Friday, August 21, 2015

Top Chef Alumni Dinner Took Place At Border Grill With GREAT Results

Fos 5's Rachel Smith, Rick Moonen, Susan Feniger, Mary Sue Milliken and Hush Acheon

Border Grill chefs/owners Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger hosted some of their fellow Top Chef Masters alumni for a one-night-only Top Chef Masters Reunion Dinner on Wednesday, Aug. 19 at Border Grill in Mandalay Bay. Guest chefs included Hugh Acheson (5&10, The National, Empire State South and The Florence) and Rick Moonen (rm seafood and Rx Boiler Room). Attendees experienced cocktails created by The Modern Mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim, an intimate dine-around with multiple food stations, and a panel discussion guided by Rachel Smith of the MORE show on FOX.

“We all developed close friendships because of Top Chef Masters, but it's hard to get us in the same room now, so this reunion dinner was a treat for us to host at Border Grill," said Feniger. "We loved getting a chance to create a special menu for all of the guests, and the panel discussion was a riot! We all probably said a little too much about what happened behind-the-scenes, but that's what happens after you've had a great meal and you're a couple drinks into the night!"

Charred New York Strip

Feniger's station included Warm Panela Cheese with hoja santa, roasted chile salsa and extra virgin olive oil as well as a massive Paella Valencia with chorizo, chicken, shrimp, clams, mussels and chorizo aioli. At Acheson's booth, guests savored a delicious Charred New York Strip Steak which came with fermented hot sauce, crisp peas, marinated peas and a mint salsa verde. Milliken had mouths watering with her Vegetable Veracruzano Ceviche made with favas, tomato, peas, olives and extra virgin olive oil, plus Lamb Adobo Tacos made from a whole lamb roast and served with hibiscus flowers and sheep's milk cheese. Attendees who visited Moonen's station received a hearty New England Steamed Dinner complete with pacific rockfish, bacon, turnips, potatoes and horseradish cream.

Additionally, all guests enjoyed passed appetizers including: Chicken Fried Caviar with fried chicken bites, passmore ranch caviar and mezcal crema; Veggie Gorditas with avocado, pickled turnips, cabbage and queso fresco; Ropa Vieja Sliders featuring braised short rib, sofrito and mojo aioli; and Crab Ceviche highlighted with pieces of grapefruit, pink peppercorn and popcorn shoots. A dessert station with assorted cheesecake bites, brownies, paletas, churro tots and sugar cookies finished off the meal.

The four Top Chef Masters alumni prepared a special menu for the 100+ guests who attended the intimate Top Chef Masters Reunion Dinner.

Abou-Ganim kept everyone hydrated with two specialty cocktails. His Cucumber Cooler was a refreshing crowd-pleaser with Don Julio silver tequila, St. Germain elderflower, fresh cucumber, celery & lemon juices, plus agave syrup and mint. Contrasting that was the sweet and well-layered Apple Cart cocktail, with Don Julio aƱejo tequila, Canton ginger liqueur, fresh fuji apple and lemon juices, agave nectar topped with a homemade apple ginger foam. The unique wine, beer and spirits were donated by Las Vegas premier distributor Southern Wine & Spirits.

The Modern Mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim made cocktails all night long for the crowd.
After the cocktail reception and dine-around event, guests spent more than an hour hearing from the chefs as moderator Rachel Smith dove into some juicy questions. From behind-the-scenes drama to on-screen frustrations and everything in between, the chefs spoke candidly as they conversed with Smith and took numerous questions from the audience. The crowd was excited to hear about what it was like filming Top Chef Masters, seeing who the chefs buddied up with and who they still talk to, what they think of the judges, how they would take over an episode of Top Chef Masters and much more. The inside peek was a rare opportunity to see what life behind the camera is like for these four top-tier chefs.

After the panel discussion, fans stayed nearby to take photos with each of the chefs. All attendees received a free copy of Acheson's newest cookbook, The Broad Fork, and the other chefs had their own books available for purchase as well. Every guest was able to speak with the chefs one-on-one, take selfies and receive personalized notes in the cookbooks.

