Behind-the-Scenes at Clio's Blowout 15th Anniversary Bash

Get a peek at the bigwig chefs that made the 15-course extravaganza come together.

Above, Ken Oringer (far right) and Tony Maws help plate the eighth course of the evening, a salsify and laitue de mer (sea lettuce) porridge topped with crunchy farro, from former Manresa chef John Paul Carmona. (All photos by Leah Mennies for Boston magazine).

Last night marked the celebration of Ken Oringer’s flagship Clio’s 15-year anniversary. To celebrate, the chef decided to go all out with a 15-course extravaganza, prepared by impressive alums of his restaurant like Sam Gelman (the forthcoming Momofuku Toronto), Alex Stupak and Lauren Resler (Empellon and Empellon Cocina), and Tony Maws (Craigie on Main). I hung around in the kitchen to get a behind-the-scenes look at the the five-hour feast, which was prepared for a boisterous, sold-out dining room crowd that included Jamie Bissonnette (Toro, Coppa), Matt and Kate Jennings (Farmstead, La Laiterie), and Ming Tsai (Blue Ginger). Ahead, get a look at the plating action, and get some insight from the chef-alums about how Clio made a difference in their culinary trajectories.

First up was a course from Oringer and Clio’s chef de cuisine Douglas Rodrigues, who prepared white orchid root and caviar “bon bons,” served with allium flowers and a bitter cocoa oil. Following the duo was Alex Talbot of Ideas in Food, who created a savory sorrel ice cream with wild char roe, kasu curd (kasu is the residual yeast leftover from sake production), and rhubarb “glass.”

The third course was a chilled yellow watermelon and tomato gazpacho with avocado-wrapped spicy peekytoe crab, from Todd MacDonald, who runs Villa Pacri in New York. MacDonald, who worked at Clio from 2000-2002, told me that his time at Clio “was the number one greatest experience of my career, there is no question about it.” His highlight? Getting flown to Thailand for the World Gourmet Summit. “Just the exposure with [Oringer’s] food knowledge, and going around Thailand with a chef of that caliber who knows his ingredients and knows the little hole-in-the-wall places to check out, it was just an amazing experience,” he says.

Local favorite Tony Maws went fourth, with a plankton, nori, and dashi semolina pasta that was served with a rich sauce enhanced with mussel liquor, uni, and butter and, last but not least, topped off with shreds of guanciale.

Alex Stupak (right), and his Empellon co-owner, pastry chef, and wife, Lauren Resler, made a dish of crispy, wavy masa strips held together with uni mousse and topped with ruby red shrimp, jalapenos, radish, and lettuces. The duo first met in 2003, when Stupak poached Resler from No. 9 Park to be his pastry assistant in the Clio kitchen.

“For me, the important part [of working at Clio] was that I was a very new and inexperienced pastry chef, and the pastry kitchen is right there [off to the side in the basement kitchen]. It was important, because it left me in a room alone for abnormally long periods of time, which is unusual in a kitchen,” says Stupak, who went on to run the pastry departments at Alinea and wd~50 before opening his own restaurants. “I didn’t have any fear or worry of embarrassing myself or making mistakes in front of people, because I sort of had my own domain.”

Course number six came from Sam Gelman (far left, with The Dutch chef Jason Hua, right), who helped open Momofuku Ko and Ma Peche in New York and is now heading up the forthcoming Momofuku Toronto in Canada. He created a seafood cassoulette that was an ode to a version that’s long been on the Clio menu; Gelman’s version was thick and buttery, with local clams, king crab, and Thai chili jam. Gelman worked at Clio from 2004-2006, and his time there was his first post-culinary school position. “This is where I learned how to cook, big time,” Gelman told me. “The bold techniques and ingredients I was exposed to here were phenomenal. It set me up for the rest of my career.”

Next was Phillip Kirshen Clark, who is working on opening a new restaurant, Demi Monde, in New York’s Financial District. He served a dish of scored and seared hearts of palm with artichokes, boquerones, chickweed, and a bottarga, preserved lemon, and Pecorino vinaigrette.

AKA Bistro chef Chris Chung, who worked at Clio and Uni from 2002-2009, served a mix of abalone, hon shemeji mushrooms, and pickled ramps atop a sunomono gelee. “Clio and Uni were the perfect place for me to try anything and create my own recipes, and at the same time learn from Ken,” Chung says.

John Critchley, who runs the kitchen at Urbana in Washington, D.C., served Island Creek oyster croquettes with kumquat kosho and a lemongrass, kaffir lime, and coconut broth.

While the chefs worked hard all night, they also allowed themselves to have some fun hanging out. At left, Rodrigues and Uni chef Chris Gould goof around in the kitchen between plating courses; at right, Critchley, Maws, and Talbot reminisced about the good old days working on the line in Clio kitchen, and about simpler times when diners didn’t seem to have allergies to just about everything.

Of course, meticulous attention was payed to allergies during the dinner; everything was carefully marked on a dining room map.

Course 11 was a foie gras torchon “sandwich” with pickled Connecticut strawberries, chartreuse, and wild herbs from chef David Varley, who now works for the West Coast-based Michael Mina Group; at top right is a look at Varley’s sketch of the dish in his notebook. At bottom right, Rodrigues snaps a photo of the stunning plate.

The chefs all pitched in on executing all of the courses; here, Critchley helps season course 12 from Jason Hua (The Dutch), a filet of black sea bass served over a crisped rice cake and nameko mushrooms.

The final savory course came from chef Andres Grundy (left), a restaurant consultant in New York (and former chef de cuisine at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon), who served lamb breast with seared sweetbreads and braised fava beans.

Last but not least was dessert. At left, Clio pastry alum (and current pastry chef at Marea in NY) Renee Herzog plates a dish with a malt-filled chocolate, poached cherries, and a birch-amaro gelato. At right, Oringer puts the finishing touches on Clio pastry chef Chris Cordeiro’s mango sticky rice with toasted mung beans, coconut ash and micro-cilanto (the dish was an ode to former Clio pastry chef Rick Billings, who now works with Jose Andres and could not make it to the dinner).

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