At this year’s James Beard Awards, which are happening in New York on May 6, guests to the party will be treated to tasty bites being crafted by some of the country’s hottest chefs. Among them will be S.F.’s own Melissa Perello of Frances, and Thomas McNaughton of Central Kitchen and Flour + Water. (McNaughton is actually up for the Rising Star prize for the third time this year. “Always a bridesmaid…” he quips.) Both chefs have been tasked with creating dishes to this year’s theme, which is The Movies, and they told Grub Street a little bit about them.
McNaughton says that attending the awards is “such a fun part of my year, and pretty much everyone in my peer group and every one of my friends and idols in the industry is there. But this one’s obviously going to be a little more stressful.” For his reception dish, he’s doing something that began as a dish at Flour + Water and is now featured on the menu at Central Kitchen. “It’s based off of curds and whey,” he tells us. “It’s a dish that I think really represents both restaurants, and it changes all year long, using what’s in season.” In this case it will be a dish of spring vegetables with fresh goats milk that’s split into curds and whey. The whey is cooked down with spring onions and green garlic and pureed into a soup, and served with preserved Meyer lemon and asparagus in several different forms — raw, blanched, and pureed. McNaughton’s movie inspiration: San Francisco, the 1936 film starring Clark Gable and Jeannette MacDonald which gave birth to the song “San Francisco” (made famous by Judy Garland).
For her dish, Perello chose a more contemporary comedy: Napoleon Dynamite. Recalling how Napoleon worked on a chicken farm, Perello’s doing a dish of sliced, herb-poached chicken with a spring onion-creme fraiche soubise, accompanied by spring vegetables and crispy onions. “I’m also trying to figure out a way to incorporate tater tots,” she says. “Because, you know. Obviously.”