What’s in a beginning?
On Monday, July 25th UGK came to Roanoke, VA for UGK: Culinary Origins. The theme, “Culinary Origins” found initial inspiration in the name of the venue, Center in the Square (CITS). At the heart of downtown Roanoke, CITS is a place for arts, culture, community, education, and economic development, and as such it is the “origin” of innumerable new ideas, business endeavors, celebrated memories, and passions pursued. As an added bonus, the center of any geometric shape is called the “origin,” so with these facts in mind, UGK incorporated the location and its nuances into a culinary theme for the evening.
UGK asked our chef for the evening to create a menu that would take guests through a bit of culinary history by preparing a classic presentation of a popular dish alongside a modern twist on the original. The result was a menu that took recognizable “homestyle” dishes familiar to many of us, and turned them into culinary explorations of where cooking culture has taken us over the past century. A look at cooking origins, as it were, side-by-side with newer versions of the dish.
Before the guests took their seats at the UGK Table, they were offered a Smoky Pineapple Gimlet, awakening their palates with a twist on a classic cocktail, the Gimlet. Where a Gimlet is comprised of Gin and Lime juice, this particular conception added more tropical flavors of pineapple juice, and Mezcal, the “overcooked,” smokier cousin of tequila. Savory-sweet , or curiously refreshing might be the best way to describe the libation.
After enjoying their drinks, meeting their dinner-mates, and reveling in the breathtaking views of downtown Roanoke and the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains from the rooftop deck, guests were seated at the table and given brief introduction to the evening of culinary experimentation that lay ahead.
At the start of the evening, Chef Will Lacey (Yellow Dog Barbecue & Jakes on Devine – Columbia, SC) began the meal with a dish that is itself somewhat of an evolution: the humble BLT. The BLT sandwich is a treat that follows in direct progression from the tea sandwiches of the 19th century. However, the creative conception of Chef Lacey took this progression and pushed it a step further, presenting two open-faced arrangements, one in the vein of a classic BLT and one with a more eclectic background.
The first was a classic Open Faced BLT Slider with a Roasted Garlic Remoulade, Crispy Bacon, Arugula, and Freshly Sliced Heirloom Tomato. Instead of Iceberg Lettuce, the Chef opted to use Arugula in order to highlight the subtleties of a savory fresh Heirloom by contrasting it against a peppery leaf. Also, the garlic remoulade was an easy elevation to the mayonnaise that traditionally accompanies the BLT sandwich.
The BLT rendering plated opposite the classic was a Grilled Crostini with a Bourbon-Bacon Jam, and Tomatillo Salsa — topped with Fried Basil. The Bourbon-Bacon Jam hit the balance between sweet and salty square on the nose, and by using Tomatillos instead of tomatoes, Chef Lacey brought a delightful tang to the dish that cut through the fatty bacon like a hot knife through, well, fatty bacon. The Fried Basil was a bit surprising – the scent of the Basil actually became more pungent through the process, and the leaf lost none of its fresh herbaceous qualities. Apparently, when done properly, fried foods need not sit heavy in the gut, and as a garnish, a nip of fried basil is a pleasant addition to many dishes.
Almost as if on cue, rain began to fall outside the wall-to-wall sliding glass doors in the beautiful CITS event space just as the second course was coming out. What better accompaniment to a rainy day than a hearty and soulful bowl of soup? For this particular soup, Chef Lacey used Toasted Pecans puréed with Mirepoix, Sweet Peas and Vinegar, served with Crushed Chips, Julienned Scallion, and Applewood Smoke. The smoke imparted a slight aroma to the soup that pulled the rest of the elements into its fold and brought them together.
After this soup course came a surprise from the chef that was not listed on the menu. Sitting somewhere between a tasting and an amuse bouche, the chef prepared two versions of the New England classic, the Lobster Roll. The first was a classic preparation of fresh Maine lobster slaw (the chef’s very first attempt at this savory creation, he admitted to me after the event), blended with herbs and spices and served in a buttery roll.
The second preparation of this dish was as playful as it was delicious. A Lobster Roll Lollipop, that consisted of lightly tempura battered and fried lobster slaw served with a cracked mustard aioli.
The third course prepared by the chef was a playful take on meatloaf, a dish that has been evolving since the 5th century C.E. (Don’t believe me? Check out Apicius, the Roman kitchen text dating from the 4th or 5th century C.E., where there is an entire chapter – Book II. “Sarcoptes,” Chap. 1 – devoted to the treatment and cooking of minced meats).
Chef Lacey’s first interpretation of this familiar comfort food was a “Mom’s Meatloaf” consisting of Freshly Ground Angus Beef mixed with Chef’s Seasoning Blend, served with Airy Mashed Potato and a Light Mushroom Gravy. The second interpretation of this popular dish was an Artisan Bison Meatloaf “Cupcake” with Whipped Mashed Potato “Icing” and Candied Bacon. The playfulness of the “cupcake” really did invigorate a sense of childhood and fun, appropriate considering the homely connotations of the dish in popular culture.
For the fourth course, Scallops were presented two ways. The first was a Seared Prosciutto Wrapped Scallops Stuffed in Sweet Onion and topped with an Herbed Brown Butter, in which the hollowed onion acted as an edible “shell,” recalling the scallop’s original shape. The second conception were Seared Scallops topped with Cilantro Gremolata and a Red Thai Curry Beurre Blanc. The gentle heat of the beurre blanc balanced nicely against the fresh herbs in the gremolata.
