On Sunday night, Twisted Olive in Petoskey hosted Bravo TV’s Top Chef winner Mei Lin along with fellow contestant and chef/owner of Detroit’s much-hyped Mabel Gray, James Rigato, for a five-course late autumn feast paired with wines selected by Master Sommelier Ron Edwards.
MyNorth had a ringside seat at the Northern Michigan restaurant watching as, side by side in Twisted Olive’s intimate open kitchen, rising young rock star chefs Lin and Rigato alternated courses, showcasing their respective skills under an umbrella of seasonal Midwestern flavors. We sipped welcome flutes of Pierre Gerbais Extra Brut grower Champagne as Lin delivered her first course. She dosed the North with a taste of Japan via L.A. in silky slices of raw yellowtail, ribbons of celery, hijiki seaweed, avocado and fiery yuzu/chili pepper paste dialogued with a textural Vouvray sec from iconic Loire Valley vigneron, Domaine Huet.
Despite the abnormally warm El Nino evening, Rigato turned the conversation back toward winter in the second salvo, which featured pureéd Michigan chestnut soup garnished with rye berries, tiny slices of duck heart and cranberry.
Edwards, meanwhile, knocked this pairing all the way across Little Traverse Bay, giving an animated history lesson in Madeira while pouring an amber Charleston Sercial, whose sweetness and acidity, backed by a deep core of almond, caramel and dried fruit, made magic with the ginger and Garam Masala lacing Rigato’s soup. The dining room’s swank Stotzle glasses then filled with a ripe and slightly rustic Rosso di Montalcino while Mei Lin brought multidirectional umami to the plate in her fusionistic third course: airy chicken liver agnolotti in an intense chicken glace cut with pickled shimeji mushrooms.
Had plate licking been appropriate, we wouldn’t have hesitated. With an implied nod to the Michigan institution of deer season, Rigato’s protein pièce de résistance was Michigan farm-raised venison loin crusted in Szechuan peppercorns, seared rare and served with celeriac puree, baby brussels sprouts and juniper-laced compressed pear. The sweet and savory duality of the dish paired brilliantly with a black raspberry and pepper-laden Mencia from Ribera Sacra in Northwest Spain.
Headliner Mei Lin had the last sweet word with an arc of panna cotta–like pumpkin custard with white chocolate, Asian pear and a delicate phyllo crisp.
Twisted Olive proprietress Kirsten O’Keefe and her staff were gracious and attentive at every moment of the meal and resounding applause ricocheted from every corner of the room as the chefs took their bow. We can’t wait for the encore.
Traverse / MyNorth food and drink editor Tim Tebeau writes from Petoskey.
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