A Private Dinner, a Published Book, and Your First Taste of Mulch Coffee Bar
Sunday night was filled with firsts. Rabbit sausage. An entire quail sitting on Korean cabbage. The kind of pork belly you don’t fry up in long strips and eat with eggs and hash-browns.
As for a night filled with seconds? “Yes please” was always my answer. And you wouldn’t see me turn down thirds, either.
Where could you find this dining sequence? On Sunday night it was Old Town Scottsdale, but you could always travel from state to state with Top Chef Stephanie Izard on her Girl and the Goat Tour – or just pick up her new book (the reason for the tour) Girl In The Kitchen and try for yourself. For those of you who don’t have that kind of time and budget to become a Top Chef groupie, just buy a ticket when she comes to a city near you – all tour proceeds go towards Share Our Strength, a non-profit organization with a mission to end childhood hunger.
Izard’s event was three entrees and three desserts deep, a dish of each was prepared by chefs Beau MacMillan (of Elements in Scottsdale and the Food Network show Worst Cooks in America) and Randy Zweiban (of Province, a restaurant in Chicago). The event certainly wasn’t lacking in drinks – sprinkled with cocktails by the Liquid Chef Kim Haasarud (who writes an excellent mixology blog) and paired with fine wines from local guru Dave Johnson. All festivities were held outdoors in a space that will soon be open to the public as The Accidental Yard.
A particular point of interest to the public was that we got to see coffee guys Brian Clemens and Jason Calhoon in action, providing the coffee service for the event. Their bar will premiere as the first permanent fixture to the Accidental Yard this winter.
They’re calling themselves Mulch Coffee, and the public got its first taste Arizona’s first true coffee bar for the first time.
“Working as individual units we were able to create our respective, cohesive menus for dinner entrees, dessert, cocktails, wine, and coffee,” said Clemens about preparing for the event. “The impeccable flavors of each course coupled with the community and the backyard atmosphere brought harmony among the many components of the evening.”
The duo behind the bar served up coffee that they hand-brewed by chemex, the finely tuned acoustic guitar of manual brew methods, with coffee coming from a favorite roaster of theirs; Water Avenue out of Portland, Oregon. Water Avenue donated a generous amount of their Ethiopia Yirgacheffe and El Salvador Buena Vista coffees to the charity event; blueberry notes in the first and citrus in the latter. Both were delicious – the dinner guests’ word, not mine. Delicious might just be where I start to describe those particular coffees.
“The event gave me a glimpse of the opportunity Mulch Coffee will have to collaborate with other creative minds in order to create a truly unique culinary experience at the Accidental Yard,” said Clemens.
Didn’t get to try any of the coffee Sunday night? Water Avenue will be used extensively in their bar and is just one of the many roasters that Clemens and Calhoon will have rotating in and out of their menu once they’ve opened up shop.
Consequently another first was that I hadn’t worked behind a coffee bar in a couple months. Or, at least, prepared and served coffee to someone other than my friends or my mother, who makes the occasional trip down from the North (“North” being North Scottsdale). Last time I traded her a cup of coffee (some Guatemalan Finca La Maravilla roasted by Intelligentsia to sweeten the deal) in exchange for some of her older glass bread pans. Banana bread – by unanimous request of me, myself, and I – will soon be gracing my kitchen. I think I’ll use the Crepes of Wrath recipe.
That being said, it was fun setting up for the event and brewing on the Chemex alongside Clemens and Calhoon – exceptionally fun. Enjoyable company is an excellent compliment to have for brewing great coffee.
1st Dish: Rabbit Sausage, prepared by Chef Randy Zweiban
Presented in cut slices that snapped in your mouth when you bit in, topped with nuts that provided crunch and green apples for your crisp. It was a dish that audibly rivaled the snap, crackle, and pop of rice crispies cereal, though a bit more complex. I enjoyed the tang of the olives that I’d collect on my fork with a slice of the rabbit, already a tangy, gamey meat that does well when gathered inside of a sausage casing.
2nd Dish: Pork Belly, prepared by Chef Beau MacMillan
One of the fattiest parts of the pig, pork belly is where you get your bacon from – marbling is too weak of a word for this cut of meat. Bacon has caught on quite well (now used commonly enough in pastries) and, as one of the attendees at my table pointed out, lent it’s hoof to pork belly becoming a cliche, trendy dish in any and every new restaurant that appeared on the Chicago dining scene. “Undercooked fat on dish,” he said. “But only if done wrong.” MacMillan did it right. Sourced well enough to give us a hefty chunk of meat, it was cooked tenderly with attention to detail. My teeth sunk in easy, and my palette hung on to the rich, fatty flavor that was coupled with a molasses, garlic reduction.
3rd Dish: Quail and Butternut Squash Kimchi, prepared by Stephanie Izard
My quail was dressed well for the evening. The only part of it missing, it’s feathers, weren’t in vogue for the warm October night. The meat was buttery, soft and succulent; similar to a really juicy piece of fried chicken but without the breading and grease. Its back laid against butternut squash and a layers of kimchi, a Korean cooked cabbage, of the same squash flavor. Quail and squash is an exotic, dainty take on chicken and potatoes.
As for the dessert? Beats me. I was brewing coffee while all three of my treats were delivered. If I had to guess one was a custard with caramel sauce and caramel popcorn, another had a toffee slice between peanut butter and chocolate patties. The third, my favorite, had sliced and cooked apple chunks with a goat cheese whip of sorts.
When the event was all said and done, I’d had one of the best culinary experiences of my life. Not just because I benefitted from an hour of dining and talking with experienced restaurant-goers, but even more so because I helped an incredible staff with an exceptional heart, and served coffee to attendees along side chefs, mixologists, and baristas that are fueled by a love for their craft, and have been revered widely in doing so.
Event tear-down was no easy task with a belly filled to the brim with rich food. Good thing I made it home with some coffee via Clemens – some of the Ethiopian and El Salvador from Water Avenue and some Guatemalan and Costa Rican from MadCap out of Grand Rapids, Michigan. My coffee-filled mornings can’t come quick enough these days.