Fifteen years ago, when Drew Van Leuvan went to The Beard House, he was working under late gastronomic genius Jean-Louis Palladin. And now, thanks to the James Beard Foundation, the executive chef of Atlanta’s Seven Lamps restaurant will have another opportunity to visit the esteemed New York City brownstone. With the spotlight on him this time, he’ll host Eye on Atlanta at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, February 18.
“You don’t get an opportunity to showcase who you are very often — pretty much never,” says Van Leuvan. “I never thought that I would ever go back to the Beard House. We are a very small restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia, and to be able to showcase who we are at an institution, it’s a miracle. I’m beyond excited.”
In an effort to prepare for next week’s dinner, Van Leuvan and his team crafted a five-course meal at his Buckhead establishment to give foodies a chance to experience what James Beard members and lucky ones from the general public will taste in the Big Apple.
“I like putting different flavors together that are not normal for most people,” he says. And with 20 years of culinary training under his chef’s toque, Van Leuvan does it so well. For starters, diners will savor every bite of the first course. “The winter squash salad is a fun dish,” he says. “There’s just a lot of great flavors [pumpkin seed butter, marinated mushrooms, country ham, Calabrian chili, Bufala mozzarella] that, if you put it all together in your mouth, [is] very harmonious.”
But in order to perfect each plate, Van Leuvan has been spending lots of time in the kitchen with his team. “The other day the chicken got overcured for the confit,” he says. “So when we go up to New York, we’ll have a whole new batch and we will make sure it’s not like that.” His tasty Springer Mountain Farms chicken course comes with chestnut tortellini, honey crisp apple cider and vadouvan curry. (Guests will enjoy the accompanying pasta. The former owner of Pan De Mie Pasta knocks this second course out of the park, making it easy for diners to see why his tortellini dish, which is filled with wild mushrooms and mascarpone black truffle, remains a popular item on the Seven Lamps menu.)
The third course consists of scallops and octopus followed by an extremely tender piece of braised veal cheeks with Sea Island red peas and Red Russian mustard greens. “We are representing the south,” he says. “We have caviar from the University of Georgia, we have Sea Island red peas, which are actually from Africa but are more represented in the Carolinas, and southern mustard greens. We’re bringing the south and many other things up to New York.”
Van Leuvan’s lineup, which closes with a caramel milk chocolate mousse accompanied by passion fruit caramel, orange confit, and butter crisp pop rocks, will certainly impress a variety of palates. “I hope that if you look at this menu,” the chef says, “you will be like, ‘Oh, wow. I didn’t know they can cook like that in Atlanta.’”
The Eye on Atlanta dinner with wine pairings is $130 for James Beard Foundation members and $170 for the general public.