Having watched the Anthony Bourdain episode of Cook it Raw in Japan with Chef Wetzel's former boss from Noma, forage and create with some of the world's best chefs, we were overly excited for this special meal. chef Wetzel told us, upon asking about the Japanese event, that he had helped to put on that first friendly competition, which made us even more intrigued. Even as we arrived to check in, there was a lot of prep going on for the evening's activities.
The premise was to invite 6 young, innovative chefs, including host Blaine Wetzel, have them fish and forage the island, and then come up with dishes to serve geeky diners over a leisurely 3 to 4 hour evening, with wine pairings by the resident sommelier. As we joined the other diners on the front porch for cocktail hour, the chefs and wait staff discussed the game plan.
The dinner started with a series of appetizers, most brought out and served by the chefs themselves.
Rhubarb and lovage, by north Belgium chef Kobe Desramaulis, was simple, tart and palate cleansing.
Wetzel presented kale leaf with truffles and rye, which was a stand out of the night. Just the aroma of this one bite wonder was heavenly.
Jerusalem artichokes with flax seed and purslane from San Francisco's Jason Fox was next up, another one bite piece of art.
And the final appetizer, from Sean Brock of South Carolina, was a smoked beet with chocolate, balsamic and woodruff. Most of you know that beets and I are not buddies, but I tried it and it was very interesting. Some may have thought it was delicious.
With the pretty little one bite's out of the way, the chefs started to bring out their protein centered foraged and found. I have to say that as each chef presented each table with his creation (where were the ladies?) they were informative, humble and appreciative of the enthusiasm.
John B. Sheilds from Philly presented us with his Shigoku Oyster with egg yolk, sea water and coastal plants. I wanted to love this as it was gorgeous but the kelp was a bit too slimy for me and the green ocean plants had a real muddy taste. Others disagreed and plates were cleaned.
Next up Jason Fox presented my favorite dish of the entire evening. Sockeye salmon as a tartare with fennel, frozen huckleberries, horseradish tapioca and sea beans. I want this again. And again.
These next dishes all came with a complimentary "side" created by one of the other chefs. Out came Chef Wetzel's smoked salmon I'd seen go in earlier in the day. We've all had smoked salmon. But this was amazing, like candy, with even the skin being crispy and flavorful. Served with only a warm, wet hand towel, it was to be eaten and enjoyed with the hands. And it was.
Next up Blaine served summer cabbage with gooseberries and coriander. Not sure what it was about this but it wasn't really my speed. Again, others disagreed.
The accompanying dish by Kobe Desramaults was a big hit however. Grilled onion with Nasturtium, goat cheese and rye.
Chef Desramaults had come around earlier to show each of us part of his next dish. He had taken the oyster shells, from the soon to be presented oysters poached in whey, and pulverized them, mixing them with salt to make a crust in which to roast potatoes in. He was sweet and excited, when he showed us the before shot.
And the resulting dish was both inventive and delicious, with the oyster being firm and the potato being soft yet having a slight briny flavor.
Nasturtium wrapped prawns with green garlic and a "head" emulsion by Chef Fox accompanied. It was nice but didn't make my top list.
It was at this time also that the customers decided on a "sunset break". If you've never seen the sunset from the inn, and even if you have before, it's a spectacular site. On this night there was an interesting cloud seeming to sink into the sea with the sun.
I'm really assuming the next dish was not truly foraged, although there seem to be an abundance of deer on the island... Chef Sean Brock served grilled venison heart (my first encounter with it) along with rhubarb, kohlrabi and shiitake. The sliver of grilled ofal was delicious and very tender
Huge "crackers" of crispy Halibut skin with razor clam was served by Wetzel as the follow up. Very interesting texture and a great flavor. Who would think of serving a shellfish on a finfish skin?
Another favorite of mine was Desramaults kerre melk stampers with spot prawns which I believe he described as a goat's milk ravioli. Whatever it all was I cleaned my plate.
Chef Shields followed with beer bread with pinenut butter and mushroom powder. Just your run of the mill bread course...Served on a log...
The final savory dish was courtesy of Kyle Connaughton. His kamado-San consisted of Kani gohan, charred leeks and seven grain, dungeness osumashi and crispy rice, sea lettuce tsukemono. I was disappointed to be so full at this point as I really wanted to eat all of this!
Desramaults presented a palate cleanser of sorrel and cucumber which even being full got cleaned from my plate.
And the. John B. Shields presented what was the most interesting dessert I've ever had. Preserved carrot with hazelnut praline, spruce and white chocolate. It rocked.
I felt that the dinner was a huge success and introduced me, yet again, to favors and products that I hadn't experienced before. This time those ingredients came with chefs who are really happy to experiment t with new flavors too. Sometimes this type of the meal can be a bit hokey but in my opinion Chef Wetzel and the Willows Inn are really doing a fantastic job. I can't wait till my next meal there!
Total dish count: 18, paired with wine. And this is why there is an inn to sleep over at.
All photos are here.
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Location:Willow Inn, Lummi Island