Not so many pairing dinners ago, we featured Chef Cody Storts in our Chef Series article, wherein we dubbed him somewhat of a Kitchen Ninja, what with him concurrently taking the helm at LamroN Catering, Bourbon Street and The Lime Truck.  In true form, he was recently voted one of the Inspired Innovators for OC Metro’s Best Chefs of Orange County issue alongside other rising luminaries like Jenny Ross of 118 Degrees, Adam Navidi of Future Foods Farms and Greg Daniels of Haven Gastropub.

Some chefs cook. Others are driven to take the ideas that the world finds preposterous and see them to fruition. The chefs in this category are changing our communities and our palates one meal at a time.

Just when we thought his plate couldn’t get any more full, we’ve also spotted Chef Cody lending his consulting chops to the kitchens of Burger Parlor, HopScotch Tavern and Wild Goose Tavern (Costa Mesa).

The culmination of all of these gigs? Come this summer he will commandeer an imposing 8,000 square foot culinary installment called The Volstead as their Executive Chef. Located in the historic gas building in the arts district of downtown Santa Ana, it will be a tri-level destination featuring modernist cuisine on the ground floor, a speakeasy on the second floor and a cocktail lounge on the rooftop.

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Leading up to this challenging stint, Chef Cody has embarked on a series of wine pairing dinners at Aviation Restaurant to hone in on his execution. You won’t find it on Google Maps because Aviation Restaurant is a pop-up concept by Fullerton entrepreneur Cameron Irons within his Nieuport 17 fine dining establishment in Tustin. Reserved in one of their Old World European dining rooms is a stately space comprised of a very long, presidential-like table that accommodates about 50 patrons. One can’t but feel extremely privileged just by the subdued opulence of the decor and the attentiveness of their superb wait staff.

We attended the second installment of Chef Cody’s 3-part pop-up  and we couldn’t be more pleased with how far he’s pushing the epicurean envelope. For this dinner, various techniques in molecular gastronomy were utilized in the preparation of each course.

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Bread & Butter Pickles and Duck Liver Pate with Sour Beer Mustard: A good first course tantalizes and opens up your taste buds. This particular one tickled every single one of them. Rather than a congealed slab, the pate was forced through a nitrous oxide charger to render a silken, mousse-like texture. Taking the grilled, garlic crostini we smeared a bit of the punchy, mildly bitter mustard; slathered the smooth duck liver foam; and topped it off with the briny, sweet and spicy pickle. With our appetites duly primed, our hearts began palpitating just a little bit faster in anticipation of the next course.

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Fennel and Butter Poached Escolar with Wild Mushroom Grits with Wilted Arugula and Crispy Black-Eyed Peas: Paying homage to his Texas origins, the second course was Chef Cody’s version of Southern comfort food elevated to a higher plane. The notorious escolar , or butterfish, was cooked a la plancha to a level of succulence that this fish is widely hailed for. The subtleness of the  wild mushroom grits, fennel fronds and microgreens left the rich flavor of the escolar to speak for itself, while the arugula rounded out the flavors with its earthiness. Black-eyed peas that had danced briefly in liquid nitrogen gave a surprise, shattering crunch as we collectively marveled at its ingenuity.

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Scallops and Bergamot Orange Beurre Blanc | Buttermilk Fried Quail and Crisp Southern Greens | Creamed Beef Tongue and Blue Crusted Fries: Swimmers, Flappers and Trotters was how this sinful trifecta of proteins was playfully described. To the left was a plump, perfectly seared scallop gleaming over a beautiful bergamot orange beurre blanc and a rice wine, miso glaze. In the center, was buttermilk quail with a pepita stuffing lying on a compote bed of bing cherries, oranges and saffron beckoning with deep-fried seductiveness. Last down the line was an adventure in and of itself and the epitome of culinary tongue in cheek. Or rather,  tongue in balls. Imagine a creamy, sublime version of lengua lapping up a blue corn meal crusted disc of tasty bull fries. For those not familiar, bull fries are also known as Rocky Mountain oysters or bull calves testicles. With the wine already flowing through our veins, the phrase “lick my blue balls” giddily passed through everyone’s mouths.

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Compressed Melon: For the intermezzo course, compressed peppino melon with a sour orange, lemon and vanilla glaze garnished cleansed our palates with its sunny elements. Using the vacuum seal process where the texture becomes more meaty and the flavor more intense, its vibrant color segued nicely into the dessert course to follow.

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“CB & J”: With what was initially going to be a Peanut Butter and Jelly Tart, Pastry Chef Mai Phan transfigured instead into a Cashew Butter and Jelly Tart. The flaky tart case showcased a cashew nougat with a nitrogenated grape gelée; a feathery cashew maltodextrin powder that liquefied in your mouth; and spangles of dark chocolate. A concord grape reduction dotted with raw grapes and a thick band of torched meringue contributed varying degrees of sweetness to this creative, confectionary mosaic.

Chef Cody and his crew of culinary ninjas have many more of these inventive pairing dinners in store and the very next one is tomorrow, February 22nd again at Aviation Restaurant. Click here for more event information or call Nieuport 17 directly at 714.731.5130 before they’re sold out.


Corky Nepomuceno

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