J.C. Holdway chef-owner Joseph Lenn and his fiancee Laura Cole. She helps out in the restaurant when she gets a break from her “real” job as director of the Masters Investment Learning Center at the UT Haslam College of Business.
I understand how paying $296 per plate for dinner in Knoxville, TN, might seem a bit extravagant. But my friends and I felt like we got a bargain when we shelled out that amount for New Year’s Eve dinner (and fun!) at J.C. Holdway.
Why? The ingredients and the preparation for the seven-course evening-long repast made for an experience usually only available in major culinary cities like New York or Chicago. So, the way we look at it, we saved the cost of plane tickets!
Two examples. First, the white truffles on one of the courses cost the restaurant $3,000 per pound! I didn’t find that out until after the meal was over — and now I am kicking myself because I think I left some of them in the bowl.
Another case in point: one dish on the menu took eight hours to prepare. And I don’t mean simmering away for eight hours — I mean eight hours of intense labor.
It was the rabbit course. The rabbits had to be cleaned and dressed out with the leg meat being turned into sausage. The sausage was then piped next to the loin and the rabbit’s belly was wrapped around that. Finally, all that was wrapped in bacon! And not the pre-sliced bacon that we all get from the grocery store. The bacon also had to be sliced! For plating, the “jus” upon which the dish was served actually consisted of two different sauces, also prepared from scratch, of course. “It’s just a long process,” the restaurant’s chef-owner, Joseph Lenn, allowed.
The evening involved preparing more than 700 individual plates for the 116 guests who attended throughout the night. The diners didn’t all arrive or leave at the same time, so a great amount of synchronizing was required by the entire staff the whole evening. “It was mentally exhausting,” Lenn said. “But I thought it was exciting. We got to prepare a Michelin-quality meal in Knoxville, Tennessee.”
Lenn should know about quality food. He’s the only James Beard Award-winning chef on Knoxville’s food scene. We are so lucky to have him.
J.C. Holdway was festively decorated for New Year’s Eve.
When we arrived at 7:30, we saw our friends Pam and Brian Rhoades halfway through their meal at the chef’s counter.
Two of our dinner companions were Chef Lenn’s proud parents, Jerry and Emily Lenn.
Judith and Michael Foltz also were a part of our merry group! (Some of us had martinis before dinner.)
We started with a little amuse bouche from the kitchen. The Murder Point oysters were from Alabama. They were baked in a wood oven with ramp butter and served with pickled ramp bulbs. The Murder Point Oyster Company has a great slogan: Oysters Worth Killing For!
Chef Lenn said the ramps used in this dish had been foraged last spring. They were turned into ramp butter and frozen. The bulbs were pickled at that time, as well. Talk about advance planning!
The final couple in our party of eight were Gay and Bill Lyons. Gay was enjoying the champagne that was paired with our first course.
It was a non-vintage Pierre Paillard Les Parcelles.
Here’s a guy you always like to see approaching your table! Jason Drotar is the sommelier at J.C. Holdway. Several of us purchased the optional wine pairings ($125) and he was the man delivering the goods!
The first course ready to be delivered to the table. (Love sitting close to the kitchen so we can see all the plating action!)
Lobster and winter citrus salad with parsnip, rutabaga and caviar vinaigrette.
“Caviar and lobster are traditional for New Year’s Eve,” Chef Lenn said. The caviar is from sturgeon that are sustainably raised, he said.
We asked a server to snap a picture of our table. Clockwise from bottom left, Jerry and Emily Lenn, Gay and Bill Lyons, Michael and Judith Foltz, myself and Alan Carmichael.
I loved, loved, loved this course: corn miso glazed mahi mahi with cauliflower, mole and olive oil.
The corn used in this dish was sourced from a farm on the French Broad River. The mole is actually called “corn smut mole” and was created by Chef de Cuisine Mauro Chavez, who is of Mexican and Peruvian descent. For a little while, Chef Lenn said, sommelier Drotar struggled with what wine to serve as an accompaniment, until Chavez put it in perspective for him: “It’s a fish taco, man!”
And, sure enough, it did have all the flavor components of a fish taco: the corn like in a tortilla, the fish, and the spicy mole! And Drotar selected the perfect pairing.
A 2021 Chateau Pesquie Terrasses Ventoux Blanc. I adored this wine!
More fun folks enjoying the evening. My friend Kim Henry, right, with her buddies, from left, Mike and Deb McGaugh, and Carole Sue Thomas.
Here’s the course with the $3,000-per-pound mushrooms! Ricotta gnudi and Alba white truffles. It was delicious. Gnudi just means cheese dumplings. The sauce was made with sparkling sake.
Excellent wine pairing was a 2019 G.D. Vajra Bricco Delle Viole Barolo.
Next came that time-intensive rabbit course. Bacon-wrapped rabbit, sunchoke confit, Brussels sprouts, and black garlic jus.
Oh, HELL no! I’m not eating rabbit! Chef graciously made a fantastic mushroom-stuffed chicken dish for his mother and me! (Thank you!)
Wine was a 2020 Domaine de la Jannase Chateauneuf du Pape. It was awesome.
Loved running into Randy and Robin Gibson there!
The beef course was next. Here’s the Madeira jus being ladled on! Yum.
Koji-cured Wagyu steak with celery root puree, black truffle, chanterelles, and Madeira jus.
A Denver-cut steak grilled quickly and thinly sliced. Koji cured to add umami, Chef Lenn said. Koji is the fermented ingredient that’s in sake, soy sauce, and miso. The celery root came from Chef’s Harvest, a vendor at the Market Square Farmers’ Market. “I bought almost all that he had,” Lenn said.
This dish was good; many said it was their favorite. But I was getting pretty darn full at this point. And I’d already decided that the mahi was my favorite!
Wine was a 2019 Booker Fracture Paso Robles.
Oops! Jerry spilled a little red wine on his white shirt! Not to worry. Emily, a former teacher, was prepared. She whipped a Tide stick out of her purse to repair the damage!
It’s always fun to see these folks about town! From left, Maria and Kevin McHale, Alex McHale, and Caylin Kerr.
Dessert was milk chocolate hazelnut crunch, salted caramel, and Nutella ice cream! It was as good as it sounds!
Of course, never one to leave well enough alone, I asked sommelier Drotar what he would pair with it. He brought a cappuccino martini!
Dinner service complete, Chef Lenn took a moment to pose with his parents.
Unbelievably, it was almost midnight by this point. We saw Laura head to the back room with her friend, Marcia Chavez, a doctoral candidate in neuroscience and the wife of the chef de cuisine, Mauro Chavez. She was in charge of releasing the balloons!
And down they come! J.C. Holdway’s general manager, Adam Marks, takes advantage of the opportunity to share a kiss with his fiancee, Mary French. (Photo by Alan Carmichael).
Likewiase, Chef Lenn and Dr. Laura Cole!
Here’s what midnight looked like:
And Jerry demonstrated his juggling skills:
Here’s an excellent story you might like about Murder Point oysters: https://www.al.com/life/2019/05/these-bivalves-tell-a-story-murder-point-oysters.html
Happy 2024, everyone!