It’s hard to think of a more appropriate theme for Chef Ian Kleinman’s night of FIVE at FIVE™ than “Willy Wonka” (except for maybe “Gourmet-fied Frozen TV Dinners,” — Ian, let’s talk).
But truly the best chef to bring the world of pure imagination to life is Denver’s own culinary wiz kid. And pure imagination he surely brought… along with a giant vat of liquid nitrogen.
If Ian were a superhero, liquid nitrogen would be his super power… or his ultimate weapon for evil (gosh I hope he’s on our side).
In any case, Ian took the part of Willy Wonka for our opening reception, delighting us with liquid nitro gold-dusted popcorn that paired well with the liquid nitro slushy prepared by Coohills’ Brian Smith and Jonathan Greschler (are you sensing a theme here?).
Watching Jonathan Greschler force carbonate bottles of alcohol while Brian Smith dumped liquid nitro into their Cachaça, tea, and watermelon mixture was pretty amazing and seemed to beg the “don’t try this at home, kids” subtitle. But Brian insisted that liquid nitro is totally manageable for a home bar (he has no idea how clumsy I am).
The slushy came with a set of “gummies for grownups” which really make your college jello shots look pathetic. We’re talking Mezcal and Bitter Orange Extract-Soaked Cinnamon Bears, Sal de Gusano Coating – Anchor Hophead Vodka-Soaked Peach Gummies. Mmmm!
Back behind Ian’s Wonka laboratory, chefs were injecting kumamoto oysters with green jolly rancher syrup (made from melted jollys, water, sugar, and a touch of gelatin if you’re an “inject it yourself” kind of person).
Also candied out were shrimp poached in caramel, served on bruschetta with candy garlic, thai basil, and smoked tomatoes. It was definitely caramel-y.
Are your teeth rotting yet? Let’s move on to seated dinner.
We shuffled into what I can only describe as “Kitchen Stadium” where rows of seating provided an ideal view of the chefs in their element. Thanks to our venue, Roth Distributing, for making my kitchen feel like total loserville compared to this gorgeous space.
Ian took to the mic to explain where the other 4 chefs fit into this Wonka factory. Ian gave each chef a character from the movie and tasked them with preparing a dish that would represent that character. They could draw from the name, character traits, whatever inspired them.
And the chefs got pretty inspired.
Mike Teavee by Sean Yontz – Oaxan Chocolate Mole with Candied Pepitas, Braised Beef Short-ribs, Calabacitas and Carmelized Tomatillo Salsa
I’m going to take a wild gander at Chef Sean’s inspiration for this one and say he went for beef short-ribs as a nod to Mike’s cowboy outfit in the original film, allowing the chocolate mole, candied pepitas, and carmelized tomatillo to bring in the “candy” element.
Sean, how’d I do? Did I get it?
Veruca Salt by Matt Selby – Cocoa Nib “Veruca” Salt Seared Scallop, Apple and Chive Julienne, Lentil Banana Dahl, Vanilla Lobster Bisque
Chef Matty helped us out a bit with some of his inspiration, noting that Dahl (a lentil dish) was also the last name of the book’s author. Tricky.
Along with that, Matty nodded to Veruca’s last name with the salt sear on his scallop (Veruca itself is poisonous so he ruled the first name out). The cocoa-nib element and the vanilla flavor in the lobster bisque also payed homage to the candy factory.
This was unreasonably good. As Veruca says, “I WANT IT NOW.” (And tomorrow, and the next day…)
Augustus Gloop by Brian Laird – German Sausage and Potato Kabobs with Homemade Sauerkraut and Cider Braised Red Cabbage
Chef Brian really surprised me with this dish. I could eat buckets of that red cabbage. And you guys know how much I love Denver’s own Polidori Sausage.
The inspiration for this dish was definitely around Augustus’ German heritage, but I also liked some of the “gloop”-looking elements like the cranberry dollop that sat atop my kabob (most delicious “gloop” I’ve ever had, mind you!).
That was totally intentional, right?
Violet Beauregarde by Jorel Pierce, performed by Rioja’s Chef de Cuisine – Squab en Violet, Roasted Brest, Confit Leg, Beet Springs, Corks and Jewels, Rose, Thai Basil, Crème de Violet Nage
So what I appreciated about this dish was that Jorel was not just inspired by the color violet (which he incorporated in the beets and crème de violet nage), but also by her French name. This gave us a very, very French dish.
The Franco-foodie in me was squealing with delight. My squab was perfectly cooked and the crème de violet nage was divine. It looked like the plate was also decked with a few blueberries to pay homage to Violet’s final… er… form.
Jonathan Greschler and Brian Smith did an awesome job with the paired beverages for every course and while I’d love to go through every wine Jonathan carefully selected, there was one creation that I need to highlight above all:
“Build your own rosé” was Brian’s imaginative way of giving Jonathan the “pink bubbles” he requested. A beautiful 2011 Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc got sprinkled with Zinfandel caviar and voilà – pink bubbles (or “wine boba” as we described it at my table).
This drink paired with Chef Matty’s Veruca Salt dish, but I’ve got to say it reminded me so much of the bubbles scene from the original movie.
Okay. Take a breath. It’s time for dessert.
If you know Ian, you know it wouldn’t be an event without Liquid Nitro Ice Cream and Sorbet (seriously, this guy must single-handedly keep Colorado chemists in business). So for his Charlie Bucket reception, Ian prepared an ice cream bar with buckets (get it?) of his most famous concoctions.
You pick a base:
-coconut milk sorbet
-espresso chocolate chip
-peanut butter sorbet
And then you pick a topping:
-exploding whipped cream -nutella pop rocks -raspberry bubbles -frozen caramel powder -brown sugar -braised pineapple
I went with peanut butter sorbet and nutella poprocks. Two words: delicious explosion. There is really no way to adequately describe what nutella pop rocks taste like, so just hire Ian for your next party and have him make you a cup.
In addition to this enormous ice cream bar, Ian was playing Wonka again and made more magical candies: yuzu and pomegranate marshmallows, key lime truffles, frozen chocolate air, and (of course) golden chocolate bars.
And if all of that wasn’t enough to take you to a world of pure imagination, Ian decided to turn all of our tastebuds upside down with a miracle fruit tasting.
What is miracle fruit you ask?
It’s a fruit that literally changes the way your tastebuds function so that everything sweet appears sour and everything sour appears sweet. I don’t know exactly how the chemicals work (Wonka is probably protecting that secret with his everlasting gobstopper recipe) but… they work.
So after spreading miracle fruit powder on our tongues, we snacked on lemons, limes, hot sauce, and whipped balsamic like they were candy. It was absolutely unreal.
The evening’s night cap tasted great with or without the miracle fruit and featured Cynar Amaro, Iced Novo Espresso, and Grappa Mist. I’m out of words so just go see Jonathan and Brian at Coohills (they are doing amazing things there with the bar).
At the end of the night, we were on such a sugar high that we stuck around, shot back some Cynar, and
annoyed entertained the awesome FIVE crew (or as I like to call them, the madness behind the method).
I simply cannot say enough good things about this team of culinary wizardry and I absolutely encourage every one of you to get your golden ticket and come to Chef Brian’s gourmet luau in August (coconut shells and grass skirt recommended).