As you probably know, Chicago artist Matthew Hoffman is this year’s Faesthetic cover artist. I think he’s really great. Like… really really great.
Blackbird is also really great and it has been on my “to do” list since relocating to Chicago. I was very excited when Matthew recently invited me to a private art inspired dinner at Blackbird. His art, I should add.
BB has been doing this on again, off again artist inspired series for a while, and it doesn’t seem to be heavily advertised. Note to Blackbird: grow this series and promote the hell out of it. It’s a fantastic concept.
The idea is the kitchen collaborates with a notable artist on a concept driven meal, and the consumer gets both delicious inspired food along with some sort of artist hands on involvement. In the case of Matthew’s event, the themed food focused on Strawberries and Salmon, and the takeaway was a limited edition mini sculpture.
The evening started with strawberry cocktails, thankfully not including salmon. There wasn’t assigned seating, and since I was flying solo, I ended up being surrounded by my friend’s wives. No complaints here as they were all fantastic dinner dates.
As the meal began, the chefs came out to explain their idea for the dinner. They talked about Matthew’s artwork, which typically focuses on some sort of word play with a short sentence or phrase. They hoped that the 4 courses would read in the same way, with all of the ingredients making up the letters and words in their simple statement. They wanted you to leave feeling like like the concept was clear, and boy oh boy was it ever.
Would I order each individual course in the future? Probably not. But together, everything worked as a perfect celebration of Strawberries and Salmon. Other than the dessert, which just focused on Strawberries, each dish had a great balance of the two featured ingredients.
To start, we were served a visually beautiful salad with a Strawberry and Beet cured King Salmon. It was perfectly delicate and rich, with a wonderful bit of sliced green Strawberries, something I certainly would like to see more of, in general. Everything was sprinkled with Poppy seeds and herbed Buttermilk. I would have loved a second serving.
Next up was a strawberry gazpacho which, while yes cold strawberry soup sounds more like a dessert than an appetizer, it had a nice balance of the sweet to salty. The addition of smoked Salmon roe seemed to delight to everyone at the table, and I particularly enjoyed the charred Strawberry and curds floating around the bottom of the bowl. These guys know how to play with food.
As we ate, our glasses were constantly filed with either a rose, or a chardonnay. I went with the white, which was a crisp delicious palate cleanser.
For the entree we were served a nice portion each of roasted king Salmon and braised Pork. The Salmon was… good! The braised pork, even better, while being a bit off the ingredient theme of the evening. Many remarked on how well it was prepared, crisp on the outside and melt in your mouth on the inside. Of course, there were more Strawberries, this time roasted, as well as some charred Fennel puree.
It should be noted (in case it’s obvious from these photos) that each dish had a small delicate piece of Matthew Hoffman’s art served along side the food. One piece was a small phrase made out of wood, another a small phrase made out of laser etched plastic. It was hard to figure out what it all meant, until dessert arrived.
A huge portion of strawberry summer pudding with Parmesan Cheesecake arrived. Strawberry jam, olive oil and basil finished the dish. It was a bit overwhelming, but everyone of us was up to the challenge. I’ll admit, at this point I was on strawberry overload. Every tastebud in my mouth was just saturated with a acidic high note of the berry.
We were also provided a small wooden tray, with two bite size candy like pastries on top. A chocolate number, and another lighter in flavor number that… I think had some sort of popcorn powder on it? I have no idea what it was, but it was delicious, and thankfully lacking in Strawberry.
As people started to take note of the wooden tray, a few people flipped it over to reveal a mirror like surface. Several clever dining guests realized all of the small pieces of art from the other plates clicked together on the tray, creating a sculpture stressing the importance of slowing down and taking note of whats happening around you. A refreshing statement as we all live in a world that’s moving way too fast.
Throughout the dinner, Matthew would walk around the room, talking to the 20 or so guests and you could tell he was really enjoying himself. We all were. It was a lovely event, and I hope to make the next one.
(photos provided by Blackbird.)