Back in the kitchen, a team of all-star cooks reviewed the coming experience with the service staff as forks were handed out during shift meeting – everyone eager for a taste of the entire menu. The kitchen crew – many of whom were comrades from past times and now-new places – sparked an infectious party mood as they awaited their previews. Happy faces all around.
This team of local celebrities led by the renowned Joji Sumi were about to present a raft of specialty dishes for an ultimate dining event – the East Coast debut of a San Francisco pop-up ‘Through the Kitchen Window.’ Surely, this was a gig worth tasting and celebrating as much as working. I know I was pleased to join in the fun in every sense – the food, the experience, the company and… did I mention the food?
The champions manning the back of house were literally stars in their own right, each able to draw out the crowd for a treat as a solo act, let alone together: Dan Hardy – former Allium and Mezze Catering chef, now chef at The Clark with Starr Catering Group; Vi Huu Wood – Joji’s former foraging mate and Mezze line cook for several years – now a farmer and cheesemaker at Berle Farm in Hoosick, NY; Bjorn Somlo – chef-owner at Nudel Restaurant in Lenox, a man who breathes his very own inspired local mantra; and, of course, Nick Moulton – the current chef at Mezze Bistro with five years of working with Joji under his belt, now delivering his own brand of deliciousness every night of the week.
A dream team, indeed.
Abuzz with excitement, I sat at a table with some friends and media professionals amid a roomful of Mezze regulars and Joji groupies – each of us barely containing our anticipation of this knockout team’s presentation. From farmer Kim Wells, whose pigs were always a main ingredient on Joji’s menus in past years, to a host of friends from nearby and afar – the energy was palpably high and peaking. By 6 pm, when the hot pink MASS MoCA drink cart rolled out with a bubbly Caitlin Harrison presenting a bright and festive spring beverage collection alongside manager Amy Mendes sprinting across the floor – it was a full-on party.
And not long after, as the impatient and eager crowd debated a kitchen invasion, the dim sum food carts emerged, bathed in the glowing light of sunset – and became the center of every mouth-watering conversation. Suddenly, everyone was into instant gratification. Our table was not immune to this deeply satisfying point-and-click menu experience.
We ordered one of everything. Well… almost everything. Just as we realized we’d missed the steamed buns, they were gone. But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Distracted by the family-style, shared plate of Roasted Pig Head with Peking Pancakes, Scallions and Peanut Sauce…well, let’s just say nobody had room left, in any case. Pacing and restraint had been rather roughly discarded in place of full-on hedonistic joy.
Yet somehow, there was still room for dessert – some kind of miracle, really… Chef Marianne Comella did not disappoint. Her lemongrass-frosted mini-donuts and ice cream sandwich bites bathed in a dense fudge sauce had us shamefully scraping the plates for more. I’m not above admitting that some rather overly aggressive sharing may have taken place among the four of us.
Later, although sooner than it felt possible… it was all over. The servers were happy. The guests were happy. The chefs were content. (It’s not in their nature to be happy.) And, I was ready to sign up to do it all again next year. Possibly even sooner, once I had a good lie down.
All in all, it was one of the best anniversary parties I’ve been to and my favorite of the Mezze 20th Anniversary celebration events this year.
Many thanks to the exceptional Mezze crew, with extra special kudos to Nancy and Amy. Thanks to Bill Wright and Nick and Robin from FED Guides for joining us on this glorious evening and for sharing your beautiful photography. Thank you, all-star chef team. And to Joji, thank you for making your way out east and for leading the charge. (I’m serious about not waiting another five years before bringing you back through *our* kitchen window…)
* In the spirit of full disclosure, the author of this blog post is the lucky duck who has been working with Mezze Restaurant Group for nine years as marketing maven. She does not write in first person often, but this event in particular, warranted a personal essay to honor the experience.