‘Knockouts of Knoxville’ = provocative provisions

Ashley Capps and Birgit Clark were enjoying the cuisine and the conviviality.

What’s a good gourmet meal without a few gonads? In this case, sea urchin gonads, which also are known as uni.

The occasion for this innovation was this past Monday when the “Knockouts of Knoxville” — arguably our town’s four top chefs — joined together at Emilia to replicate a meal they served last month at the famous James Beard House in New York City. Joseph Lenn, Matt Gallaher, Drew McDonald and Jesse Newmister put together the menu which included three appetizers, four other courses and a dessert. Many featured local products (not the gonads, naturally). Every course was perfectly paired with a matching wine.

The evening, which sold out in a matter of hours after tickets were offered for sale online, was an absolute delight. Although each chef owns his own restaurant (or two), Emilia was the chosen site because it is the largest venue. At $125, the tickets were underpriced. They easily could have sold for twice that amount.

The “Knockouts of Knoxville,” from left, Joseph Lenn of J.C. Holdway, Jesse Newmister of Kaizen, Drew McDonald of The Plaid Apron, and Matt Gallaher of Emilia and Knox Mason.

First course was a fritto misto of spring vegetables with Rushy Springs Farm fermented chile mayo, top of photo. It was by Chef Matt Gallaher. The Springer Mountain Farms chicken croquette with green garlic aioli, bottom, was by Joseph Lenn. And the sticky rice dumpling with Springer Mountain Farms chicken livers, dill, lap cheong, homemade cream cheese and local sweet chile preserves was by Jesse Newmister. They were all fantastic.

I often ask folks what was their “best bite” of the night. The fennel in that fritto misto was my best bite!

Champagne was a perfect match because its dry crispness and bubbles cut through the richness of the first course offerings.

Here’s the bottle you are looking for.

Next course was Cherokee White Eagle heirloom grits topped with a salad of asparagus, te you, pea shoots and crispy chicken skin dressed with a roasted onion vinaigrette. It was by Drew McDonald and was my second favorite bite of the night.

The 2016 Voerzio Martini Bricco Cappellina Arneis was a great pairing.

OK. Here comes the most controversial dish of the evening. People either loved it or hated it! “The squid ink dish is amazing!” shouted my friend Angie Wilson, already seated at the next table when our party arrived. As we would soon find out, this also was the dish with the uni — sea urchin gonads!

Squid ink ditalini with lump crab, uni, smoked San Marzano tomatoes, Serrano chiles and spring onions by Matt Gallaher. Ditalini is just tiny, tiny pasta.

So, here’s the deal. Of course when we found out that uni is actually sea urchin gonads, the conversation at our table turned to the mating habits of sea urchins! Our friend, the Google, shortly revealed that sea urchin reproduction actually entails no urchin to urchin contact. The female expels its eggs, the male expels its sperm. If the eggs and sperm get together, a baby sea urchin results. It just grabs onto something nearby and grows. (I know you were wondering about that!)

A 2016 La Scolca Black Label Gavi dei Gavi DOCG was a delightful match. Of course, after looking up what uni is, I couldn’t really enjoy the foodstuff. But the wine was fantastic.

My friend Angie Wilson, here with my tablemates Michael Higdon, left, and Scott Bird, did not share my opinion. As she left, I asked about her “best bite.” “I’m going to go with the gonads,” she announced.

This very unusual dish is called “Chicken and Slicks” and is by Jesse Newmister. Spicy with curry, it consisted of savory “Shiritama Dango” with herbed Springer Mountain chicken and foie gras torchon, Mossy Creek mushroom gravy and sweet potato confiture. Shiritama Dango is a Japanese rice flour cake.

Three of us put aside the foie gras. Two for concern about animal cruelty (I was one of those) and one for health reasons. I loved the rest of the dish, but it was super spicy, which was fine by me.

The sake with which it was paired was a brilliant choice. Sweet and cold and crisp, it was a perfect foil for the heavy, spicy dish.

The pork course by Joseph Lenn was very popular with everyone. On the left is grilled pork loin with fiddlehead ferns, potatoes, ramps and morels. On the right is a little loaf of pulled pork shoulder. This got rave reviews.

So did the 2013 Domaine de la Vieille Julienne Trois Sources Chateauneuf du Pape.

This is the course that got the “best bite” vote from the other three people at my table, including, of course, my husband with the huge sweet tooth. Offered by Drew McDonald, it is herbed olive oil cake with strawberries and coriander ice cream. That little dab on the right is green strawberry preserves, and it was tart enough to slap you across the face!

It was matched with rose champagne! Delicious!

A non-vintage Forget-Brimont brute rose Champagne Premier Cru, to be exact.

Our friends Jen and Matt Mowrer, foodies extraordinaire, were holding down a corner table.

This was a perfect Monday night. All at my table agreed that this should happen every Monday night! (We just haven’t gotten the nerve to suggest it to the chefs!)


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