Sept. 29 2010 12:00 AM

The secret is out MSU’s Visiting Chef Series is informative and utterly delicious



The Visiting Chef Series at Michigan State University’s Kellogg Center may be one of Lansing’s best-kept secrets, as I was told a couple of times through the evening — and if it is, I’m a shameless snitch.

Approximately 100 foodies gathered last Wednesday and Thursday in a soft-lit conference room lined with cloth-covered dinner tables each equipped with four wine glasses (you see where this is going?), four forks, a couple of knives and a spoon for each participant.

On a raised platform, chef Myles Anton, of Trattoria Stella in Traverse City, performed a cooking demonstration for over two hours, providing his guests with a four-course meal, answering questions from the audience and sharing kitchen tips and tricks along the way.

Winemaker Bryan Ulbrich, of Left Foot Charley Winery in Traverse City, added a Dionysian perspective to the evening, taking questions, and complementing Anton’s demonstration with insight why his vintages and the chef’s food enhanced each other.

The first course, Atlantic scallops with eggplant, stole the show. Two mouth-sized scallop medallions rested against a mound of sautéed eggplant, dusted generously with fennel pollen and encircled by a lemon cream sauce.

Anton demonstrated how to hardsear the scallops in a blisteringly hot pan. Caramelized on both sides, the scallop’s slightly crispy exterior gives way to a silky burst of tender flesh on the inside. The lemon sauce, with its mild tang and creamy texture, complements the scallop, but also stands out in sharp contrast to the earthy fennel pollen herb.

Next came homemade fettuccine with heirloom tomatoes, roasted garlic and basil. Anton swore by the ease and joy of pasta made from scratch and reveled in sharing and demonstrating how to make little-known pasta shapes, such as garganelli, a tubular, ridged pasta that looks like a croissant without the crescent shape.

Anton went on to explain how he prepares fatty meats, like the wild boar shoulder served that evening, searing four sides, topping with a brown sugar and coriander seasoning, then roasting for five hours before refrigerating overnight.

Later, the roast is sliced, covered in breadcrumbs, pan-seared, and briefly cooked in an oven. The Sicilian-inspired roast boar is topped with a poached egg and served on a bed of sautéed green cabbage — which retained a pleasant crunch — and spinach.

Stan and Diane Dudek have been regulars at the Visiting Chef Series for years. Diane boasts near-perfect attendance — only missing one, she claims — and has enjoyed every evening.

“It’s a great couples night out,” Diane Dudek says. “And you always get to try something new, something you wouldn’t typically order at a restaurant.”

The Visiting Chef Series is a two-night event — held on Wednesdays and Thursdays — although participants may purchase tickets for just one evening if they wish. The first night offers a lecture, demonstration and sampling of a four-course meal, while the second night is a more formal affair when the visiting chef prepares a four-course meal different from the menu sampled the evening prior.

Tickets for the demonstration evening are $60; for the chef-hosted meal on Thursdays, the price is $75.

On Oct. 6 and 7, Holland brewer Fred Buetlemann, of New Holland Brewery, will join Kalamazoo-based chef Robb Hammond of
Food Dance Restaurant, and on Nov. 9 and 10, Traverse City chef Eric
Nittolo, of Boathouse Restaurant, will pair with another Traverse City
winemaker, Spencer Stegenga, of Bowers Harbor Vineyards.

is a sort of wine-vangelist, delighted to share his expertise with
curious connoisseurs. He thinks wine and food pairings are essential to a
complete dining experience and puts it in simpler terms for the
neophyte foodie.

“It’s like milk and Cheerios,” he says.

enhances food, and food enhances wine. It’s not absolutely necessary,
but have you ever eaten dry Cheerios? It’s not the same.”

For Anton, working in the kitchen is a labor of love, especially when he has local ingredients.

displayed locally grown, bright yellow and red heirloom tomatoes on the
stage and extols the virtues of localvores, from keeping cash
circulating in the community to building a unique food identity based on
nearby crops and livestock.

says his own kitchen philosophy is simple, and it’s the same advice he
gives to less accomplished cooks chopping, slicing and mincing at home.

“Keep it simple,” he says. “Use three ingredients or less, and let the flavors of the food you’re using stand out.”