What started last year as a homegrown, grass-roots, come-if-you-feel-like-it foodie fundraiser has quickly blossomed into the can't-miss bash of the year. Staged at the Rock Hall, this year's Chef Jam essentially got promoted from a backyard barbecue to a five-star extravaganza. Like any great performance this one was standing-room-only, having burned through the 1,000 or so tickets nearly a week before the event. In attendance were 25 of Cleveland's finest chefs and restaurants — many dressed up in rock-and-roll attire — and the diners who love them.
To go with the surroundings, all of the food had a musical theme. Highlights from the menu include Amp 150's Rolling Stones-inspired beef tongue with cabbage slaw, Moxie's "Dark Side of the Moon" pies, Happy Dog's “Ain’t Nothin’ but a Hound” dogs, Dante's LSD (lemon-scented donuts), and ABC "the" Tavern's Meatloaf meatloaf. Because they were spread out among the various floors of the museum, the food stations and bars never received the kind of mosh-pit swarm so often seen at food fundraisers.
Yours truly had the honor of judging the Maker's Mark Challenge along with author Michael Ruhlman and food writer Laura Taxel. Contestant restaurants composed dishes — soups, entrees, desserts… - that utilized the Kentucky bourbon in some creative way. Dishes were evaluated for taste, originality, presentation and best use of the spirit. Dante Boccuzzi ran away with the top honors for his lobster and gnocchi bathed in a fragrant vanilla-bourbon sauce. His prize: a trip down to Maker's Mark to tour the distillery and bottle his own hooch.
Music fans were treated not only to the museum's killer memorabilia (Hello, Jerry Garcia's guitars) but also live performances by restaurant garage bands from Melange, Happy Dog and Crop. Cream of the Crop — chef Steve Schimoler's talented crew — got a little help from a dude named Todd Rundgren, who stole the show with his good licks and humble 'tude. For the encore, die-hard partiers made their way to Crop Bistro for some late-night cocktails (try the "New-Fashioned"), improvisational cooking from Dante, and informal bar chat with Rundgren.
Here's a tip: Get yer tickets for next year's event early!