Monday, August 29, 2011

Cecilia Chiang, Patty Unterman, & Ruth Reichl Dinner Celebrates Chez Panisse 40th

Intimate Chinese Banquet
Fast friends for decades, it is no surprise Alice Waters asked Cecilia Chiang to host one of the "Chez Soi" dinners at her San Francisco home to celebrate Chez Panisse at 40. What may come as a surprise is that at 93-years-old, Cecilia is still every bit the embodiment of "exquisitely commanding graciousness" and a "true grande dame" as Alice Waters describes her in The Seventh Daughter.

The star-studded evening was filmed by Wayne Wang, best known for Joy Luck Club, for potential use in a documentary. (I didn't realize the floral centerpiece was "bugged" until the end of the evening and am hoping I said nothing of interest.) Guests included former Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl, renowned food writer Patty Unterman,  San Francisco Ballet's principal dancer Yuan Yuan Tan, and Robert Sinskey Vineyard's Chef Maria Helm Sinskey among others. The feast was prepared under Cecilia's guidance by South Legend Chef Bill He and Betelnut Chef Alex Ong. Benu's sommelier came up with the wine pairings and the wines were donated by Martine Saunier. Each guest used Cecilia's mother's ivory and silver chopsticks, which were part of her mother's dowry; just one of the touching and intimate ways that Cecilia drew the guests into her world for the evening.

Paper thin abalone. Patricia Unterman and Cecilia Chiang

My favorites in the exquisite 20-course meal included:
  • Fresh abalone sashimi pounded paper-thin, which Bill He got free-diving in Mendocino
  • Bon Bon Chicken (aka "Bang Bang Chicken" or  "Bong Bong Chicken" because the chicken is traditionally hit with a stick; also aka "Strange-Flavor Chicken" or "Odd-Flavor Chicken")
  • Elaborately decorated and rich pork kidneys with a numbing pepper spice
  • Delicate yet crisp wood ear mushrooms with wolfberries (aka goji berries)
  • Rabbit in Sichuan sauce (with a green root vegetable that may be a Chinese green radish)
  • Rock cod in Shaoxing wine
  • Sichuan sweet rice pork (divinely tender with a sweet black poppy seed paste)
  • Watermelon ice dessert 
The abalone shell is passed around the table. Yuan Yuan Tan, Ruth Reichl, and Maria Helm Sinskey

Painstakingly prepared and decorated pork kidneys with cucumber and numbing pepper

Chicken bon bon / aka (bong bong/ bang bang / strange-flavor / odd-flavor)

Ruth Reichl and Head FoodandWineMaven (That's me!)

Filmmaker/Director Wayne Wang with South Legend Chef Bill He

The consummate storyteller, Cecilia Chiang tells how the people of Sichuan were particularly adept at catching rabbits, over a dish of rabbit in Sichuan sauce

Chef Alexander Ong with Beggar's Chicken wrapped in lotus leaf and baked in clay

Bill He holds pork belly with a sweet black poppyseed layer and sticky rice


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