Last weekend, I had the great pleasure of cooking for one of my favorite actors of all time, Kurt Russell, at the incredible Nirvana Food and Wine Festival hosted by Chef Beau MacMillan at the luxurious Sanctuary Resort in Paradise Valley, Arizona.
Big Trouble in Little Paradise Valley
I was super busy at work one day last February when my longtime friend Chef Beau Macmillan rang me up. I answered knowing he was calling to tell me about the upcoming Nirvana Food and Wine Festival, an off the hook, annual foodie event he created the year before.
If you’ve ever seen Beau Mac on TV you know his normal state of being is one of high energy mixed with joyous enthusiasm; kind of like I just slammed four espressos, I love life, and now let’s get to it. This time he was even more ebullient than ever, his excitement was hardly containable. ‘Brotha, you won’t believe who is coming down to Nirvana this year.’ Before I could even respond, Beau blurted out Kurt Russell’s name, ‘Kurt’s coming to Paradise Valley’.
World Class Talent at Nirvana
Beau’s unbridled energy flowed straight through the phone and left me with a mixed feeling of pure excitement tempered with oppressing fear. The Nirvana Food and Wine Festival is star filled with big name talent like Scott Conant, Todd English, Stephanie Izard, Guy Fieri, David Rose, Aaron Sanchez among dozens of others, and then there is myself. The pressure was really on; for large periods of time the following week my wife Lisa found me laying in fetal position on my kitchen floor, with a relentless nervous eye twitch, mumbling in half sentences about what to cook that would be worthy of this great honor.
Nirvana Food & Wine
This year’s lineup for the event offered an incredible array of cool events. The weekend kicked off with a grand New Orleans-style celebration complete with a dazzling array of food and drinks. Live jazz set the Mardi Gras mood while the Valley’s top mixologists poured out libations hosted by Bulleit Bourbon. Friday brought one of my favorite events called ‘Flutes and Coops’, a fried chicken and champagne pairing with a star studded lineup of chefs hosted by Stephanie Izard, owner of the Girl and the Goat and the first female chef to win Bravo’s Top Chef. Saturday began with a celebrity golf tournament, and a new event called Rosé Parté, hosted by celebrity chef Todd English, where fashion, food, diamonds and Rosé come together with an all-star cast featuring the Bella Twins, a caviar bar, delectable confections from Arizona’s top pastry chefs and as if that wasn’t enough, winemakers poured a variety of unique Rosés from around the world. Saturday night continued with ‘Best of the West’, bringing together the best chefs in the West, including celebrity chef Scott Conant, for a walk-around tasting set against the resort’s stunning backdrop. Nirvana ended strong on Sunday morning with Nirvana’s Southwestern-style farewell brunch aptly entitled ‘Tequila & Tortillas’ hosted by celebrity chef Aarón Sánchez, live music from D. Vincent Williams and the Nashville All Stars and lots of tequila.
Masters of Taste Dinner
Nestled among all those star studded events are what I consider the hidden jewels of Nirvana: a nightly series of unbelievable meals pairing high-end chefs and famous winemakers together called ‘Masters of Taste’. I was lucky, and extremely honored to be paired with Kurt Russell and his amazing Santa Rita Hills winery Gogi Wines. Beau Mac told me the theme of the dinner would be various takes on Kurt’s ledger of movies. My mind shifted into high gear and I knew exactly what I was going to do.
The crippling effects of Acapulco Gold
I wanted to base my dish on the film Big Trouble in Little China, perhaps my favorite Kurt Russell movie of all time. Years ago, by years I actually mean decades, a friend stopped by my house and said we had to go see the new Kurt Russell movie right away. On the way to the movie, we got completely stoned to the point that when we arrived at the theater we walked into the wrong movie screening. By accident we stumbled into a private showing reserved solely for elementary school aged kids. We couldn’t see a single person in the darkened theater, none of the 500 kids were tall enough to be seen over the backs of the seats. We managed to find the last two empty seats just as the lights darkened completely and the film began. Within a few seconds, 500 buckets of popcorn rained down upon us, followed by the collective cackle of 500 kids laughing. Honestly it was the best movie experience of my lifetime and a testament to the synergy of 500 small children watching a fantastic movie fueled by the mind crippling effects of Acapulco Gold.
Kurt Russell and the Drunken Wagyu (or if General Tso had cooked beef instead of chicken)
Big Trouble in Little China is a fantastic tale about an all-American trucker who gets dragged into a centuries-old mystical battle in Chinatown. I wanted to create a dish that was both campy and tasty all in the same bite. It had to stand out and be remembered. I called my dear friend Mark Melnick and asked him to source a super rare piece of Japanese wagyu beef, something no one else could ever find. Much to my surprise he called me back a few moments later and told me he found two pieces of Taka Mori Wagyu, also known as drunken wagyu because the cows are fed sake mash from the high end, luxury sake company Dassai located across the road.
