James Beard Foundation Chefs & Champagne Participants Talk Summer and Snacking

James Beard Chefs and Champagne
The tents at the 25th anniversary of the James Beard Foundation's Chefs & Champagne event on July 25 at Wölffer Estate Vineyard in the Hamptons. Phil Gross

On Saturday evening, dozens of foodies gathered under an enormous white tent for Chefs & Champagne, the James Beard Foundation’s 25th annual gut-busting fundraiser and silent auction. The event, hosted by Wölffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaponack, New York—purveyor of fine Hamptons Gatorade—provided the perfect posh setting for the top chefs of the region and beyond to showcase their best dishes. The food scenester’s fantasy featured an exhaustive list of small plates prepared with locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. There was fatty pork belly, oysters on the half shell pulled out of the water mere miles from the vineyard, savory boar sausage with a kick, irresistibly sticky-sweet monkey bread and tiny savory cookies from this year’s honoree, pastry chef and television cooking personality Carla Hall. And, of course, there was plenty of the champagne. 

Carla Hall Honoree Carla Hall pours a tower of Champagne Taittinger at Chefs & Champagne. Phil Gross

Newsweek made the trek out to Long Island to grill (no pun intended) some of the participating chefs on their favorite summer treats, their best kitchen cheats and the snacks they hate to love. Despite the variety in their cooking styles and the vastly different dishes they served, many of the chefs found common ground when it came to Doritos.

Carla Hall (2015 Chefs & Champagne honoree)
What she served: Assorted Petite Gourmet Cookies and Baked Goods

What's your favorite summer dish?
Fresh creamed corn and tomato-cucumber salad.

What weird cooking trick do you use the most?
Using my fingers to rub chopped herbs and citrus zest into salt and sugar before using them in a dish or dessert.

What snack or junk food are you embarrassed to admit you love?
Jalapeño Cheetos.

 

Amanda Cohen (chef and owner, Dirt Candy)
What she served: Tomato Tarts With Smoked Feta

What's your favorite summer dish?
Anything on a barbecue! Nothing screams "summer" more than grill marks (also sometimes known as a sunburn). I’ll grill anything, from watermelon, to corn, to mushrooms, to bread.

What weird cooking trick do you use the most?
I blend garlic and oil in my blender until it’s super smooth, and use that instead of chopping garlic when I’m too lazy to get out my knife.

What snack or junk food are you embarrassed to admit you love?
I am not embarrassed! There is no shame in my love of dill pickle Doritos.

 

Didier Elena (chef, Chefs Club New York)
What he served: Spicy Summer Cobb Salad With Wagyu Beef

What's your favorite summer dish?
I love summer corn or a refreshing gazpacho.

What weird cooking trick do you use the most?
When I make paella, I let the rice become slightly burnt at the bottom of the pan. That crispy browned rice is absolutely delicious—don't throw it away!

What snack or junk food are you embarrassed to admit you love?
I can never refuse a good BBQ chicken wing.

 

Daniel Eddy (chef, Rebelle)
What he served: Head Cheese With Radishes and Parsley

What's your favorite summer dish?
Anything off of the grill! I also love a good watermelon and feta salad with kalamata olives and pickled red onions—especially on a hot, sunny day.

What weird cooking trick do you use the most?
Cooking directly in charcoal is a great little trick, as it is provides the most direct heat. It also lends a nice smoky flavor to any dish.

What snack or junk food are you embarrassed to admit you love?
I really love potato chips. I don’t discriminate—I'll eat all flavors.

 

JJ Johnson (chef de cuisine, The Cecil)
What he served: Skuna Bay Salmon With Grilled Pickled Peaches, Apple-Shishito Dressing, Purple African Basil and Fonio Crunch

What's your favorite summer dish?
Grilled corn and watermelon.

What weird cooking trick do you use the most?
Whenever I burn myself, I rub kosher salt on the burn, and it stops the stinging immediately.

What snack or junk food are you embarrassed to admit you love?
Cool Ranch Doritos.

 

Sam Hazen (culinary director, BR Guest Hospitality)
​What he served: Ecuadorian Shrimp Ceviche Buckets

What's your favorite summer dish?
Tomatoes with fresh basil—it's idiot-proof!

What weird cooking trick do you use the most?
Cutting cherry tomatoes with two mayonnaise lids as a knife. Place the tomatoes in one [lid], place the other lid on top, cut through and you’re able to cut a lot of tomatoes at one time.

What snack or junk food are you embarrassed to admit you love?
Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups with a piece of bubblegum. Love the sweet and salty.

 

Michael Vignola (corporate executive chef, Strip House)
What he served: Barrel-Smoked Aged New York Strip With Sunchoke Salad and Sunflower Sprouts

What is your favorite summer dish?
Grilled Montauk lobster and fried clam strips.

What weird cooking trick do you find you use the most?
I use a cake tester to [check] the internal temperature of large-format steaks, like our prime 50-ounce long bone ribeye.

What snack or junk food are you embarrassed to admit you love?
I love butter popcorn jellybeans...and all jellybeans for that matter.

 

Luis Jaramillo (executive chef, Blue Water Grill)
​What he served: Ecuadorian Shrimp Ceviche Buckets

What is your favorite summer dish?
Any kind of ceviche or crudo.  

What weird cooking trick do you find you use the most?
Before making a ceviche, I rub the mixing bowl with a habanero pepper—it adds a very subtle amount of spice to the dish without having to use the actual pepper.

What snack or junk food are you embarrassed to admit you love?
I love Popeye's fried chicken…and I'm not embarrassed to admit it!