A culinary coup in Louisville

Tonight had to be one of the coolest overall culinary experiences I’ve taken part in. As part of the fun-filled Travel South Showcase I’m currently in the middle of attending this week, we media delegates got to attend a live taping of a locally produced show called “Secrets of Louisville Chefs.” This isn’t some crazy reality TV cooking show. This is actual demo cooking in front of a live audience taped at Sullivan University, home to a top-notch culinary arts program and the student-operated Winston’s gourmet restaurant.

starters and a Seelbach

As soon as we came through the door, we were immediately wined and dined with appetizers and Seelbach Cocktails, a heavenly concoction of bourbon, triple sec, bitters and champagne. The nosh was a fab little trio plate of a tiny biscuit laden with tender roast lamb and jalapeno mint jelly, a mini Benedictine BLT on toast, and a little hoe cake topped with roasted veggie pimento cheese. There’s a story behind the name, but I don’t know it, so please feel free to insert joke here. (I also recently had lunch in a place that advertised the unfortunate choice of “ho-made chocolate chip cookies” on the dessert menu. Swear to God. I can’t make this stuff up.)

But I digress… these starters were delish. I’m quickly developing a particular fondness for pimento cheese on this trip (note to self, seek out recipes upon return to Indy). This made the hoe cake my favorite of the three. I can hear you snickering again. Stop it. Stop it right now.

While we sipped and nibbled in our seats, the producers set up the show, featuring three renowned local chefs who each came out and prepared a dish amid banter with the host. These chefs are all quite obviously masters of their craft. Possibly the universe.

Chef Llamas plates up chorizo and grits

Chef Anthony Lamas owns a place in town called Seviche, showcasing farm-to-table sensibilities with a Latino spin. For his demo, he whipped up a plate of housemade chorizo atop chipotle cheddar grits with an orange bourbon sauce and adobo chili puree.

First course: chorizo and grits

I’m also loving the grits on this trip as well – last night at the opening party, there was a mashed potato/grits bar. Let me say that again. Mashed potato. Grits. Bar. With toppings like caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, bacon and cheese to gussy things up. Oh yeah, baby, and then some.

Chef Castro assembling the “Not Brown”

The second man up was Chef John Castro, executive chef instructor of Winston’s at Sullivan University and partner at Yang Kee Noodle Restaurant.

Second course: the “Not Brown”

Also a renowned chef, John’s brother is known for the “Hot Brown” sandwich, an ungodly good open-faced stack of bread, cheese, bacon, turkey, tomato and Mornay sauce, broiled until gooey and served open faced. Not to be outdone, Chef John created the “Not Brown,” his own spin on the classic using fried green tomatoes as the “bread” with rock shrimp, crab, bacon, spinach and the Mornay sauce. If you’re a fan of seafood and cream sauce, this dish will send you straight over the moon.

Chef Moore gives us some sugar

Finally, Chef Josh Moore, executive chef and partner at Volare, treated us to a show of sweet finesse with a recipe that didn’t actually seem very difficult to make, but looked mouthwateringly scrumptious. This guy is known for creating some of the most spectacular sugar work this side of Willy Wonka. Case in point, a glass-like sample he’d brought to display of blue horse heads with roses woven through their flowing manes. All made of sugar. Seriously unbelievable.

Third course: jam cake with caramel frosting

For dessert, Chef Moore made a Kentucky jam cake with black walnuts and raspberry preserves in the batter, and a boiled caramel frosting that had us all swooning in our seats with thoughts of licking the spoon.

For a foodie like me, just watching the show taping and the demonstrations was bliss (I even picked up a few new tips to use at home), but then we got to make our way into Winston’s and eat the whole three-course meal. Everything looked and tasted absolutely gorgeous.

the mega Manhattan

To wash it down, I did the best I could to finish a super-sized Manhattan. No joke, this glass must have held about 16 ounces, and these bartenders were not shy with the Woodford Reserve. Thank goodness I ordered it on the rocks.

Secrets of Louisville Chefs is hosted by an energetic gentleman named Tim Laird and runs on WBKI-TV, Louisville’s CW affiliate. For more information, go to www.NewLocal.TV.

By the way, our particular episode is scheduled to air in Louisville on Sunday, April 1, and will be available for viewing online April 2 at www.NewLocal.TV.