The Five Chef Societe is Back and Better Than Ever! Five Inspired Courses of Duck Paired With Societe Beer

December 11, 2013

The bad boys of Mission Valley's Handlery Hotel - Executive Chef Karl Prohaska and Food & Beverage Manager Gus Thompson - are back in the dinner-pairing and event business, and these guys definitely know how to throw a party! On December 5, San Diego's Culinary Rat Pack took over Postcards at the Handlery and rocked out 5 delicious courses of duck, each paired with a craft beer offering from Societe Brewing.  Chef Karl was joined by a stellar lineup of chefs that included Matt Richman of Table 926, Hanis Cavin of Carnitas' Snack Shack, Daniel Barron of La Valencia Hotel, Rich Sweeney of R Gang Eatery/Southpaw Social Club, and Matt Morrison of Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens Liberty Station. The result was a one-of-a-kind meal that enhanced everyone's appreciation of duck, craft beer and fun, down to earth chefs.

Until this meal, I have never been overly impressed by a duck dish, nor had I ever been compelled to order it off of a menu. In my (albeit inexperienced) mind, duck was always relegated to the category of an overrated protein - much the same way I feel about lobster.  The Five Chef Societe II - Duck Tales dinner completely changed my perspective with each exquisite and unique dish, and by the end of the meal, the versatility and deliciousness of duck was evident...and awesome.    
A true fan of duck!
The evening began with a pint of Societe beer and an appetizer reception prepared by Chef Matt Morrison, sous chef at Stone Brewing Liberty Station (and former abused underling of Chef Karl).  Offerings included duck a l'orange sausage with fennel, duck prosciutto with smoked Wisconsin cheddar and cranberry orange glace, and duck liver pate served with apple on a baguette.  Chef Matt couldn't replenish these delicious bites fast enough.
Duck Prosciutto
Chef Karl welcomed the eager diners and presented the first course - a duck consommé Bocuse (a clarified soup in the style made famous by Chef Paul Bocuse's use of the pastry hat) with smoked duck leg, fennel, confetti vegetables, and duck crackling with a domed puff pastry lid. Chef Karl described his dish eloquently as "a hearty, rich duck strew that behaves like it's not even there." Paired with Societe The Harlot, this course was fantastic, the soup so light but extremely hearty in flavor and made substantial by big chunks of smoked duck and delicate floating pastry pieces.

Our next course was from Chef Hanis Cavin, executive chef and proprietor of the burgeoning Carnitas' Snack Shack, who prepared a crispy duck thigh with a most amazing "French Tofu" croquet (figure it out!), all topped with a mild ancho chili pipián sauce, garnished with a Snack Shack garden-grown salad and paired with Societe's Debutante.  That croquet was sublime - so good it should be illegal!

Chef Daniel Barron of La Valencia came out with course #3, a duck breast roulade wrapped in duck thigh 'bacon', topped with shaved fennel, and served with a pureed persimmon and Japanese kabocha sauce, rare jus, duck fat dust and cranberry gastrique. This dish was like a Thanksgiving plate, filled with fall flavors, and paired with the The Bachelor, resulting in a most creative and exciting course.

Between courses 3 and 4, guest were given a 15 minute digestion intermission, the mark of practiced event planning. The Five Chef Societe truly embraces casual and comfortable yet refined, non-pretentious dining in all respects.

After a refreshing interlude, we returned to Chef Matt Richman, owner and chef of Table 926 in North PB, presenting one of the highlights of the evening - a duck sausage encased Dutch Scotch egg served with a confit duck leg covered in the most amazing "French Tofu" cream sauce.  Hot damn! This dish was rustic and appeared simple, but was anything but.  Although appetites were certainly satiated, everyone devoured this dish, ensuring to wipe their plates clean of the rich, buttery sauce. This course was paired with my favorite beer of the night, Societe's super-hoppy Pupil IPA.  

The last dish was a dessert that won Chef Rich Sweeney 'Chef of the Fest' honors at this year's San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival Grand Tasting, and it comes with a backstory. Chef Karl sent out an email one Thursday evening at around 5pm, providing each of the chefs of the Five Chef Societe a chance to respond with their pick of courses for the Duck Tales dinner. Chef Rich read the email early, but held off on responding due to being understaffed, figuring all the other chefs were just as busy as he was.  When he went to respond an hour later, all of the other courses were spoken for and he was 'stuck' with dessert.
But with tribulation comes triumph - his idea for duck fat fried beignets with burnt orange creme, smoked duck dust and glazed duck skin was so delectable that he entered it against some 70 other chefs at this year's SDBWFF, and the rest is history.  The sweet beignets were elevated by its pairing, Societe's The Butcher, a rich black beer brewed "in darkness, with hate" (as so passionately relayed by our dining companion, one of Societe's brewers). This was our pick for best pairing of the night, as the beer so perfectly complemented the dessert, and vice versa.

In the past, the Handlery duo organized such successful events as the Mission Valley Craft Beer & Food Festival, the New Kids on the Block Beer Fest series, Chef Karl's Country Boil, and most recently, the Heavenly Hog Fall Pigout.  This past summer, the Handlerly announced that they would no longer be holding events, but the Heavenly Hog was too good to let go, so they moved it to La Valencia Hotel.  After the success of that pairing, Chef Karl and Gus knew they had a knack for culinary events and had to get back in the game.  Now, it seems that the sky is the limit, as they've announced their next event - San Diego Chefs Salute Tommy Gomes, which will likely be the most anticipated culinary event of 2014, set to take place February 23. Stay tuned as we expect many more pairing dinners and ticketed events to be held at Handlery in the future.

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