2016-05-01 / Dishing

Chef d’Oeuvre

Anne Quinn Corr | Photos by Matt Fern

Something old is new again in more ways than one at Carnegie House Restaurant. Executive Chef Paul Kendeffy is back in the kitchen after an absence of 15 years and has launched a new tradition with roots in 19th-century France. Kendeffy’s audacious move was to place a tall table for two in a safe alcove just opposite his busy line. The lucky pair that perches there has a perfect vantage point to see the plates created individually for them — as well as the opportunity to observe true culinary art in action.

A 1993 New York Times article entitled “The Chef’s Table: Someone’s in the Kitchen with the Cooks” defines the concept. “In Europe, the chef’s table for more than a century has been the place for entertaining friends and family of the chef. After reading about the custom, Charlie Trotter decided to have a chef’s table in his kitchen when he opened his eponymous restaurant in Chicago in 1987...Chefs’ tables are proliferating in all parts of the country.” The fact that it took nearly three decades for the concept to reach State College is no real surprise; the surprise is how entertaining the experience is. The battery of squirt bottles with coulis, infused oils, dressings and easily accessible garnishes are the tools of the artistic chef and are in constant use as each blank plate-palette comes to life.

To see this artistry in action, we booked the Chef’s Table at Carnegie House ($125 per person), which is only available Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings with 48-hour notice. Kendeffy called to see if there were any food allergies or particular dislikes. He asked how the meat should be cooked, and that was the end of his questions. He creates an extravaganza of 9 to 10 courses — however much you can take — culling the best of the best from his extensive dinner menu that changes monthly. For an additional $50, wines are matched with each course, and the uncommon variety of the wines poured proves that sommelier Brett Dietz has a global appreciation of new and trending wine regions.

To start the dinner, Kendeffy delivered three Blue Point oysters barely poached in beurre blanc and served over celery root puree with a topping of American sturgeon caviar. A glass of Prosecco Glam accompanied, a crisp sparkler that cut the richness of the dish. It was a perfect beginning.

Sesame-crusted seared yellowfin tuna followed on a bed of pepper-infused baby bok choy with mango coulis and basil drizzle. Tiny sprigs of amaranth brightened the plate and provided balance. The Casal Branco Sauvignon Blanc from Portugal had a spicy aroma and zippy grapefruit character that paired nicely with the mango overtones and heat.

Third on the menu was a chicken cutlet stuffed with basil and chevre that was wrapped in bacon and served with a raspberry vinegar sauce. Dandelion leaves and fresh raspberries garnished the plate and complemented each bite. The wine was an eye-opening Los Haroldos Malbec Rose.

The next course was a contrast of the simple and the sublime that astonished me — a little schmear of Burgundy wine sauce topped with piped potato puree. But Kendeffy brought out the heavy artillery for the topping — a truffle the size of a golf ball and a little vessel filled with an emulsion of edible gold dust in olive oil. He shaved the truffle over the potato, releasing the aroma of earth and wood, then drizzled on a tiny ladleful of liquid gold. The puree glistened under the jaunty cap of a petal from a Dendrobium orchid. I nearly swooned. Each bite was delicious; each sip of Terra d’Oro Sangiovese a revelation, preparing the palate for the next layer of flavors.

However, that little dish was necessarily outdone by the next three, which were the big guns. The volley started with a rack of lamb with a mustard and herb crumb crust, three riblets done medium rare and arranged on spring vegetables in a robust thyme sauce. The Barbanera Chianti from Tuscany paired perfectly, each sip releasing bold tannins and bitter cherry to complement the gamy lamb flavor.

Saddle of rabbit galloped in next, with a spinach and mascarpone filling accompanied by tiny pommes parisienne atop a roasted grape and Armagnac sauce. The crispy skin provided a chewy texture to the tender interior, and grilled ramps asserted their allium power on the side. El Grano Carmenere from Chile, the complex wine match, evoked flavors of plum and chocolate with an underlying earthiness reminiscent of yerba mate.

We were about to wave our napkins, white flags, but as we watched, Kendeffy arranged a medallion of beef tenderloin on top of creamy morels and asparagus and then topped it with a seared slice of New York state foie gras; we knew that we would eat every bite, and we did.

We were certainly not hungry, but another Terra d’Oro wine, this time a Zinfandel Port, finished the dinner on a sweet note. A rich chocolate torte paired nicely with the fortified wine and also as we cracked through the sugar crust on our crème brûlée. Two and a half hours later, we were done.

Kendeffy’s Chef’s Table is a rare opportunity to witness this talented chef in action. He is back where he began in State College 15 years ago, when he worked at the property from 1998 to 2001. The 1995 Culinary Institute of America graduate is glad to be cooking again, after co-owning five properties in the State College area and in Harrisburg. Kendeffy was partner in a restaurant group that included Zola, the Gamble Mill and Alto and is relieved to be free of the business side of running a restaurant.

“I had planned to go to Florida last summer, after the properties were resolved, but Sandy Poole asked me to take over the kitchen here and I am very happy to just be able to cook again. I took over six months ago, renovated the kitchen, and now look forward to using the garden that we put in out back. The goal is to have one item in each dish be sourced from the garden,” said the 42-year-old.

Kendeffy has always been an innovator, and his Chef’s Table concept shows him at the top of his game. To allow access to the intimacy of the back of the house is a bold move that can only increase the general public’s appreciation for the complex collaboration of chef, sommelier, kitchen team and servers in this dance that we call “dining out.” •SCM

Crème Brûlée
Makes 6 servings

1 qt. heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split
1 c. sugar
6 large egg yolks
2 qt. hot water for the water bath
½ c. raw sugar for caramelizing

    Preheat oven to 325°F. Heat the cream and the split vanilla bean in a medium saucepan over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Immediately remove from the heat, cover and allow to rest and infuse for 15 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean.
    Whisk the sugar and the egg yolks until well blended in a medium bowl. Add the cream slowly, bit by bit, whisking continually. Pour the liquid into six 8-ounce ramekins and place the ramekins into a large roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Carefully place the pan in the oven and bake for about 40 to 45 minutes, until the custard is set but still a little loose in the center. Lift the ramekins from the water with tongs, let cool, and then refrigerate for at least two hours or up to three days.
    When you want to serve them, remove the ramekins from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes prior to browning the sugar on top. Divide the raw sugar among the six ramekins and spread it evenly. Using a torch, melt the sugar to form a crunchy top. Allow to rest a few minutes, then serve.

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