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10 Things We Learned at Chefs Week's Kick-off Dinner

A field report from the West Coast Modern dinner at Ataula, the first of Chefs Week's four-night dinner series that continues through Sunday.

1) Contrary to popular belief, this was not the first time current Top Chef finalists Mei Lin and Gregory Gourdet got to cook with each other instead of against each other.

"We cooked together all the time at the house," says Lin. "They just never show that part on TV."

2) Mei Lin is as bad ass as she looks on TV. But she's really nice, too.

As she plated her dish of foie gras mousse with huckleberry reduction and nasturtium leaves, her quiet, focused intensity was magnetizing, even to the other chefs. But after it was served, she made the rounds in the dining room, talking to guests with the relaxed ease of a total pro.

3) Chefs tend to be really quiet when they're working with tweezers.

Forget the bustle and clang of a typical restaurant kitchen. Things were almost eerily quiet as the chefs worked feverishly with chopsticks, tweezers and tongs.

4) Thai pea flowers are really super blue (really, you should Google them).

Gourdet's popular starter of grilled mussels, crab and octopus featured a startlingly blue gel (think Ty-D-Bol), thanks to an infusion of Thai pea flowers.

5) You wouldn't know by looking at it, but Craig Thornton at Wolvesmouth in L.A. had the hit of the night.

Everyone raved about the balance of lightness and depth in his dish of just-cooked prawns, rare albacore, ceviche and a delicate yet deeply flavored tamale of masa and poblano peppers. But the black plate and green scriggle of guacamole was definitely not Instagram friendly.

6) "Carrot-forward" is useful term.

And one that was coined in response to course number 4 from Brian Skinner, formerly of The Acorn in Vancouver B.C. His comforting dish featured tender yet tree-stump-thick carrots.

7) Nicuatole is not the next big thing.

At least not in foam form (sorry Justin Wills of Restaurant Beck).

8) Chefs just wanna eat pizza.

Around 8:15 p.m., with just a couple of courses to go, a woman walked into the dining room with a stack of pizzas from Sizzle Pie. One server wondered aloud if they were being pranked. Nope, the chefs were just hangry.

9) Candy is the best souvenir.

At the end of the meal, guests snatched up yogurt caramels with smoked paprika, and chocolate, olive oil and sea salt lollipops to take home. The collaboration from Ataula chef Jose Chesa and Jami Curl of Quin Candy was great midnight snack fodder. And the herb praline studded chocolates made by Dana Tough and Brian McCracken (Spur in Seattle) at Woodblock Chocolate went great with morning coffee.

10) And, finally, the after party is always — always — where it's at.

Doug is having Mei's baby. #TopChef #CWPDX #chefsweekpdx

A photo posted by Gregory Gourdet (@gg30000) on


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