A portion of the proceeds from the event are being donated to the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch, a program that helps consumers and businesses make choices for healthy oceans.

Hugh Acheson is the author of the James Beard Foundation Award Winning Cookbook A NEW TURN IN THE SOUTH: Southern Flavors Reinvented for Your Kitchen, Pick a Pickle: 50 Recipes for Pickles, Relishes, and Fermented Snacks, and THE BROAD FORK: Recipes for the Wide World of Vegetables and Fruits. He is a chef/partner of the Athens, Georgia, restaurants 5&10, The National, the Atlanta restaurant Empire State South, and The Florence in Savannah. He is a James Beard award winner for Best Chef Southeast and was named a Best New Chef by Food & Wine Magazine. Hugh competed in Bravo’s Top Chef Masters, Season 3 and currently stars as a judge on Top Chef.

Chef and cookbook author, Rick Moonen, has been the country’s leading advocate for the sustainable seafood movement for the past 25 years, bringing national awareness to this subject near and dear to his heart. In 2013 USA Today named him one of Earth’s “Power Players” as one of five leaders helping the health of our planet.  He’s been featured on CNN, TODAY, Good Morning America, CBS Early Show, Dan Rather Reports, and many more.  His flagship restaurant, Rick Moonen’s rm seafood at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, showcases his commitment to sustainability without foregoing culinary creativity and innovation, and has been critically acclaimed by local and national press alike.  In 2010 Rick made a memorable appearance on Bravo’s Top Chef Masters, nearly taking home the title and raising thousands of dollars and national awareness for Three Square food bank in Las Vegas.  In May of 2011 Monterey Bay Aquarium honored Rick as their “Chef of the Year” for his tireless efforts towards sustainability.  He was named Humanitarian of the Year by the American Culinary Federation in 2013. In June 2013, Chef Moonen transformed rm upstairs into Rx Boiler Room, a modern gastropub that showcases comfort food, redefined with Moonen’s signature twist. Rx Boiler Room was named Best New Restaurant of 2013 by Desert Companion magazine.
Tony Abou-Ganim is widely regarded as one of the pioneering and leading bar professionals in the world.  He has made dozens of national TV appearances on shows including TODAY, Iron Chef America, Good Morning America, CNBC, Fox News and more.  Abou-Ganim is the author of The Modern Mixologist: Contemporary Classic Cocktails (Agate, 2010) which offers readers an in-depth look into spirits and ingredients available to today’s mixologist, both professional and amateur alike.  This entertaining and informative journey will take readers from the early stages of the cocktail to what Abou-Ganim has come to deem “Modern Mixology.”  Abou-Ganim also has a DVD to his credit, Modern Mixology: Making Great Cocktails at Home, and hosted the Fine Living program Raising the Bar: America’s Best Bar Chefs. Abou-Ganim has also won three Iron Chef America competitions; pairing cocktails with Iron Chef Mario Batali; with Iron Chef Jose Garces and most recently with challenger Chef Sean McClain.  His signature branded line of Modern Mixologist bar tools was released in early 2013, along with his second book, Vodka Distilled (Agate, 2013).

Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger are co-chef/owners of the popular, critically acclaimed Border Grill restaurants & Truck, serving modern Mexican food in Las Vegas, Santa Monica, Downtown Los Angeles, Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport and most recently a second Las Vegas location inside The Forum Shops at Caesars. The Border Grill Truck can be found on the streets of Southern California and beyond cooking gourmet tacos, quesadillas, ceviche, and more.  Mary Sue and Susan, Bravo's "Top Chef Masters" and Food Network's "Too Hot Tamales," are preeminent ambassadors of authentic Mexican cuisine, setting the standard for gourmet Mexican fare and authoring five cookbooks, including Cooking with Too Hot Tamales and Mesa Mexicana.  Active members of the community, Mary Sue and Susan play leading roles in Share Our Strength and the Scleroderma Research Foundation.  In addition, they are passionate about the environment and lead the culinary industry with their eco-friendly policies.  For more information, visit

Photo Credit: BigTom Photography

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