Photo by Nicole Martorana
The evening's intermezzo of fruit purées was just one of the highlights at the Wednesday dinner.
Those who feel coffee and wine pairings are a dinner match made in heaven, take note: Wednesday night, Kitchen on Cary and H.C. Valentine Coffee Co. made the dream a reality with a five-course, farm-to-table dinner. Partnering with Valentine, Kitchen on Cary’s new Executive Chef Michael Macknight presented a full lineup of coffee-infused dishes, each paired with a wine from California, South Africa or France.
For those unfamiliar with Kitchen on Cary, this local-focused restaurant supports the Culinary Institute of Virginia College, or Culinard, where culinary and pastry arts students learn from a full team of professional staff and chefs in a lab environment. The petit fours forWednesday's dinner were actually prepared in part by students as part of a day-long workshop with Chef Macknight, who joined the restaurant in July of this year with more than 30 years of experience in the kitchen.
While Valentine is based out of Birmingham, Alabama, its roots are in Richmond; owner H.C. Valentine himself was once a furniture-maker here. In establishing the small-batch artisanal roasting company, his family approached coffee-making with the same attention to craftsmanship and high quality. In fact, that dedication has won its sister company, Royal Cup Coffee, four gold medals from Chefs in America's American Masters of Taste awards.
The menu was well planned, with a featured coffee for each course. The cocoa seared scallop with roasted espresso sauce betterave and white yam purée gained further complexity and texture through parsnip chips and Ethiopian butter powder, and the accompanying burnt-orange wilted beet tops had us begging for the recipe. Between the fish course and richly nutty meat course of Autumn Olive Farms pork shoulder steak with sunchokes, Tuscan kale and Indonesian Sumatra-cherry gastrique, an intermezzo of fruit purees provided the perfect palate cleanser; crisps of dried pineapple and grenadine-soaked pear brought color and crunch, accented with the tang of a kumquat sorbet.
Perhaps one of the greatest delights of the evening, though, was the excuse to eat multiple desserts. From the beginning, a coffee martini aperitivo awoke each guest's sweet tooth, with the benefit of a caffeine kick. The cold-fusion milkshake served toward the end of the meal featured the Roast Master’s Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, a coffee also seen earlier in the Merguez lamb and coffee sausage amuse bouche, and the H.C. Valentine Coffee Truffles on the petit four plate. The interplay of hot and cold brought more exercise to the palate in the dessert course, featuring steaming marinated forest berries in a flaky pastry crust, topped with white coffee ice cream featuring Roast Master’s African Savanna and paired with La Fleur D’Or Sauternes. Rounding out the evening was a full petit four selection, with everything from sesame dentelles to apricot financiers to Richmond bourbon truffles featuring Reservoir Bourbon.
While some may be hesitant to entrust their plates and palates to students just learning their craft, I would encourage these diners to strongly reconsider. The technique, hospitality and inspired flavors exhibited in chef Macknight’s dinner this week proved that Culinard students and Kitchen on Cary are certainly in good hands.