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SF Chefs 2012: The Dinner Party Project #2

7x7 is proud to sponsor SF Chefs, the annual, hotly-anticipated food/wine/spirits bonanza that is the quintessential San Francisco culinary experience. The event occurs July 30th through August 5th, and offers guests exclusive access to the city's most innovative and lauded industry professionals and personalities.

 An excellent preview of SF Chefs, the Dinner Party Project, is a unique series of dining events inspired and curated by local chefs who have developed deep friendships and connections in an intense industry: "Whether they meet at the market each week, work in the kitchen side-by-side or just love getting together for late-night adventures, San Francisco chefs share a special bond. Throughout June and July these friends will collaborate for one night only, sharing with diners a glimpse into their friendships, cooking styles and culinary dreams."

Want tickets to a dinner? click here.

Here's what went down at the June 21st event:

There are many, many moments when I am so grateful for the numerous perks of my amazing job, and experiencing the Stars Realigned dinner for the Dinner Party Project was definitely one of them. Bon vivant and iconic chef Jeremiah Tower of Stars was in town for what turned into quite the reunion dinner, as full of decadence as it was of memories. The event at Waterbar and EPIC Roasthouse was packed with past employees of Stars, loyal customers, and friends of the house.

So much local talent sprung from Stars: Mark Franz, Emily Luchetti (who was celebrating her birthday the night of the event), Dominique Crenn, Loretta Keller, Alex Ong, Rob Lam, Bruce Hill, and Joey Altman—the list is long. Even Steve Ellis (the founder of Chipotle) and Mario Batali all worked with Tower at some point. It was a strong community that was forged there—and while the Chez Panisse family tree is a notable one within the local chef world, Stars was equally important with its contributions to our local culinary community. So many of the friendships and alliances that started at Stars continue now.

The celebratory evening kicked off at Waterbar, with free-flowing Krug and Campari Negronis from the bar, along with passed hors d’oeuvres. Narsai David was the evening’s emcee, whose comments were peppered with quips and stories from grand dame Cecilia Chiang. After some lively introductions, the packed room sauntered over to the private dining room at EPIC next door. Tower collaborated with chefs Mark Franz, Jan Birnbaum, Parke Ulrich, and Emily Luchetti on the full-tilt luxe menu, which started with a spectacular dish of oven-roasted shellfish, paired with Didier Dagueneau Pouilly-Fumé, Silex, 2009. I was lucky to be seated in between the delightful Cecilia Chiang to my left (we both dug into the shellfish with gusto), and Tower’s longtime attorney, Richard Collier, was to my right. Across the table was the ever-lively Pat Kuleto, fresh with a tan from days in Mexico. Our table was not wanting for characters and stories. Or wine, with Pat at the table.

The wild sturgeon course was spectacular: Jan Birnbaum noted that they aged the whole sturgeon for a week, and shared the secret to cutting through its notoriously impenetrable skin: an electric knife. The tender slices were stuffed with lobster in the center, and covered in a cascade of caviar and rich, buttery sauce. It was quite a presentation (let me tell you, plates were clean).

The opulence kept coming: cinnamon-smoked squab was paired with two top-tier pinot noirs (Domaine Dujac and Williams Selyem), followed by endive with Ruinart Brut Rosé, and the kicker: aged Australian kobe rib-eye with 1989 Chateau d'Yquem (I actually held on to my Selyem pinot to enjoy with the rib-eye, and sipped the gorgeous d’Yquem on its own). Emily Luchetti closed out the night with a delightful summer berry pudding, paired with Veuve Clicquot demi-sec.

As the evening progressed, guests kept circulating all the tables, getting their menus signed by all the chefs, saying hello and catching up with fellow diners and friends. Many laughs filled the room. I enjoyed hearing tales from Howard and Kris Case (of Casa de Case), who were regulars at Stars (they would go three times a week!), telling me about the brass plaques that were by the oyster bar—Tower would have them engraved with the names of regulars (it was a tradition inspired by Sardi’s in New York). There was also a grand piano, and when someone came in off of Redwood Alley, like an opera star or a duchess, whoever was on the piano would play their song—if they had a theme song of sorts—as they would walk in.

The Cases shared a story of when they ran into Tower while vacationing in Florence, Italy, for their first time, and Howard told me, “For three days, I kept saying we had to see David, and all we kept seeing were martini glasses! We had to leave him to finally get sober.” One of the Cases’ favorite dishes was a dish that Mark Franz did when he was at Stars: lobster with bone marrow. It got me thinking. Let’s hope it comes back someday.

I also enjoyed hearing Sean Crowley’s stories (who was one of my favorite wine directors while at AQUA and is now Director of Sales and Marketing with Paradigm), who started working at Stars at age 21: “Having a Salon vertical, sitting down to 12 or 13 vintages going back to the 40s, having that opportunity was amazing. I knew it was big, but I fully, consciously remembered thinking ‘This is amazing.’ And now, looking back, I fully appreciate having tasted all of those wines, from Burgundy, from Italy, from all over the world, at such a young age. It was invaluable. That experience really made me who I am today.”

It was a hoot to hear Cecilia Chiang tell a story of James Beard (whom she would drive around town in her Mercedes 450 SEL): he was so worried for the Stars location when construction was just getting started—he thought it too big, and recommended Tower should cut the space in half. As Cecilia noted, “And it was nowhere big enough!”

Here’s to a night of big personalities, bright memories, and obviously much fondness for Tower, who had numerous guests pleading for him to return to San Francisco. Like a shooting star, we were fortunate to see him for the moment.

Each dinner commences with specialty aperitif using Campari, the project's presenting sponsor. A portion of the proceeds from each dinner benefits the Center for Urban Education and Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA).

Want secret recipes and entertaining tips from these fabulous chefs? Get them here.


Marcia Gagliardi is the contributing food editor for 7x7 and author of the weekly Tablehopper e-column and book The Tablehopper’s Guide to Dining and Drinking in San Francisco. Email her at marcia@7x7.com, and read more at tablehopper.com.

Photos: Nikki Ritcher | nikkiritcher.com