Scenes From A Top Chef Dinner: Featuring Shirley Chung, Brian Huskey And Louis Maldonado

A meal featuring one Top Cheftestant is a treat; three is a party. When Louis Madonado (Spoonbar) and Brian Huskey (Tackle Box) worked the Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival the other weekend, they spent one evening moonlighting in Shirley Chung's TWENTY EIGHT kitchen. Their plan: Showcase a meatless dinner while raising funds for Project Hope Alliance. We spent a few minutes with all three after the final course to learn more about the collaboration.

I was drinking with some of my girlfriends, and they were all vegetarians. We wanted to do something that would celebrate the harvest season. And then some of my friends were in town, so we decided to throw together a dinner. We wanted to feature vegetables, because nobody does that. ~Shirley


I think it was awesome. Any tasting menu is difficult to do. When you have proteins like lobster and red meat, I think it's a little bit easier to execute. A lot of times vegetables can be an afterthought, but to really highlight vegetables was fun.~Brian

Brian's sixth course featured wok roasted Fall vegetables, quinoa feta “sand” and a huacatay emulsion.

None of us wanted to do dessert. So, originally I wanted to only do six courses. Very casual. So then I started Google docs and began putting menu ideas together. And this guy (gestures to Louis), super aggressive said, “Oh, I'm doing two courses plus a canapĂ©. What are you doing?” Wow, bring up the standard. I said “Okay, I am doing five courses.”~Shirley

I remember being included in the conversation. I was like, “I'm doing one course and one amuse? No, I'm doing two.”~Brian

Louis' first course plates caviar, heirloom tomato and a roasted red pepper consomme. [Editor's Note: A group of them spent the night before meticulously peeling ginkgo nuts for Louis' third course. When Louis was about to change his mind, the team wouldn't let him.]

Kobocha squash season is really beautiful and sweet. One night, I received my first shipment, and I immediately decided it was something I had to feature on the menu. I like to do dumpling pasta, so it was kind of natural for me to do some sort of pasta as a filling to really showcase the deliciousness of the squash.~Shirley

We inhaled the burrata cheese, garden herb oil, and Hawk apple pine nut gremolata.

On plating in the dining room:

I want our guests to have an experience. We have a closed kitchen, and you can't really see what we do. Just the interaction of me talking about a dish is not really a true experience, because I feel a lot of people coming to this kind of dinner want to see us cook. So that's why we took it out, stadium style.~Shirley

I think it brings a whole other element. Might as well give them that extra perceived value.~Brian

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