But the big collaboration happened Wednesday night: CenterStage, a five-course dinner served on the stage at Bass Performance Hall, a white-table restaurant in the spot where actors, musicians, dancers and comedians usually perform.
Things started with a lobby gathering, with passed appetizers from Lanny Lancarte II of Righteous Foods. But the apps were upstaged by visuals: A group of entertainers from Eclipse Entertanment and partner Harris Costumes, posing as statues or costumed as if they were about to have a masquerade ball with Marie Antoinette.
A couple of young wome wore “champagne skirts” full-length, voluminous ball skirts that carried a rack of filled champagne glasses. Even the appetizers had a visual element beyond plate presentation: four servers brought them through the lobby together, holding them on a “snake,” a long, narrow, squiggly board that required several servers to walk in unison while carrying it.
On the stage, about 200 diners were seated at an array of tables with an open space large enough for a couple of singers and one acrobat to entertain between courses (entertainment was once again provided by Eclipse and partner MPowered, a youth entertainment group). MC Rebecca Miller, the former KXAS/KDAF meteorologist, doubled as an auctioneer as three mutli-prize packages were bid on.
Fort Worth’s Lancarte family — dubbed “Fort Worth’s first family of dining” largely because of their nearly 81-year-old restaurant Joe T. Garcia’s but also because of Esperanza’s Mexican Cafe and Bakery and scion Lanny Lancarte II’s Righteous Foods and its predecessor, Lanny’s Alta Cocina Mexicana — received the Walter Kaufman Lifetime Achievement Award, named for Fort Worth fine-dining pioneer Walter Kaufmann .
The dinner was an event in itself. On the menu, the courses were referred to as “Acts” as if in a play, following the stage-dinner theme.
Blaine Staniford, executive chef at Grace and Little Red Wasp, got things started with an escabeche of Spanish mackerel, albacore tuna and Bouchot mussels — fairly subtle flavors brightened with pickled vegetables and an escabeche vinaigerette.
The second course, prepared by Molly McCook, executive chef of Ellerbe Fine Foods, was a herbed rabbit terrine with roasted shiitake mushrooms, small dollops of sweet corn custard, broken cornmeal custard and a pepita pistou. The terrine was indeed herbaceous, providing a nice complement to the duskiness of the rabbit, and the three dabs of corn custard had nice visual appeal and a delicate sweetness.
Executive chef Michael Thomson of Michaels Cuisine delivered a Texas quail tamal with mole verde, Epatzote white beans and toasted pepitas. Although the on-the-bone quail was a little labor-intensive for those of us opting to use a knife and fork rather than going more primal, this was my favorite dish of the night: The quail was flavorful, the pepitas provided a nice crunch and the beans a smooth contrast.
Jon Bonnell, executive chef of Bonnell’s Fine Texas Cuisine and Waters Bonnell’s Coastal Cuisine, did the fourth course, an elk carne asada that had the best presentation, with beautifully medium-rare medallions of elk. Smoked serrano and Oaxaca cheese grits added some spice and tang to the dish.
Dessert, from chef Sarah Hooton of Central Market Fort Worth, was a cinco de leche cake accompanied by a horchata ice cream, cinnamon churra crunch and a Mexican chocolate cajeta. Although the strip of cake was pleasantly moist, the ice cream and the crunch, cinnamon in two textures, were easily the stars of this dish.
The dinner was merely a glimpse of what will happen at the Food + Wine Festival, four days of peace, love and lots and lots of food, kicking off with a Barbecue Showdown, followed bysuch events as the huge Main Event, #latenight Desserts After Dark, the morning-after Rise + Dine: A Brunch-Inspired Tasting, the ever-popular Burgers, Brews & Blues and the concluding Family Sunday Funday – Picnic at Panther Island. For ticket info, click on the event links.