Catching up with Adrienne Cheatham at Her Pop-Up Dinner Series
Winning Top Chef is certainly good for business. Heck, even appearing on the show can lead to full reservations and lines out the door at the cheftestants' restaurants, especially those who make the last few episodes of Bravo's hit reality cooking competition. And while season 15 winner Joe Flamm is more than likely getting some increased foot traffic and a few more selfie requests at his home base of Chicago's Spiaggia, runner-up Adrienne Cheatham ended the season a free agent. Chef Cheatham—who previously held down gigs at Le Bernardin and Red Rooster—doesn't have an address Top Chef fans can visit to taste her elevated takes on southern food (yet, anyway), but that hasn't stopped her from giving them the opportunity.
Cheatham recently started her SundayBest series, monthly pop-up dinners that highlight dishes she's been working on from and since the show. This past Sunday, the chef hosted a few dozen folks in her old stomping grounds, Ginny's Supper Club below Marcus Samuelsson's Red Rooster in Harlem.
The menu included cornbread madeleines with tomato jam, blackened octopus with squid ink grits and sweet pepper chow chow, a foie gras-filled red velvet macaron, seared pork loin with boudin and Hoppin' John (rice and crispy black-eyed peas) and a five-spice mustard sauce, and a yuzu banana pudding for dessert. In the middle of those courses was a fried chicken skin ball served as part of a "deconstructed ramen" from Red Rooster executive chef Edward Brumfield.
I caught up with Cheatham via email to find out how her dinners have been going and where she plans to host the next editions of Sunday Best.
Food & Wine: Firstly, congratulations on your wedding! How was that event (and food!) and what are your honeymoon plans?
Adrienne Cheatham: Thanks! We had so much fun! It was a beautiful setting, the DJ had us dancing all night, and the food was so good. We had all manner of New Orleans classics from an oyster station to jambalaya, and even a few vegetarian versions for our guests.
I did make my own cake, which I was happy to do and it tasted so good, but I’m biased. We’re both really busy right now but we’re planning our honeymoon for August. Thinking Maldives and either Thailand or Vietnam. Any recommendations?
FW: What have you been up to since the finale of Top Chef aired?
AC: Since the finale aired I’ve been working on locking in dates for my pop-up series, SundayBest, working on wine sponsorship, and planning menus/prep for other events I’m participating in.
FW: How has the response been so far to your SundayBest pop-up dinner series?
AC: The response to the launch of SundayBest has been overwhelming! People have been so supportive and excited and it really means a lot to have that kind of energy around this project.
FW: How are you choosing the menu for each dinner?
AC: The menus are crafted based on a few different factors; the weather and what’s available being the main ones. And then it’s what I’m most excited to show people about how beautifully components from other cultures can be woven into Soul Food.
FW: What was different about last night’s dinner compared to the first test runs, and how are you working in the feedback you’re receiving?
AC: [Sunday's] dinner was the biggest I’ve done so far but it was also the most fun! From the first dinners I heard from people how surprised they were at how the dishes made them think of Soul Food in another way, and how seamlessly they integrated unexpected components but still seemed true to their origins. This made we want to push the flavor combinations and techniques even further.
FW: Walk us through why a foie gras macaron works so well…
AC: Adam, who cares why, it just does! Okay, for real though, the shell is slightly sweet and has that great texture, then the filling is this rich, decadent foie gras mousse. That right there would be good, but it’s the aged balsamic vinegar and flakes of sea salt that provide the contrast so you really experience a perfect bite of sweet, salty, richness with just enough acidity.
FW: Where are the next dinners taking place? Any collaborations with other Top Chef contestants in the works?
AC: The next dinners will be taking place in Brooklyn at Chris Scott’s restaurant and possibly in my hometown of Chicago with the homie Joe Flamm. I have some amazing restaurants in Harlem that I will be doing the pop-up at, but it’s so much fun to work with my friends from Top Chef on this, especially since they really saw this whole concept take shape from its early stages.
FW: What do you hope to accomplish with this dinner series?
AC: I really hope to show people that Southern food/Soul Food is so beautifully nuanced and when you look a little deeper you see how this rustic, humble cuisine can also be elegant and dignified.