Ingredients Transcend Cultures in Philly’s Collaboration Dinners

By Kae Lani Kennedy, Foodable Contributor

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There are many ways restaurants differentiate themselves. Rotating seasonal ingredients, tasting menus, and pairing events create variety, and are great ways restaurants continue to entice new customers and engage repeat diners.

But what happens when a restaurant has already established itself as a leader in the industry? Over the past few years, well established restaurants have experimented with the idea of collaboration dinners. Two chefs specializing in different cultural cuisines come together to create a menu that pushes the boundaries of their culinary skills. Each course features an exotic ingredient and the chefs present a dish in which the ingredient is prepared in that culture’s tradition– no holds barred on creative freedom.

Some of the Recent Collaborated Culinary Events

A few years ago, the concept became wildly popular amongst chefs and restaurateurs in Philadelphia. January of 2013 saw one of the largest collaborations between Lacroix, Rittenhouse Tavern, Fond, and Will. The collaborative events ran once per month for four months, perpetuating excitement for all four restaurants.

In August of 2014, the collaboration dinner concept was created to raise money for charity. Spicy titan Han Dynasty teamed up with Prime Stache, owned by the Philadelphia Eagle’s own Brent Celek, to create an Asian and American inspired seven course meal that benefitted The Ronald McDonald House and the Take Flight Foundation. Overall, it presented restaurants with the opportunity to create buzz and the chance for head chefs to interact directly with the city’s most passionate eaters.

Vetri and Morimoto Deliver an Unforgettable Experience

Recently, Philadelphia’s Vetri and Morimoto teamed up for a collaboration dinner that brought this dining experience to a whole new level. The dinner made a huge statement, presenting nine rounds of wild ingredients from the best sources in the world, served in the Japanese style from Morimoto and the Italian tradition from Vetri. Both perspectives displayed the variety of ways that these ingredients can be used and the range of flavors that each ingredient can take, depending on how it’s prepared.

Sea Urchin Course Prepared by Chef Ben Dayag | Chashman & Associates

Sea Urchin Course Prepared by Chef Ben Dayag | Chashman & Associates

Though I’m a travel writer by trade, I haven’t visited Japan or Italy, but from sampling from this collaborative menu I feel I’ve explored each country through their cuisine. Chef Adam Leonti of Vetri explored the coastal regions of Italy with the raw portion of the menu where he presented an Italian crudité di mare, an array of raw fish topped with raw vegetables such as onions, carrots, and radishes or salt to bring out the true flavor of each fish. The fresh ocean flavors of the raw fish were balanced with the floral notes of Yuki-no-Bosha sake made from snow water from the mountains in Akita, Japan. Chef Leonti also shone brightly during the pork course with a northern Italian style pork and sauerkraut. The smoky flavors of the pork went well with the tartness of the sauerkraut, which was fermented naturally in a wine room. This paired with the sweetness of a Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale from Japan gave for a well rounded and flavorful course.

Chef Ben Dayag of Morimoto was an exemplary guide through the cuisines of Japan. During the mackerel course, Chef Dayag introduced us to his head Sushi Chef, Makoto Okuwa, who transported us to his hometown of Osaka, Japan with sushi that was as aesthetically beautiful, with the mackerel’s gray to blue gradient, as it was delicious, with a tinge of ginger that brought out the intensity of this normally oily fish.

Chef Dayag’s star round was, by far, during the sea urchin course where he showed us the full breadth of forms that the sea urchin can take. For those who enjoy the taste of Japanese uni but not necessarily the spongy texture, Chef Dayag presented it in three separate ways: crème bruleed, pureed and topped with roe, and dried to be used as a sea urchin salt. Each method brought new ways to experience the warm sensations and natural sea flavors of uni.

Vetri and Morimoto’s collaboration dinner set the bar quite high for 2015. Though it’s a tough act to follow, there’s no doubt that, due to the success of this dining concept, there are more exciting collaborative menus to come!