The seven-course menu at Seattle's Scout PNW was paired with a mixtape by DJ Neil Armstrong.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a hip-hop artist that hasn’t referenced food in their lyrics. But rarely, unless you're dining at Ludacris' Chicken + Beer or eating Chance the Rapper-made Nando's wings, does food reference hip hop. That was the goal of Executive Chef Derek Simcik's one-night-only themed dinner last Thursday at Seattle’s Scout PNW, a cozy, plaid-decked, regionally-sourced fare restaurant located in the boutique-y and chic, Puget Sound-facing Thompson hotel.
This wasn't Chef Simcik's first foray into themed concepts. He also made headlines for his tattoo art dinner and an entire meal paired with (legal in Washington) joints. The idea to plan a menu around hip-hop music came naturally. "There are always musicians who love food. Look at DJ Neil Armstrong's Instagram, look at Questlove from The Roots, they’re always talking with chefs and talking about food. And you see it in all their lyrics, all over the place," Simcik tells Food & Wine. "With stuff like cannabis there’s a stigma and tattoo artists have a stigma. So with hip hop, too, I wanted to elevate it and show it the respect that it’s due. I took the approach of doing something very high end, be that the technique or the ingredient."
Simcik grew up listening to hip hop, connecting to the American art form despite living internationally and moving from country to country for his father’s government job. Collecting influences from both that international exposure to food and the hip-hop styles from various regions of the States, Simcik crafted a menu (on hand-written lyrics sheets, no less) evoking the favorite foods of some of hip hop’s legends, including Tupac, Notorious B.I.G., LL Cool J, and A Tribe Called Quest. The result was a creative and, at times cheeky, seven-course menu paired a fleet of cocktails designed by bar manager Silas Manlove and a pair of desserts from pastry chef Kate Sigel.
Underneath a diagonally-webbed pine "cabin" which serves as the restaurant’s semi-private dining room, the courses were served with an appropriately and equally well-crafted mixtape from DJ Neil Armstrong, a former member of Jay-Z’s touring ensemble who has also pioneered his own Dinner and a Mixtape series with chefs like Roy Choi and Dale Talde. "The music that I play, people don’t want to hear at clubs anymore, they want to hear Justin Bieber and Future and Drake. They don’t want to hear Stevie Wonder anymore," says Armstrong. "But dinner is the perfect place for me to play my music. Every time I come out with a new mixtape I join up with a chef and that’s where the playlist comes from.”
The needle dropped on the first course, literally and figuratively with a vinyl record-styled halibut and black melon dish paired with a silver needle tea and Johnny Walker cocktail. That was followed by a gigantic pork crackling with bottarga and cheddar, evoking the A Tribe Called Quest's song "Ham 'N' Eggs" along with a Q-Tip (the rapper and cotton swab) emulating cocktail called Vivrant Thing featuring blue curacao and a cotton candy garnish.
Another clever interlude was a bowl of mushroom, barley, farro, and pomegranate porridge in a bowl topped with a taut skin of rice paper mimicking a bass drum and its integral role in the beats that make the genre possible.
Other courses turned Pimp C's love of prawns into langoustine served with a rich bisque and caviar and a citrusy, tarragon garnished cocktail, and LL Cool J's affinity for cereal into a toasted milk ice cream served with homemade Lucky Charms-style marshmallows in a cinnamon cereal puff dish and a sippable "Back to Cali" spiked coffee.
For the heavy hitters, Simcik went all out. Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. each got their own course and cocktails, befitting of their status as "gods of hip hop" in the chef's words. For Tupac's favorite dish of macaroni, "it was obviously pasta but truffle season is starting so we added truffles and stuffed it with foie gras."
For Biggie, Chef Simcik says he "saw t-bone steak was one of his go-to’s, so obviously it would be steak. But then I asked how do you make beef bigger without throwing more foie on it? With prosciutto, when they’re dry aging it, they cap it with fat to keep it from going bad, so what we did is took that same inspiration and I used duck fat to get the flavor and dipped all butt one sides of it so it could still air dry. We aged it for two weeks and then sous vide it for three days at 54 degrees Celsius. The piece of meat we used had such a high fat content, so I wanted to make sure it cut like a nice, tender steak but [the aging] still made it funky. Like hip hop."
The DJ and Chef Simcik’s collaboration played out over the septet of courses and ended with a rooftop afterparty. Yes, in Seattle. Yes it was raining. But the Thompson has a cozy, glassed-in lookout called The Nest atop the building with a full bar, as well as tents, patio furniture, and unbeatable views when the weather is more cooperative.
As for Simcik's next themed dinner concept? The chef is still waiting for inspiration to strike. "I don’t force it. This definitely isn’t my last one As for the next one, I don’t know what it is yet. But it’ll be soon."