Like a band of hard-drinking culinary pirates, the CNO crew is headed for the warm shores of Plow & Anchor this Sunday. To recap, CNO is a tasting pop-up dinner that sets up shop one Sunday a month at various locations around the city—some at dedicated restaurants and others in alternative spaces. This will mark their sixth Sunday-night CNO dinner, a halfway point to be proud of for sure. But that doesn't mean they're planning on taking a rest anytime soon. In fact, this dinner at Plow & Anchor has been in the works for a while.
“Andrew [Whitmoyer, Bluebeard] and I had been bouncing ideas off Craig [Baker, owner of Plow & Anchor] for awhile. Once Plow had their legs under them it just made sense for us to host there,” said CNO front-of-house coordinator RJ Wall. The three of them had similar philosophies when it came to cooking and sourcing; Chefs’ Night Off simply provided an opportunity to send out the invite. “Plow & Anchor is a restaurant whose focus on local ingredients is something that we try to push during CNO events. Craig Baker has been a good friend to me and I wanted to do something at one of his places to help get his restaurant out there.“
That sense of community is the foundation of the CNO concept, to let the chefs on the line (in this case, all sous chefs) get a crack at serving a high-concept dish in a relaxed setting. The meal itself is relaxed and fun, but the chefs are very serious about their dishes and pairings. The one thing that doesn’t fly at Chefs’ Night Off? Menu substitutions.
“I personally feel a dish is put together out of the brain and passion of a chef. He put all components in there to blend well and make a complete dish. You take a component away and it changes the vision and the balance of the dish, which is so important,” Whitmoyer said. As the guy who spends most of the dinners in the kitchen, he stressed the care and creativity the chefs put into each course. Wall wasn’t quite as restrained.
“We want our guests to experience the chefs food the way the chef intended it to be experienced. When was the last time you went to a concert and stopped the band to ask them to add a few extra riffs to a song and take out that drum solo? Why would you think it's acceptable to do that to a chef?...If you want to create your own meal and you are not feeling like cooking at home, go to Olive Garden or an establishment that caters to that.” Zing.
For their part, the chefs on the menu are pulling from seasonal inspiration as well as childhood influences. Matt Robey, sous chef at Mesh on Mass, is serving a dish “featuring verjus pressed from local grapes, pears and sardines.” As for the inspiration, Robey said the dish is “definitely North African/Spanish inspired but what I really wanted to capture ws the end of summer.”
Eli Laidlaw, sous at The Alexander, is going to be using kale, mushrooms, corn and tomatoes. But it’s the meat that he’s made special plans for: “The brine for the pork racks I’m using will be made in whiskey barrel to add a nice smokiness to them that helps round out the dish.” No word on whether the brine barrell will be offered to guests for a little flavor-packed skinny dip at the end of the night, but consider this paragraph as my vote in the affirmative should it become available.
Omar Guzman, sous at Cobblestone Grill, is borrowing a recipe straight from his grandmother’s cookbook. “My guiding concept for this dish is my grandma, who prepared Tamales Oaxaquenos when I was growing up.” It falls in line with Guzman’s cooking philosophy, “to do the little things well and stay authentic to my roots when preparing family recipes.”
Tickets, which are $55 and will be on sale until Thursday on eventbrite.com, do not cover tip for the wait staff, so bring some cash to make sure they get compensated for a night of hard work. Here's the full menu:
Gunthorp pork chop, Kale and mushroom farrinette cake, Sorghum milk stout glace, poblano corn succotash —Laidlaw
Gunthorp duck tamales with Mama Elva Oaxaqueño mole, green tomatillo salsa and cilantro crema fresca—Guzman
Ajo blanco, grilled sardine, verjus, fish bones, saffron, pear—Robey
Carr Valley Billy Blue, pickled plum, honeyed preserved lemon, pistachio shortbread. —Collaboration