On May 21, Jeremy Ashby, chef of Azur Restaurant & Patio in Lexington, Kentucky, will challenge diners to test their palates with a Blind Dinner. While all food will be completely visible, the five-course meal purports to see if diners can tell the difference between large-scale commodity meats versus fish and proteins from smaller scale, local producers.
During the meal, diners will be blind as to which is the commodity protein and which comes from a local producer, and will be asked to vote after each course on which tastes best. The proteins will be served side-by-side—there is one course each of fish, fowl, pork, and beef—and will be prepared the same way, accompanied by the same local, seasonal produce. A fifth course showcases imported cheeses and California wine versus local varieties.
At the heart of the experiment: Will diners favor the more familiar tastes of commodity protein, with its various additives, over the sustainable, local choice? Will they experience differences in gaminess, texture, and flavor?
“We are putting local proteins to the test,” says Chef Ashby, who admits to being slightly nervous to the outcome. Chef Ashby is known for preparing cuisine that showcases organic, sustainable, and local ingredients.
“I do want local to win, but there is no way of telling what will happen—the votes will be cast right then and there,” he says.
The accompaniments will be prepared using local and seasonal ingredients at their peak, and designed to emphasize the true nature of the meat, says Chef Ashby. “We are using spring ingredients, lightly presented around the protein, which will reign supreme. The other ingredients are designed to complement the protein, make it shine, so it can be the best it can be. Both versions will be given a fair chance.”
To that end, and with the Blind Dinner taking place in May, the tilapia will be served with spinach, morel mushrooms, and strawberries, all reaching their peak season. For the poultry dish, peas and mint—which come May is crawling all over the fields of Kentucky—are featured.
No matter which protein wins or loses, Chef Ashby hopes to educate diners on its origins, sharing information on how the protein gets to the plate, from living conditions to processing and preservation methods. Chef Ashby continually looks to connect his Kentucky community as well as Azur’s guests to local farmers—the patio hosts a farmer’s market every Saturday—and this is another push toward that effort.
“We are putting what we practice to the test,” says Chef Ashby. “We love the concept of local, we live, we preach it—let’s see if it holds up."
He acknowledges it might not. "This could blow up in my face."
Results will be given at the end of the dinner.
The Blind Dinner menu includes:
- First Course: Local tilapia from Kentucky vs. large-scale Thai import fish
Marcona almond-crusted fish with spinach, morel mushrooms, crème fraîche, and strawberry balsamic
- Second Course: Free-range local Cornish rock variety vs. large-scale produced indoor broiler chicken
Pan-roasted truffle-studded breast with confit leg and thigh with Yukon potato gnocchi, mint, peas, and natural jus
- Third Course: Local pasture-raised vs. commodity pork
Apricot-glazed belly with lemongrass-infused artichoke, ginger-carrot puree, and watercress
- Fourth Course: Pasture-raised vs. corn-fed beef
Slow-roasted strip loin with Vidalia onion soubise, pickled ramps, goat cheese and walnut-crusted asparagus, and smoked green goddess butter
- Fifth Course: Cheese and wine
Tasting of local vs. import cheese and local vs. California wines
By Joann Whitcher