Finally, the dessert was dueling presentations of Banana Pudding. The first was in the traditional vein, a Southern Delight served layered with Vanilla Wafer, Freshly Sliced Banana, Vanilla-Bourbon Pudding blended with a Cinnamon Whipped Cream, and topped with Crumbled Ginger Snap. The second version of the dish Chef Lacey presented took all the elements of Banana Pudding and separated them to create a Deconstructed Banana Pudding with Bananas Flambé (in Bourbon), Scratch Bourbon Vanilla Pudding and Chilled Wafer Bites. It was like having Banana’s Foster and Banana Pudding collide deliciously on the plate.
As the last of the table was cleared, guests lingered pleasantly on the deck taking in the views of a now misty downtownRoanoke following the rain. Chef Lacey expressed his great pleasure at being able to cook for UGK’s guests, and said he looks forward to a chance to cook form them in Columbia, SC, his hometown. UGK can’t wait for another opportunity to visit Center in the Square, either for an event, or just to explore the myriad opportunities that the space provides, from the aquarium, to the rooftop, to a number of other cultural happenings that are being scheduled and updated regularly.
See what’s going on with Chef Lacey at Jake’s on Devine, in Columbia, SC as they continue to source local ingredients, flaunt their South Carolinian pride, and make some seriously kick-ass food… Website — Facebook — Twitter — Instagram
Shout out to Yellow Dog BBQ, and congratulations on the recent line of marinades and sauces with Savvy Foods! See what’s going on with them, and be first in line for these seriously delicious concoctions… Trust me, I’ve got a feeling the first batch is going to go pretty quickly… Facebook — Twitter — Instagram
If you ever find yourself in Roanoke, VA, or even just passing through, a visit to Center in the Square is definitely worth your time. Keep up with them and see what’s next up on their schedule! They’ve got something for most any interest, so it is definitely worth your time! Website — Facebook — Twitter — Instagram
Chef Will Lacey and his friend and business partner Patric Rogers (Savvy Foods – Columbia, SC) were the chefs for the evening. The menu for UGK: Culinary Origins was created with an eye towards “classic cuisine” with an emphasis on using as much fresh, local produce as possible, a practice that Will and Patrick carry through all of their culinary endeavors.
Savvy Foods was inspired by company president and chef Will Lacey’s relationships with his family dogs; it is their unique personalities that shine through in our sauces and marinades. We strive to create innovative and versatile takes on classic flavor profiles from the South and from our favorite travel spots around the globe.
With each hand crafted and endlessly refined recipe, Savvy Foods seeks to provide “a cook’s best friend,” offering a range of products that make complex blends of flavor accessible to home cooks and trained chefs alike.
At Jake’s on Devine (Columbia, SC) Chef Will Lacey is committed to purchasing all meat, cheese, and produce from local vendors who share his values and ethics. To ensure that that business match their beliefs, they have formed partnerships with farm-to-table suppliers City Roots, Freshly Grown, Happy Cow, and Wil-Moore Farms.
Seasonal items are added to the menu regularly, and they take pride in the fact that they use only the freshest ingredients year-round.
BLT Two Ways: Grilled Crostini with a Bourbon-Bacon Jam, and Tomatillo Salsa — topped with Fried Basil // Open Faced Slider with a Roasted Garlic Remoulade, Crispy Bacon, Arugula, and Freshly Sliced Heirloom Tomato
Cream of Pecan & Sweet Pea Soup: Toasted Pecans puréed with Mirepoix, Sweet Peas and Vinegar, served with Crushed Chips, Julienned Scallion, and Applewood Smoke
Meatloaf Two Ways: Artisan Bison Meatloaf “Cupcakes” with Whipped Mashed Potato “Icing” and Candied Bacon // “Mom’s Meatloaf” Freshly Ground Angus Beef mixed with Chef’s Seasoning Blend, served with Airy Mashed Potato and a Light Mushroom Gravy
Scallops Two Ways: Seared Prosciutto Wrapped Scallops Stuffed in Sweet Onion and topped with an Herbed Brown Butter // Seared Scallops topped with Cilantro Gremolata and a Red Thai Curry Beurre Blanc
Banana Pudding Two Ways: Deconstructed Banana Pudding with Bananas Flambé (in Bourbon), Scratch Bourbon Vanilla Pudding and Chilled Wafer Bites // A Traditional Southern Delight served layered with Vanilla Wafer, Freshly Sliced Banana, Vanilla-Bourbon Pudding blended with a Cinnamon Whipped Cream, and topped with Crumbled Ginger Snap
Smoky Pineapple Gimlet – Gin, Lime Juice, Pineapple Juice, Mezcal, Smoky Simple Syrup
Louis Bouillot Rose Cremant
N/V Burgundy FR
Winzer Krems Gruner Veltliner
Kremser Sandgrube, Austria, 2015
Tenuta di Ceppiano “Violetta”
Super Tuscan, Italy 2010
Titania Pansa Blanca Cava Methode Champenoise
Catalonia, Spain, 2011
Graham Beck”Bliss” Demi-sec sparkling
South Africa, N/V