Remember the old “Seinfeld” episode about The Summer of George? Well, other than a similarity in title, the four-part Summer of Chefs series currently underway at Elements restaurant in Princeton could hardly be more different. Unlike George Costanza’s doomed plans, the stars — both literal and culinary — have aligned for Chef Scott Anderson. The visiting chefs he has lined up from all around the U.S. include one whose Los Angeles restaurant holds two Michelin stars, an AAA five-diamond chef, and one who is among Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Pastry Chefs for 2012. Working side by side with Anderson and his team, the chefs create a seven-course tasting menu for one night. May saw the first two events; the final two in the series will be held this Sunday, June 10, and on Friday, July 13.
“Last year we did a local chefs guest series in the fall and it was a lot of fun,” says Anderson, who turns 38 in August. “We’ll repeat that this year, but I conceived the summer series as a lead-up to the fall event.” The series is a win-win for everyone involved. “I don’t know how much the restaurant benefits in financial terms,” Anderson admits, “but just being able to go into the kitchen and have a few days of fun helps break up the monotony for me and my chefs. It’s fun and interesting to see what other chefs are doing. It’s an opportunity chefs don’t often get.”
Guests, of course, get to sample the collaborative work of leading chefs whose restaurants, like Elements, are renowned for their progressive American cuisine, which embraces modern techniques for showcasing fresh, seasonal ingredients. Take for example the first Summer of Chefs dinner, held on May 18. Among the seven courses presented jointly by Scott Anderson, Elements sous chef Mike Ryan, and visiting chef Jeremiah Langhorne of McCrady’s in Charleston, South Carolina, were sashimi of Japanese stone flounder with flowering herbs and oat soy; California abalone with foie gras, chicken broth, and seaweeds; and Jersey sweet potato pie with white chocolate, sorghum, and sorrel.
The menu, with the two chefs alternating on courses, was developed in the days immediately preceding the Friday dinner. “Basically, we just came up with it when JJ [Langhorne] arrived here that Wednesday,” says Anderson. “On hand was a pig we had had raised specifically for this purpose.” The day of the event saw the delivery of local produce from Zone 7 and the stone flounder that Anderson had ordered from Japan. Pork from the Duroc pig was served with Vietnamese celery, fennel, and hay-smoked potato. Beverage pairings that night included champagne, a sake course, and then “regular wine pairings from there,” Anderson recalls. The following event, held on May 25, featured custom cocktails in addition to wine.
The guest chef for this coming Sunday’s dinner is a local boy made good. Michael Cimarusti grew up in Pennington, on a farm off Carter Road. His father still lives in the area. He is chef/owner of Providence in L.A., which currently holds two Michelin stars. Anderson describes Cimarusti as “a brilliant fish chef; the best in the country.” U.S. 1 readers may recall that he was once chef de cuisine at the Forager House on River Road in Bucks County, or that he was a “cheftestant” on Bravo’s Top Chef. Among the top names and restaurants on his resume: Larry Forgione (An American Place), Paul Bocuse and Roger Verge (Le Cirque), and Wolfgang Puck (the original Spago in Hollywood). Not to mention La Maree and Arpege in Paris.
Then, on July 13, not one but two illustrious chefs will be joining Anderson in the Elements kitchen for the final installment of The Summer of Chefs. Anderson first lined up David Racicot, whose work in the Pittsburgh area has garnered him five diamonds from AAA (and five stars from the Mobil guide) and multiple James Beard Award nominations. He is set to reopen his acclaimed restaurant, Notion, in a new location this fall (the East Liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh).
Joining Racicot and Anderson will be Shawn Gawle of Corton in Manhattan. Gawle’s latest accolade was being named one of Food & Wine’s Best New Pastry Chefs of 2012. “He combines modernist and classic techniques,” the magazine’s website states, “to create thoughtful, elegant, French-inflected desserts that often highlight Asian ingredients, like yuzu and cardamom.” In an interesting twist, Gawle and Anderson have agreed to switch specialties for the night. “He’ll do fish; I’ll do pastry!” Anderson says, in a reversal of their fortes.
Even more interesting is how Gawle came to be part of the series. “He happened to be following Twitter conversations between me and Dave Racicot and he jumped in to ask if he could join in. Like us, he welcomes the opportunity to get out and have some fun,” Anderson explains. “That’s just how casually it happens.”
The Summer of Chefs series is unique in several respects. “We’re bringing world-class chefs to the suburbs of Princeton,” Scott Anderson says with justifiable pride. What I think makes it even more noteworthy is that customarily when powerhouse chefs deign to visit our state it’s to participate in big, splashy food and wine galas where the ticket price can range from $350 to $1,000. (Sometimes, but not always, it’s for a worthy cause). The cost to attend one of the remaining seven-course dinners at Elements is $165, with an optional wine and beverage pairing for $65. Even more attractive, any of the restaurant’s 90 seats can be booked for any time during the regular dinner hours.
Elements is at 163 Bayard Lane, Princeton. Dinners in the Summer of Chefs series will be available on Sunday, June 10, from 5 to 9 p.m. and Friday, July 13, from 5 to 10 p.m. For information and reservations phone 609-924-0078 or visit www.elementsprinceton.com.
Follow Pat Tanner’s blog at www.dinewithpat.com.