Benefiting The James Beard Foundation

By Robin Jay


Robert Irvine

Celebrity Chef Robert Irvine

It was an unprecedented red-carpet all-star cast in the kitchen on January 30 at Kuro, the critically acclaimed new-style Japanese restaurant in Hollywood. The guest of honor, Food Network’s celebrity tough-guy chef Robert Irvine, star of the television show “Restaurant Impossible”– stealthily arrived  in his sleek ammunition-gray muscle suit to emcee the one-night event and ensure the five celebrity chefs didn’t miss a beat preparing the five-course meal, proceeds of which benefited the revered James Beard Foundation.

“Every foodie worth his weight in truffles knows the James Beard Foundation celebrates, nurtures, and honors America’s diverse
culinary heritage through programs that educate and inspire,” Chef Irvine told South Florida Opulence.

The late James Beard, a world-renowned cookbook author and teacher with an encyclopedic knowledge about food (see our feature story about James Beard on page 60), was a champion of American cuisine.

“Every chef cooking here tonight and every guest who purchased a ticket to experience this once-in-a-lifetime meal, knows that receiving a James Beard Award is, in the culinary world, the equivalent to earning an Academy Award. Most of the chefs here tonight are past James Beard Award winners or nominees,” said Chef Irvine.

With that, Chef Irvine grabbed the microphone and in his iconic ‘Restaurant Impossible’ fashion bellowed, “Hey chefs! What’s the holdup? Let’s get this show on the road!”

And like clockwork, meal service ensued.


JBF Award Winner Allen Susser


Host Chef Alex Becker


JBF Award Winner Norman Van Aken


JBF Award Nominee Dahlia Narvaez


JBF Award Winner Christopher Lee

Five Amazing Courses
Each course of this memorable meal was prepared by one of the participating chefs. Kuro’s host chef Alex Q. Becker (creative culinary director, Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood) prepared Zensai Yon Ten Mori with buri sashimi, ankimo su miso, whitefish with nanban sauce. “We wanted to take our guests on a culinary ride through the locally grown ingredients that we are blessed to have access to in Florida, along with the Japanese imported components and have it make sense working their way through. As we do with the menu at Kuro, we built on the flavors and brought them to a pinnacle,” Chef Becker said.

The second course presented by JBF award winner Norman Van Aken (1921 by Norman Van Aken, Mount Dora; In the Kitchen with Norman Van Aken at the Vagabond Hotel, Miami; and NORMAN’S at The Ritz-Carlton, Grande Lakes, Orlando) was a Seared Scallop with Lapsang Souchong cured bacon, Florida rice “middlins,” fermented carrots and Dunedin bottarga. Van Aken is known for changing the face of Floridian cooking many years ago.

“I was very lucky to begin my journey in cuisine in Key West. The uncut, unadorned power of local food made by people from Cuba, Haiti, the Bahamas, the Old South were the foods I first met there. To land in that flowing river sent me on my way with a natural power,” Chef Van Aken said. “To have been bestowed the ‘Who’s Who in American Food and Beverage’ by the JBF is a powerful validation to a lifetime of my work.”

The next intriguing course was prepared by JBF award winner Allen Susser: Spear-Caught Lionfish with togarashi, ginger-roasted roots, shiitakes, rock shrimp, yuzu green mojo. “The Lionfish is as delicious as the fish is beautiful,” said Chef Susser. “Serving it helps with its overpopulation issue in our oceans – and, don’t worry, this dish is not poisonous!”

JBF award winner Christopher Lee from Barcelona Wine Bar Restaurants was next up on deck. His team prepared Japanese Wagyu Strip with West Coast sea urchin, turnips, rice crispies, blood orange miso jus. “I consider the JBF Rising Star Chef award a lifetime achievement award.  I have to admit that I never thought I was going to win; the competition was fierce,” Chef Lee said. “In my current role with Barcelona Wine Bar, I get to work with great young chefs. We basically give them a platform to create great food and run a business with support.”

For the sweet finish to a phenomenal dinner, JBF award nominee Dahlia Narvaez, pastry chef of Mario Batali’s Mozza Group in Los Angeles, prepared a decadent Yamazaki Whiskey Butterscotch Budino with rosemary pine nut cookies and Maldon sea salt.

A Nod from the James Beard Foundation President
“It was a remarkable night and a remarkable meal,” said Susan Ungaro, President of the James Beard Foundation for the past 10 years. “For a dinner like this, we don’t need to tell the chefs what to do, they’re the artists. I’m sure Chef Alex Becker was the major coordinator as the host chef. I think for him it was really exciting, not only to come cook at the Beard House in November but also to collaborate on this special meal menu at Kuro, which is celebrating its first anniversary, with such prestigious experienced wonderful chefs.”


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