I have to be completely transparent; trying to pick your favorite Kurt Russell movie is a bit like telling someone to pick their favorite child. I was unable to do just one movie, so I snuck in two others without telling Beau Mac. I served pixie sticks filled with a mysterious powder allegedly provided by Keith Richards, as an ode to Interstate 60 in which Kurt plays a sheriff of a small town that has a novel approach to controlling drug use. And a smear of uni butter and prawn chips to honor the epic movie Overboard, which needs absolutely no introduction. If you haven’t seen Overboard I have to ask, what planet have you been hiding on? I know Beau Mac had planned his course on overboard too, but I could not resist. I felt justified because the uni wasabi butter was made from uni fished near Fort Bragg, CA where Overboard was filmed.
Attitude of Gratitude
I am extremely thankful to Chef Beau Macmillan and the Sanctuary Resort for including me in on this incredible event. Beau Mac is the most amazing person in real life, and inspires me daily to be a better person. To Mark Melnick for providing the Taka Mori wagyu and a bottle of Dassai Sake for Kurt. To Kurt and his delicious winery Gogi for making all of our lives richer by sharing both his talents as an actor and a maker of great Pinot Noir and viognier – and quite honestly for being a truly humble and fantastic real person. To Debby Wolvos, an Arizona based food photographer that I have had the incredible honor to know for several years. If you are needing a photographer for your cookbook or anything else, give her a call. And to the entire Anderson family who own Foods In Season, the company I work for in Washington, that allows me to chase rainbows and my chef dreams by playing with the absolute best hyper seasonal wild foods and wagyu available to all chefs nationwide.
The recipe for my Wagyu dish
The dish is composed of several parts, General Tso sauce, prawn chips, uni butter, flash fried sprouting purple broccoli, carrot ginger puree and a small piece of wagyu sous vided in an Anova circulator for two hours. This probably isn’t a dish you would make after working a long day, than having to cook dinner for your screaming kids. Think of it more as a special weekend meal, something you would do when celebrating your 50th birthday. If you want a real treat, buy a few bottles of Gogi Pinot Noir and taste what is the real star of your meal, the wine.
The dish is comprised of several steps; take a sip of our favorite Gogi wine (3 Bings Pinot Noir), relax and be inspired. Make each step separately, then combine at the last moment. Hashtag us at #PistouAndPastis with your creation and I promise we will share all over social media.
Drunken Wagyu Surf and Turf
A wagyu dish created for actor Kurt Russell based on his film Big Trouble in Little China (and Interstate 60 and Overboard).
General Tso Sauce
- 1 recipe General Tso sauce, follow link for recipe http://pistouandpastis.com/2017/03/search-for-general-tsos-halibut-cheeks/
- 200 grams uni meat
- 1/4 pound butter
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons wasabi powder
- 1 teaspoon Japanese togarashi
Carrot and Ginger Puree
- 1 pound baby carrots peeled
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 inch long section ginger root peeled and sliced
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 12 ounces Japanese wagyu
Flash Fried Purple Flowering Broccoli
- 1 tablespoon olive oil or sesame oil
- 10 cloves garlic sliced Good Fellas thin
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 pound purple flowering broccoli
- 1 box uncooked prawn chips
Mix uni, butter, soy, wasabi and togarashi in a food processor and pulse till well blended. Refrigerate.
Carrot and Ginger Puree
Mix the carrots, butter, ginger and sugar together in a small pot of water and bring to a boil.
Cook till both the carrots and ginger are tender. Puree the carrots and ginger in a food processor, using the cooking liquid to thin it to the consistency of a thick soup. Adjust seasoning and reserve.
Cut wagyu into four equal portions. Vacuum pack and put into your circulator set at 126 degrees for two hours. If you do not own a circulator you can sear over high heat till brown and crispy and use that way.
Remove wagyu from cooking pouch and sear over high heat till both sides are browned. Paint uni butter on and reserve.
Flash Fried Purple Flowering Broccoli
Put oil, garlic and red pepper flakes into a saute pan. Cook over low heat till garlic slowly starts to turn amber. The trick is low and low. If need be, open another bottle of 3 Bings and pace yourself.
Add broccoli and saute over high heat till tender. Sometime I will add a few tablespoons of water and cover with a lid to steam the broccoli.
When cooked, add a few spoonfuls of General Tso sauce and reserve.
Follow the manufacturer's directions for frying prawn chips. Prawn chips are available in most larger Asian grocery stores or online.
General Tso Sauce
Visit my recipe for General Tso's Halibut cheeks for the recipe. It can be made the day before. http://pistouandpastis.com/2017/03/search-for-general-tsos-halibut-cheeks/
To Finish the dish
Put a spoonful of carrot ginger puree on a warmed plate.
Squirt a circle of sauce around the puree.
Top with a spoonful of flash fried broccoli.
Then the piece of wagyu and a few prawn chips.
Culinary Adventures: Eat and Drink France like a local
Lisa and Francois conduct highly personalized and fun insider culinary adventures to the world’s most edible locations. Focusing on Burgundy/Lyon, Provence and the Pacific Northwest, we pair up with insider locals to uncover the hidden treasures that you won’t find on a typical tour, creating unique, delectable and memorable Culinary Adventures.
François de Mélogue grew up in a very French household in Chicago. His earliest attempts at cookery began with the filleting of his sister’s goldfish at age two and a braised rabbit dish made with his pet rabbits by age seven. He eventually stopped cooking his pets and went to the highly esteemed New England Culinary Institute where he graduated top of his class in 1985. To read more, visit our blog Pistou and Pastis.