When I first heard about Renegade Dinners last spring, I knew this was something I wanted to try. I had heard of the concept: a dinner featuring dishes – as the Eat Renegade slogan implies -- made from wild caught, shot and foraged ingredients. A sort of combination locavore-clean food-organic-eating style with a little Texas “livin’ off the land” mentality mixed in.
I didn’t know Chef Monica Cobb, but with the abundance of game and seafood around here, I knew she was on to something!
After several sold-out dinners, I finally snagged a ticket to Renegade Dinner #6 on Sept. 24. The menu/theme of the dinners, as well as the location, is kept under wraps until the day of the event.
Growing up in Beaumont, I had a lot of Italian friends and had eaten some mighty-fine Sicilian dishes so I was delighted to hear the dinner theme was Italian food.
The location of each dinner is only revealed on the day of the event, so as I headed to Burns Antik Haus that evening I was beginning to feel like a hipster going to some secret rave.
Owner Julie Burns and the Eat Renegade team had transformed the Old Town shop into an elegant restaurant. Beautifully set tables were nestled among the incredible antique furniture and artwork. I was seated at a massive wooden table from Italy, decorated with equally-massive candelabra and bottles of chianti (old school, in the basket-wrapped bottle).
Dinner began, as any formal Italian dinner would, with antipasto. My favorite item in this course was the Eggplant Caponata, a dip/spread made from roasted eggplant with red peppers, onions, olive oil and other ingredients. Carol Cuccio, a member of the Eat Renegade team, provided the recipe, which had been handed down from her great grandmother Rosina Mangiapone from Palermo, Sicily. It was served in mason jars, and we spread this tasty mixture onto Carol’s fresh, perfectly browned and flaky bread that came in twisted loaves that I would swear were about 3-feet long.
And I think there may have been actual swooning at my table over the smoked olives, which Chef Monica had ordered from Chef Alessandra Innamorato. By the end of the course, there wasn’t an olive left on the table, and the jar of eggplant spread had been scraped clean!
The first of the main courses to be served was ravioli, filled with cushaw and butternut squash. If you don’t know, cushaw is crook-necked winter squash with green and white stripes on the outside and meat like a pumpkin on the inside. It had a slightly nutty taste and was stuffed into a delicate pasta, with a brown butter sage sauce that kept it from being too sweet.
Next came Cioppino, a fish stew. I learned the dish originated in San Francisco, when the Italian fishermen would chop up (“cioppino” means “chop”) some of the catch of the day and cook it with tomatoes. Our “Rienstra style” The cioppino was made with big chunks of red snapper, speckled trout and flounder. This of course was sopped up with even more bread. Delicioso!
Then we were served a dish I had been anticipating: beef short rib and wild morel mushrooms in a tomato sauce.
Morels are edible wild mushrooms that are foraged like truffles. They have a rich smoky flavor, but they only grow for a very short time, so it becomes a foraging frenzy to find them and requires trekking through the forest and searching the underbrush. Experienced foragers keep their best locations secret, much like an old fisherman would never give away his favorite fishin’ spot. I came across a quote that said “the first rule of morel foraging is that you don’t talk about morel foraging.”
Chef Monica used morels that had been foraged by Andre Kohler of Southern California to produce a rich but subtly earthy-tasting sauce, which she served with a wonderfully creamy polenta (a dish made from cornmeal).
For our “digestivo” (after dinner drink) we took a break from the ever-flowing wine with a Limoncello, composed by Gina Morshige, that had quite a kick!
For desert, we had fruit and cheese, including mozzarella hand-made by Chef Monica and her team. (Check out some of her photos of the process, I think they had fun!) These creamy little balls of heaven were drizzled with a balsamic glaze and were accompanied by thinly sliced cantaloupe seasoned with sea salt and pepper.
And it has to be mentioned that throughout the evening, the guests were entertained by vocalist Marjorie Grace Mathis and the lovely ladies styled by Larena Head and Dedra Johnson of Viva La Diva Day Spa.
The delightful table conversations and wonderful company made the whole soiree one of the most fun evenings I have had in a while.
I hear Chef Monica is planning something using alligator for Renegade Dinner #7. I can’t wait!!