All Star Chef Classic 2018: Middle East Feast

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to another great year at the fifth annual All Star Chef Classic. From March 7th to 10th, this one-of-a-kind event took place at the L.A. Live and showcased some of the biggest names in the culinary industry. It’s a celebration of all things delicious with a dazzling lineup of over fifty superstar chefs plating their best creations. From world class masters dinners hosted inside the incredible state-of-the-art Restaurant Stadium to outdoor strolling events held at the market-style Chef’s Tasting Arena, the All Star Chef Classic was truly a star-studded affair for gourmands and food lovers.

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This year, Melissa’s Produce had the pleasure of hosting the Middle East Feast, a lively semi-outdoor tasting event that featured both emerging and established stars of Middle Eastern cooking along with some of Los Angeles’s finest chefs. This event was well represented by chefs such as Brandon Parker of the local Spread Mediterranean Kitchen, Ronen Tenne from Washington DC’s Little Sesame and All Star Chef Classic veteran Jenn Louis of Ray. One ticket granted access to unlimited tastings from 18 selected renowned chefs along with open bar all night long.

According to the Whole Foods 2018 trend report, 2018 is the year for Middle Eastern food. The rich flavors and inventive spice blends found in its cuisine are going mainstream in both restaurants and home kitchens alike. When it comes to the culture and regional differences in Middle Eastern fare, there is so much more to learn and taste. We are no longer merely limited to hummus, pita and falafel. Traditional foods from Persian, Moroccan, Lebanese cuisines and more as well as classic ingredients such as saffron, harissa and eggplants will finally take the spotlight. What better place to highlight this year’s hottest food trend than at the All Star Chef Classic?

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Over at the Melissa’s booth, we featured a healthy and delicious Golden Beet and Pomegranate Salad which highlighted our new Steamed Golden Beets, the newest addition to our Steamed Line. If you’re a fan of beets, you’re going to love them. And if you’re not, well, these ones may just change your mind. Golden beets have a similar flavor to traditional red beets but with a more mildly sweet and less earthy taste. Its gorgeous, vibrant color makes for a lovely contrast with the crunchy pomegranate arils, which were studded throughout this delectable salad.

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20180309_190701We began our night with a Za’Atar Cured Salmon plated by Chef Michael Mina of his signature restaurant, MICHAEL MINA. Served on a freshly fried wonton-style chip, the cured salmon’s fresh, mild flavors were enhanced with the addition of crispy zucchini and pickled Chiogga beets. The labneh, a creamy cheese made with Greek yogurt, was flavored with red onion, helped add a hint of creaminess and tanginess to round out the lightly salty and sweet flavors of the salmon and vegetables.

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Atayefs are usually served more as desserts, typically eaten during the month of Ramadan. They’re best described as sweet folded dumplings or pancakes, usually filled with unsalted cheese, cream or nuts. However, Chef Philippe Massoud of New York’s Ilili plated up his savory take with Aleppo chiles and sumac rubbed lamb shoulder. Aleppo chiles, named after the city of Aleppo in Northern Syria, gave this dish a rich, complex and intense spice while the sumac, an essential spice commonly used in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean recipes, provided a tart and tangy lemon undertone. A truly unforgettable combination of flavors!

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However, tonight’s event was not only limited to traditional food fare. Chef Danny Elmaleh of Los Angeles hotspot Cleo served up his creative take on fried chicken with a Moroccan twist. But be forewarned: this chicken was SPICY! Spicy as in Nashville hot chicken spicy–the type of electrifying heat that takes no prisoners and hurts so good with each bite. However, despite the intense flavors from the chicken, the turkish apricot mustard sauce helped round it off with an irresistible sweetness. In addition, the dill pickled cucumbers provided a refreshing coolness for the palette.

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It’s always a pleasure seeing Chef Jenn Louis, of Portland’s Ray and tasting her fabulous platings. Tonight, Jenn was busy serving up her Lamb Kofta with ginger and cilantro. Kofta falls under the meatball or meatloaf category in Middle Eastern, South Asian and Balkan cuisine and consists of ground meat usually mixed with onions and different spices.

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As both lovers and purveyors of potatoes, we were pleased to encounter a spud-focused dish as part of the Middle East Feast lineup. Here we have a Japanese sweet potato with schug plated by Chef Conor Shemtov of MH ZH. The perfectly roasted sweet potato produced a wonderful deep caramelized flavor on its own but the schug accompaniment added the most memorable spicy kick of the night. One of the most popular condiments found in Yemenite cuisine,Β  schug is made with plenty of parsley, cilantro and chiles and sure to be hottest (no pun intended) new sauce in town.

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Dish 9

Aren’t these mini bowls just the coolest? Hot buzz over healthy food bowls have taken up the culinary world by a storm over the past couple of years and show no signs of slowing down. And why should they? They’re both well balanced and delicious and Crossroads Kitchen’s Chef Tal Ronnen’s special of the night was no exception. A nutritional powerhouse packed into little bowls, this dish featured shwarma spiced king oyster mushrooms, pea pesto couscous, Moroccan spiced baby carrots and fermented red cabbage.

Dish 10 - DishIt’s no secret that lentils and Middle Eastern spices go exquisitely together. As one of the world’s best superfoods, lentils are at the top of our list when it comes to favorite legumes. That’s why we were delighted to see Carrie Mashaney of Seattle’s Mamnoon highlight them in her dish of Mujadarra lentils with rice, caramelized onions, pickled cabbage, garlic, yogurt and fresno chiles.

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Dish 11 - Dish

Of course, we couldn’t end the night without something sweet. Hailing all the way from New York City’s Mah-Ze-Dahr Bakery, Chef Umber Ahmad and Erin Kanagy-Loux served up this gorgeous Pistachio Raspberry Rose Tart. This bite sized little treat is a most divine combination found in many Middle Eastern desserts that we’re not ashamed that we back up for seconds…and perhaps thirds.

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All of us at Melissa’s Produce would like to express our gratitude to all who gave this year’s All Star Chef Classic another successful run. A huge thank you to all the hard working chefs, chef’s team and to our own team members who made this night possible. We had an amazing time as we do each and every year and are already looking forward to the next!

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