Last Thursday evening Acre restaurant in Auburn, Alabama hosted a “Beef and Bourbon Benefit” to help the victims of the March 3rd EF-4 tornadoes that devastated the Beauregard and Smiths Station communities in Lee County, Alabama. The 170 MPH tornadoes took the lives of 23 people in the community and left many others without their homes and their belongings scattered for miles. With the combined efforts of a spectacular team of chefs and their crews, the Beef and Bourbon Benefit was able to raise $34,000 in one evening! These funds will be handed over to the MEND program at the East Alabama Medical Center. This program was established after the storm devastation to help the victims with the challenges they are going to face as they rebuild their lives. As their website states their mission is, “To ensure that all affected by tragedy and disaster are able to fully recover physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually”. The Mend program combines the resources of local service organizations, civic groups, national organizations, and churches to not only allow better communication but also a better allocation of efforts to the victims during times of disaster.
The chefs that graciously donated their time and culinary talents to the evening, were the following: David Bancroft of Acre, Jeffrey Compton of Acre, Caleb Fischer of Bow & Arrow, Leonardo Maurelli of Ariccia Cucina Italiana, Robby Melvin of Southern Living, Robbie Nicolaisen of The Hound, Rob McDaniel of SpringHouse, and last, but certainly not least, winner of Top Chef Kentucky 2019, Kelsey Barnard Clark of KBC in Dothan, Alabama. Also contributing to the night’s success was the beef that was featured in all the dishes, Brasstown Beef. Their cattle farm is based out of Franklin, North Carolina, and their motto is that “Extraordinary Care= Extraordinary Beef.” Between the extreme care raising this beef, and extreme care shown in cooking it, it was by far some of the best beef I have ever had in my life. I could cut it all with a fork. Also sponsoring the event was Woodford Reserve of Kentucky and Red Clay Brewing of Opelika. Two of the live auction items during the dinner were two rare bottles of the Master’s Collection of Woodford Reserve. Also, two private wine dinners (one to be hosted in Auburn and another in Dothan) with Iron Chef winner, Chef David Bancroft, and Top Chef Kentucky winner Chef Kelsey Clark of Dothan cooking, and John Mark Davis of International Wines pairing the wines, were auctioned off at much success! Other sponsors for the evenings’ event were the Auburn/Opelika Tourism Bureau, the Hudson Family Foundation, Southern Living, and the CALIFORNIA Wine Company by Phipps Family of Wines.
As the event started, guests were allowed to order cocktails from the bar, or participate in beer and bourbon tastings in the small private room off the right of the entrance of Acre. Being passed around also during this time were the dill pickle biscuits with a Dijon mustard and crispy piece of ham created by Robby Melvin of Southern Living. Also scattered around the dining area were Mason jars of David’s Beef Jerky. The jerky was delicious, tender, and had the perfect amount of kick. David’s cuisine is known for his signature touch of spice. Once we were all seated more starters came out which included Robbie Nicolaisen’s highly elevated black-eye pea hummus. This was no traditional hummus. In addition to the traditional elements of a hummus, black-eyed peas were used, tender beef cheeks were added, Georgia olive oil was used along with a local goat cheese, green tomato chow-chow, and benne served with za’atar spiced fry bread. This dish was so satisfying. I thought this definitely would be a great addition to a tapas style menu, as this hummus would be the perfect accompaniment to a few beers with friends. Jeff Compton prepared a delicately delectable beef heart tartare that consisted of diced raw beef heart, beef fat fried shallots, caper vinaigrette, topped with a duck egg yolk and black truffle aioli, and was served with benne crackers.
Prior to the start of the remaining dinner, which still consisted of six more sides, three more main dishes, and two desserts, Chef David Bancroft introduced all the participants and the sponsors for the evenings’ event. Each chef was welcomed to the dining room with applause and cheer. There were guests in attendance from as far as a Texas and several had made the trip up from Dothan to see their town favorite, Kelsey Clark.
After the introductions and gracious thanks to all the sponsors, a tsunami of food began flooding our table. The entire dinner was served family-style; meaning that all the separate dishes were on their own plates and were passed around the table and shared. The first shared side to come out to the table was a herb roasted wild mushroom dish comprised of the wild mushrooms, brown butter, Manchego cheese, and beef fat bread crumbs, created by Robby Melvin of Southern Living. Next was a flash fried cauliflower dish created by Leo Maurelli of Ariccia Cucina at The Hotel at Auburn University. I had never had a flash fried cauliflower that I could recall. It was slightly crispy, and the feta aioli along with the capers and mixed herbs, made this a cauliflower dish I would want to see on my plate again. Chef Leo also was responsible for the Extruded Creste de Gallo Mac & Cheese, that was full of savory garlic butter and herbed migas. No sooner had I served myself some of the cauliflower when a small cast iron kettle was placed on the table brimming with Rob McDaniel’s braised butter peas with ham hocks, lemon, and chives. They were incredible! I hope to see many of more of these butter peas in my future visits to SpringHouse on Lake Martin. During the summers, their vegetable plates are to die for. Rob has a spectacular way of making scrumptious vegetables. To round out our already abundant spread, a Sea Island Red Pea gratin with smoked beef belly and cornbread crumble was concocted by Robbie Nicolaisen. Finally, the sixth and final side brought to the table were Jeffrey Compton of Acre’s Roasted Fingerling Sweet Potatoes with an amazing house cultured yogurt and carrot top chimichurri sauce. I had never had sweet potatoes served with any type of sauce. The tanginess of the yogurt, along with the chimichurri, made this a sweet potato dish I hope to see on Acre’s menu soon. It would pair perfectly alongside a filet or other cut of beef.
Even though we all knew that there was going to be an onslaught of food coming at us, it was extremely hard to pace ourselves throughout the dinner. All the dishes were beautiful executed, and all the flavors were on point. Even though we all probably could have left the table at this point due to being full, we still had the main dishes and desserts to come. The first main dish brought out was made by Kelsey Clark, a Lavender Rubbed Brasstown Beef Ribeye served with a cornbread panzanella and an arugula gremolata. Next was Rob McDaniel’s Hickory Grilled Brasstown Beef Filet served with a celery salad and a danish blue cheese vinaigrette. Finally, Caleb Fischer’s smoked brisket with a street corn relish and arepas were served.
For dessert, Kelsey Clark made the most beautiful Georgia Olive Oil and Cornmeal Cake with beef tallow buttercream, whipped corn cream, and bourbon macerated strawberries. It was delightful and made me excited for the pending summer strawberries in my future. Caleb Fischer created a Bone Marrow Chocolate Pudding with a marcona-cocoa nib crumb, preserves, and micro sorrell. It was reminiscent of a pot de creme if you have ever had one of those. Very decadent and rich, and beautifully presented.
By the end of the meal, most of our table was no longer sitting. We physically could not sit any longer. I can only recall one other time in my life when I have felt so full, and that was after days of eating and drinking our way across Napa and Sonoma. What an awesome evening enjoyed by many, that will benefit many in the Lee County community.