Rising Stars Revue, Ghirardelli Square
Rising Stars Revue, Ghirardelli Square

Wednesday’s Rising Stars Revue proved to be a stellar event with the 14 award-winning chefs selected by culinary magazine StarChefs.com transforming Ghirardelli Square into a midsummer night’s feast. The tasting gala and awards ceremony celebrated the Bay Area’s brightest culinary talent, and the crowd was more than happy to bask in glow of their signature dishes.

Rising Stars Revue Louis Maldonado
Left: Aziza’s Mourad Lahlou (winner of 2010 Rising Stars Mentor Award) and Center: Rising Star chef Louis Maldonado, prepare Marinated Striped Bass, Petrossian Caviar, Green Strawberries, and Brown Rice

The chefs impressed, with a flurry of intricately constructed small plates — each one lovingly sauced, seasoned, and garnished before disappearing quickly into a throng of eager hands. With each bite, it became clear why these chosen few were crowned rising stars.

Thomas McNaughton’s Ravioli Doppio of Pork and Pea
Thomas McNaughton’s Ravioli Doppio of Pork and Pea, with butter sauce, pork jus, and fresh horseradish

Thomas McNaughton, flour + water (nominated for the James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant this year), served his soul-satisfying Ravioli Doppio of Pork and Pea. Yes, this ravioli had not one, but two fillings, piped in side by side (double the pleasure, double the fun). Bathed in a warm butter sauce and topped with grated Parmigiano and fresh horseradish, this hit the spot as the sun went down and the brisk bay air set in.

Brian MacGregor
Brian MacGregor shakes up his Tippler’s Delight

Brian MacGregor, Rising Star mixologist at Jardiniere, shook up a storm with his titillating Tippler’s Delight (1½ ounces Navip Slivovitz, ¾ ounce St. Germain, ¾ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice, dash of absinthe, shaken with ice and strained).

And, if you’re wondering what my favorite dish of the evening was, here comes the grand finale…

Scott Nishiyama's Foie Gras Neige
Scott Nishiyama wows us with his Foie Gras “Neige”

Scott Nishiyama, Chez TJ, hands down, took the cake for the most ridiculously delicious dish served at this event: Moulard Duck Foie Gras “Neige,” Blackberry Gelee, Cashew Puree, Sunchoke Salad, and Housemade Mustard Toast.

On the bottom of this heavenly dish was a smear of rich cashew butter. Scattered on top were little cubes of blackberry gelee and big, plump blackberries, some microgreens, and crispy baby radishes, sliced paper-thin. (In Nishiyama’s original recipe, he uses sunchoke chisp rather than radishes). On the side rested a baton of brioche-like housemade mustard bread. And showered upon it all was the most glorious mound of shaved frozen foie gras.

Yeah, I’ll just let that sink in for a sec.

Nishiyama (who cut his teeth at a few little places called Daniel and The French Laundry) makes the foie gras torchon in-house, soaking it in Sauternes and seasoning it with kosher salt, sugar, pink salt, and white pepper. He then freezes it so that it can be grated into a fine snow-flurry of gastronomic bliss. And, it’s not just a wee sprinkling he imparts, no, he keeps it coming until a lavish foie-blizzard has accumulated on your plate.

Ugh, I know I’m gushing like a smitten schoolgirl, but it really was simply divine. The frozen foie melted delicately on your tongue, and settled into the dish so that the creamy cashew puree took on its luxurious flavor. And the blackberry accents added just the amount of acidity needed to cut the richness, while bringing out the sweetness of the dish at the same time.

Apparently I wasn’t alone in my sentiment. As people took their first bite, I witnessed reactions ranging from utterances of “Holy Sh*t” to sounds not suitable for children. Needless to say, the dish won the People’s Choice award as best dish of the event.

Rising Star Chefs and Mentors
Rising Stars and Mentors

The wining and dining carried on into the night, and then even further into the night at the industry-only after party hosted at Elizabeth Falkner’s Orson, where, by the way, I had my second O-face inducing taste of the evening –- a deep-fried Monte Cristo with melty gruyere and Canadian bacon, served with strawberry-raspberry jam and powdered sugar.

A euphoric evening it was.

StarChefs.com’s Rising Stars Revue
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
7:30-10:00 pm
Ghirardelli Square, SF

Rising Star Chefs Afterglow 17 June,2010Stephanie Hua


Stephanie Hua

Stephanie Hua is the creator of Lick My Spoon, a place for all things delicious. So far she has learned that she very much enjoys salted caramel anything, a good soup dumpling is worth a scalded tongue, and there is no room in life for non-fat cheese and crappy chocolate. Also, a barrel of cheese balls never ends well.

Stephanie has been known to choose her company based on how much they can pack it down. Ability to endure cramped quarters, sketchy back alleys, and uncharted paths to seek out that special dish is also a plus in her book. If you fit the criteria, drop a note. You’ll probably get along just fine.

Stephanie’s writing and photography have been featured in Fodor’s Travel, Wine Enthusiast Magazine, Serious Eats, and Sundance Channel. Follow her on Facebook and @lickmyspoon.

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