Beaujolais & Beyond: Débutante Party for a Favorite French Wine

Chefs competition, wine tasting, silent auction and glorious food

The November release of nouveau Beaujolais is a reason, or an excuse, that the French-American Chamber of Commerce uses to organize Beaujolais & Beyond, a transcontinental celebration of this annually anticipated new wine. Each FACC affiliate selects its own precise date, venue and event details. Denver’s FACC‘s Beaujolais & Beyond fête was Thursday, November 19, and for the second time in consecutive weeks, I was thrilled to be a judge for the chefs competition. My co-panelists were Stacey Brugeman of Denver Magazine; Vanessa Martinez, online editor for 5280 Magazine and Lori Midson of Westword
The event took place at Mile High Station, which had hosted the Denver International Wine Festival the week before. I half-expected the place to festooned in the French tricoleur, but elegant white was selected instead. Space in the center of the soaring hall was reserved for the entertainment, especially the stunning aerial dance act. But the real attraction was the food and the wine — or the wine and the food.
Once again, participating chefs prepared fantastic dishes, crafted to pair with the evening’s Gerorges Duboeuf nouveau. They could enter one, two or all three categories. Below are the winning dishes:

 Judges’ Choice Winners

Best Appetizer – Beaujolais Braised Petite Redbird Coq au Vin by Michael Long, Opus Restaurant, Littleton. Beautifully sauced drummettes served with pearl onion and a shave of black truffle. The dish was similar to one that Long prepared the previous week the Denver International Wine Festival, where it was also much praised. Long likes to serve three drummettes on a three-compartment plate, but only two are visible here, shown as he presented it to us judges. Not a flattering photo of the chef, but the judging moved along  fast and so did he.

I couldn’t get a good photo angle of Chef’s hands, shaving the black truffle on each drummette — but I did get a good taste!

Best Entrée – Duck Cordon Bleu by Cade Nagy, Catering by Design, Denver – Mushroom-spätzle casserole, grilled arugula, dried cherry salad and house-cured prosciutto chips made a multi-textured, multi-color dish with complementary flavora. The chip actually was standing up straight out of the casserole, a distinctive presentation that doesn’t really show in this image.

Best Dessert – Cranberry Tart with Brie Fonduta by Brendon Doyle, Jonesy’s EatBar. “Tart” is an Americanized name for a French clafoutie in which the fruit combines into the batter. The fruit of choice was, cranberries which make me think of autumn, and this tart was topped by a creamy melted Brie encircled by Pinot Noir reduction and additional Brie. Doyle said that he likes these grandmotherly plates. To my eye,  the busy pattern detracted from the presentation, but nothing could detract from the taste.

People’s Choice Winners

Best Appetizer – Duck Raviolis in a Duck Jus Reduction by Jean-Luc Voegele, Westin Tabor Center. Truffles and leeks, julienned and crisp-fried, made this a winner. Interestingly, he was also the People’s Choice winner at the Denver International Wine Festival. Bottom line: the “people” really like Voegele’s dishes — an so do I.

Best Entrée –  New York Strip with Huckleberry Demi-Glaze and  Best Dessert – Creme Brulée Cake, David Oliveri, both Farraday’s Steak House, Black Hawk. I goofed big time on this, especially since Oliveri won two out of three categories. For the judges, Oliveri plated a small portion of the meat on one end of a large oval platter and the cake on the other. I took pictures of neither, and attendees voted for both. I guess FACC will  just have to ask me back to judge in 2010. I’ll do better with photos. I promise. Meanwhile, apologies to the organizers, to Chef  and to the fans who voted for him.
The best I can offer, photographically, is a bit of the People’s Choice ballot station. Each chef prepared and plated his dish(es), which were arrayed on a fall-festive table with the ballot box as the centerpiece.
Other Noteworthy Dishes
Creativity reigned in several other dishes, a couple of which are worthy of a photo and an explanation here. Restaurant 1515’s Chuck James prepared sous-vide lobster that he smoked at the table. He inverted a martini glass over the lobster and smoked it via a hose stuck under the rim. When the martini glass was lifted, aromatic smoke rose from the plate and the smoley flavor permeated the rich lobster meat. James served it with a corn/truffle waffle, garlic butter “caviar,” arugula and lemon dust — yes, dust, not zest.
Catering by Design’s Cade Nagy upscaled and deconstructed the infamous Egg McMuffin: braised pork belly, fried quail egg, Hollandaise and a biscuit. He described it as his homage to fast food. Unlike its inspiration, I called it delicious.

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