Top Chefs: Connecticut's culinary heavy-hitters that deserve national attention

James BeardCookingHartford (Hartford, Connecticut)West Village

We're living in an age of delicious collaboration. Two of Connecticut's most talented chefs, Tyler Anderson of Pip's at the Copper Beech Inn in Ivoryton and Noel Jones of ON20 in Hartford, proved the point recently when they teamed up to present "Connecticut Sensations," a six-course meal at the James Beard House in New York City. The brownstone in the West Village is the former home of the legendary cookbook writer and the current home of the James Beard Foundation, whose yearly awards are known as the "Oscars of the Food World." Chefs across the country cook dinners at the Beard House to flex their muscles and raise funds for the Beard Foundation.

Chefs Anderson and Jones didn't just split the six courses. They planned and executed the meal together. That's unusual in an ego-filled profession. But it worked. The preview meal at Pip's featured inspired dishes grounded in classic French technique, using seasonal, local ingredients. It left me wanting to eat at both Pip's and ON20 soon. Both are worthy of road trips.

The Copper Beech Inn has changed its formal dining room into a more casual French brasserie decorated in warm tones of red and yellow. I arrived in time to hear my tablemates rave about the hors d'oeuvres of pickled beets with frozen, shaved foie gras. Any thought of having missed out was banished by the wide bowl of winter squash and celery root potage. In the center of the smooth, rich soup sat a deconstructed croque monsieur, a tiny grilled cheese sandwich sprinkled with bits of Chef Tyler's house-cured ham.

The next dish evoked the sea: A tableau of sliced, hand-harvested scallops draped across a rectangular plate. A super-thin slice of dried cauliflower represented coral, sprigs of ruffled greens suggested seaweed, and spice mixture represented sand.

The sea theme continued with the third course. Flounder and clam pressé, a delicate mix of tender poached fish and clam in truffled clam mousse, rested in a foamy white wine sauce. The flavors kept revealing themselves, essence of sea and wine.

The next course was an "I've-died-and-gone-to-heaven" experience. Slices of rare, roasted squab breast fanned over pickled plum, the meat rare and deliciously gamey. A "drummet" of leg confit was soft and unctuous. A tiny, toasted sandwich of seared foie gras was a swoon-worthy bite.

Next up, tender, pink, dry-aged rib eye with red-wine sauce, and a cromesquis — a little round of crunchy batter filled with buttery, beefy bone marrow.

Dessert was a trio of apples. The standout was caramel-apple mousse, which contrasted thin, snappy dark chocolate with creamy, caramel-apple mousse and crunchy praline. The dessert chef was Tommy Juliano, who also created an apple tatin and apple-ginger beignet.

This wonderful meal underscored how lucky we are in Connecticut to have such talented chefs. Who is your favorite chef? The James Beard Foundation is accepting nominations for Best Chef in the Northeast until Dec. 31. (jamesbeard.starchefs.com)


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