished chefs in one production for a limited audience of 75 guests.
Peraza will premiere his Guest Chef Dinner Series on July 21, featuring six courses with an optional wine pairing. He will prepare one of the courses and his team of four local and visiting chefs will each add their take on summer seasonal flavors to their designated course.
“The whole idea is to truly showcase what Pittsburgh is doing culinary-wise,” Peraza says. “We wanted to allow other chefs to come here and partake, bringing all sorts of people in the industry together showcasing Modern American cuisine.”
Pushing the boundaries
All of the chefs featured are pushing the boundaries of the Modern American influence, he says.
Representing Pittsburgh along with Peraza will be Casey Renee, head pastry chef of Whitfield at the Ace Hotel, East Liberty, and Kevin Sousa, executive chef and owner of Superior Motors in Braddock. Visiting chefs include Jason Purcell, chef de cuisine of Garrison at Fairmont Austin, Texas, and Brian Howard, chef of Sparrow + Wolf of Las Vegas.
Casey Renee says each chef was asked to prepare a canapé in addition to his or her featured course. Her contributions will be Spiced Donut Holes with Sweetened Chevre and for dessert, Honey Cake with sour cream glaze, berries and bee pollen.
Russian Cake ‘An Adventure’
While she feels confident about her canapé made from brioche dough that is fried and rolled in a spiced sugar blend, she admits that the Honey Cake “has been quite an adventure for me.”
The recipe originated from a traditional Russian cake called Medovik that she first tasted during a nine-hour layover in a Moscow airport.
“It’s a lot of ‘passed down from grandmothers and add flour until it looks right,’” she says. “It almost tastes like graham cracker cookies layered in sour cream and soaked in honey. It’s delicious honeyed heaven.”
The bee pollen granules she sources locally are sprinkled on top of the cake for a sweet and earthy topping “like nothing I ever tasted before.”
Renee, who grew up in the South Hills, studied advertising at Point Park University before moving to New York to pursue her interest in cooking, enrolling in NYC’s Natural Gourmet Institute and graduating in 2011. She moved back to Pittsburgh three years ago.
The main event
Before diners get a chance to sample her dessert – which she hopes to add to Whitfield’s menu – they will be served the following main courses:
From Chef Brian Howard, Japanese Hamachi Carpaccio, roasted grapes, fennel, burnt Sichuan chile; followed by Chef Jason Purcell’s Fois Gras Tart, with smoked pistachio, bourbon, peach sofriot and oat crisp; then Chef Kevin Sousa’s Walleye or Trout with fermented corn, smoked chanterelle and nasturtium, and Chef Julio Peraza’s Yucca Gnocchi, cured beef tongue, beef cheeks, hojasanta and caviar.
Andre Natera, executive chef at Garrison at Fairmont Austin, says of Purcell, his chef de cuisine, “Jason is killing it at Garrison. He’s hot right now and is the driving force behind that restaurant.”
Howard’s American cookery at Sparrow + Wolf incorporates his travels, classic training and Midwestern roots, according to the restaurant website.
Sousa’s Superior Motors in Braddock, which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary, was named one of Food Wine magazine’s Top 10 restaurants for 2018.
Peraza says the featured chefs were given the freedom to express their creativity in their courses for his Guest Chef Dinner on July 21.
“There are no restrictions – no guidelines,” he says. “I truly feel that right now chefs are being inspired to cook by so many things and I wanted to bring these chefs’ talents to the table to show their ability to put flavors together.”
The director of the special event already is planning an encore performance; his second Guest Chef Dinner will be held this winter at fl.2, he says.
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.