AnQi and House of AN: Cooking at the Legendary James Beard House, The “Carnegie Hall of Cuisine”

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helene-anHouse of AN has been privileged to enjoy a long-term relationship with the James Beard Foundation, including two invitations to present at the prestigious James Beard House in New York City, and hosting a “Friends of James Beard” benefit dinner at AnQi at South Coast Plaza. Here, Master Chef Helene An shares the process – from the initial outreach to the planning and execution of the event, that is on many chefs’ bucket list.

Great Taste:  How are restaurants and chefs invited to cook at the Beard House, the former brownstone residence of the pioneer of American cookery in the East Village?

Helene An:  Technically, chefs are invited by the director of house programing, based on the following criteria€”primarily a national or regional reputation of excellence; being known for their use of high quality, seasonal and/or local ingredients; financial stability, and of course, a culinary team that wishes to participate. There also has to be an interest by dining Beard members and guests who will pay to attend the dinner. But once you have a proven relationship with the Foundation, it’s easier to be part of the incredible experience.

house-of-an-james-beard-menuGT:  What’s the next step?

HA:  You determine a mutually acceptable date which is months out. That is necessary for the proper planning and promotion of your dinner by both the restaurant and the Beard House. You then must submit a written menu and pairing of wines for approval to the committee. That includes a reception with tray passed hors d’oeuvres and champagne. You also decide on the all-inclusive price at this point€”reception, dinner, wines, tax and tip are all in the price for the guest. The invited restaurant is responsible for all expenses involved with presenting the dinner.

GT:  Next?

HA:  Putting together budget and logistics. The restaurant covers all costs:  transportation, lodging, food, wine and any extras. It can get expensive, so planning in advance is a must. We even flew in our head publicist using frequent flyer miles!

GT:  What kind of menu did House of AN present in May for the Beard dinner?

HA:  House of AN’s presentation for this very special evening reflected the past, present, and future of its culinary legacy. The menu featured family classics, like garlic noodles and lobster, and creative new dishes, such as French Onion Pho, which gave the garlic noodles a run for its money and further showed our homage to fusion cuisine for which House of AN gained its notoriety.

Making-dumplings-2GT: Clearly, it was a collaborative effort. Tell us about your team.

HA:  We have a wonderful executive culinary team which includes Tony Nguyen, who was instrumental in creating the concept of the menu, who flew to NYC with me three days prior for a period of intense food preparation leading up to the dinner. AnQi’s chef/partner, Ron Lee, flew to NYC on the redeye, arriving the morning of the dinner and headed straight to the James Beard House kitchen. He hand carried on the plane 100 gift wrapped table favors of freshly baked Madeleines. Tony and Ron had to make a run to Chinatown in lower Manhattan to pick up some last minute ingredients. But it all came together. We also had six culinary volunteers, screened by the Beard House, to help in prep and plating.

GT:  And other family members were there as well?

HA:  Yes€”my daughters Elizabeth and Catherine were there and mingled with guests during the reception. We sold out early€”about 90 guests; we were thrilled that many knew about Crustacean and AnQi. And my grandson, Derek An, was instrumental in the execution of the dinner and continued to earn his stripes alongside our executive culinary team inside the James Beard Kitchen.

helene-an-dinnerGT:  What was the biggest challenge in executing the dinner?

HA:  Shipping all of the beautiful produce from California to New York along with other ingredients. We ended up with over $3,000 worth of shipping fees.