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Guest Chef Dinner exemplifies ‘restaurant as theater’ |
Food & Drink

Guest Chef Dinner exemplifies ‘restaurant as theater’

From left: Chef Jason Purcell, Garrison at Fairmont Austin; Chef Julio Peraza, executive chef, fl.2 at Fairmont Pittsburgh, and Chef Brian Howard, Sparrow and Wolf, Las Vegas, work to create the inaugural Guest Chef Dinner in July at fl.2.
Chef Casey Renee, head pastry chef of Whitfield at the Ace Hotel, East Liberty, prepares dessert at the inaugural Guest Chef Dinner in July at fl.2, Fairmont Pittsburgh.
Fairmont Pittsburgh’s new pastry chef, Dwight Penney, will be part of the team of chefs preparing the second fl.2 Guest Chef Dinner on Nov. 10.

Julio Peraza, executive chef, fl. 2 at Fairmont Pittsburgh, didn’t have to look far to find talented chefs for his second Guest Chef Dinner on Nov. 10.

His inaugural event in July featured a lineup that included visiting chefs from Austin, Texas and Las Vegas, but this time around, the team set to prepare an elegant dinner for 75 guests is pure Pittsburgh.

The meal will feature five chefs, including Chef Peraza, each contributing one course to a six-course meal with optional wine pairings that showcases their favorite dishes and seasonal ingredients.

Participating chefs include Justin Severino of Cure and Morcilla in Lawrenceville, Sam DiBattista of Vivo Kitchen in Sewickley, Roger Li of Umami and Ki Ramen in Lawrenceville, and Fairmont Pittsburgh’s new pastry chef, Dwight Penney for a six-course dinner.

Expected menu items include artichoke with sunflower, apple cider, smoked brined carnival squash and vegetable ash, (Severino); wild suzuki (striped bass) with ginger, scallion, nikiri sauce, olive oil, cilantro and fermented black beans, (Li).

Also, creamy herbed polenta with braised beef and charred onion rings, (DiBattista); lamb loin baby gem, pearl onion, goat’s curd, white truffle and mint-infused lamb jus, (Peraza) and white chocolate, lemon meringue and raspberries, (Penney).

Restaurant as theater

Peraza, the conductor of this symphony of flavors, said his idea for the Guest Chef Dinner Series was designed “to help other restaurants and chefs and put them all in one arena, in our open kitchen setting where guests can see what goes on behind the scenes.”

There is a spirit of camaraderie among the local chefs, he said, and the dinner is limited in its number of diners so that everyone has a good view of the food preparations.

“Pittsburgh is up-and-coming with talented chefs and the city hasn’t been recognized for so much talent,” Peraza said. “We’re not far apart from chefs in Los Angeles, New York and Las Vegas. We’re right there.”

Fl.2’s open kitchen design is part of a popular trend in restaurants that permits chefs to “put on a show, allowing both chefs and diners to observe each other, aligning with the ‘restaurant as theater’ metaphor,” according to the National Restaurant Association.

Andrea Stehle, spokeswoman for Fairmont Pittsburgh, said “it’s amazing to watch the chefs work together seamlessly, with no sense of competitiveness.”

Fl.2’s new pastry chef

Penney has been at the Fairmont for two months, where he is working on adding his creative touch to the restaurant’s pastry menu.

Born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, the pastry chef worked at the Ritz Carlton in Cleveland, helped to open five restaurants in the Cleveland area and spent a year in Sydney, Australia, learning their cooking techniques, before coming to Pittsburgh.

Among his current hotel menu specialties are his pumpkin panna cotta with white chocolate cremeux and pepita Florentine, and Nutella cheesecake featuring chocolate crumble, raspberry and cocoa nibs.

“I like desserts to be on the lighter side, with a lot of different textures,” he said.

Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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