The big dinner before the big day - September 17, 2009
I’d known Sean Kennedy since my high school days back in Jersey and we’d never grown tired of each other’s love for storytelling, food and booze…in fact, that’s probably what kept us so close over the years. He ended up as an executive chef in Tucson, followed by a few kitchen stints in the British Virgin Islands and Philadelphia, but even after he’d taken up boat-making in South Jersey, I always counted on him for a gourmet meal whenever I ventured back east. It had become tradition.
And just when I thought my multiple course meals were safe…he moved to Florida. So the only way I could lure him back to NJ with good reason was when I got married, especially since he’d promised my fiancé (Bubba) and me a seven course menu as part of our wedding gift.
Chef Sean’s sister, Mary (aka Bones), would be assisting as sous chef yet again (she was also part of the ritual, as was my mother whose house we always used for the feast.) We had also included Bubba’s father (Larry), step-mother (Marcia) and our friend Jeannie, who was making her way as a singer in Nashville.
But by the end, we would all be singing (praises) for the flawless work and edible levity that emerged from the Kennedy kitchen. Time to eat:
Chef Sean’s lucky seven (courses)
First course: Tortilla soup- consisted of a thin, traditional broth made mostly from chili powder and chicken stock. Even our guests who weren’t fans of “spicy food” drank it down greedily. There was more of a refreshing burn than the feeling that your lips were about to fall off. Further cooling was brought on by several accoutrements topping the dish: queso fresco, sliced avocado, fried tortilla strips, sour cream, cilantro and a lime on the side. Besides the intricate array of accessories, the vapors from this liquid alone could cure “what ails ya.”
Second course: Duck spring rolls- Sometimes Chef Sean couldn’t find all of his desired ingredients at the supermarket (ie. the great basil fiasco of 2004) and this time, duck was the missing component. But there was no worry from the Kennedy crew. Bones just sauntered into the nearest Chinese restaurant and bought a whole duck for $15- now that’s initiative. And I’m so glad she did because there is no substitute for that beloved bird. Its meat shredded succulently beneath a crisp blanket of wonton and the hoisin/ soy dipping sauce softened a bed of sprouts beneath. Lucky duck!
Third course: Goat cheese soufflé – arrived with a salad of mixed greens, heirloom tomatoes, tangerines and chili/ honey dressing, only to be topped by homemade candied pecans. They were still warm with the soft crunch of sugar and the buttery intensity nuts exhibit when heated, but even though the pecans pleased, the souffle took the cake.
Fourth course: Shrimp and green bean tempura with carrot/ ginger buerre blanc- had always been my favorite of the Chef's creations and one I insisted be included. I could eat an entire plate of just the green beans, but I guess veggies aren’t considered healthy if you dip them in batter and fry them. But who cares when they taste this good?! As for the buerre blanc, I wanted to bathe in it. I wanted to put it on top of fish, pizza, a shoe…anything. It’s velvety, orange hue could sweep you off your feet with one glance, but the sassy bite of ginger mixed with subtle sweetness from the carrot made it a real Casanova. It continues to steal my heart.
…At this point of the night it was around 10pm, which is usually Larry’s bedtime. I told him, “Don’t feel bad if you’re too tired to stay.” I knew we were going to still be here for a while.
He said, “For this food, I’d stay up ‘til 2am.” My kind of guy- on with the meat course!
Fifth course: Sliced NY strip - appeared with caramelized onions and a beet demi-glaze that had been simmering for about 10 hours. Beef bones were sapped of their essential juices and red beets were added to give the sauce a strong, rosy color, which was a bit muted, but outstanding nonetheless. There was a complexity here that couldn’t be faked and a genuine sense of comfort from flavors that had steeped on the stove all day. The caramelized onions were soft enough to spread, almost like a savory jam, over the perfectly pink strips of beef. Onion jam?! Well, then just call me Lady Marmalade.
Sixth course: Goat cheese and crab ravioli with white wine/tomato broth - was indulgent, yet light. The liquid brought a perfect contrast to the rich ravioli and a hint of lemon perked the taste-buds to the tartness of the goat cheese. I was glad Chef Sean left off the grated lemon rind he’d originally intended on using because it ended up with the ideal amount of acidity (Marcia’s favorite.)
Final course: Mango mousse- originally the Chef was going to make a chocolate soufflé, but this would press him for time and he also wanted something a bit more cleansing for the palate. The mango mousse was the way to go. It set up perfectly in the refrigerator, having enough body to hold the spoon, but still bringing simple refreshment similar to Italian ice. This final bite was the equivalent of swirling that last piece of bread around the plate until you had to finally admit the meal was truly finished.