• Nichi Pandey

"Knee-Chee" & the Dinner

Hey, my name is Nichi, if we haven’t met yet. It’s pronounced “knee - chee” in case you were wondering, and I assure you, I was not named after Friedrich Nietzsche, but I understand how unfortunate a coincidence it is.


Anyway, I work closely with Chef Brendon in a variety of capacities, but, officially, I’m responsible for Liliahna’s digital media. That means that if you’ve received messages from the Liliahna Instagram account, there’s a good chance it came from me! That also puts me in charge of the blog, so moving forward, you’ll be hearing a lot more from me!


I wrote a blog post on June 28th of this year. Yes, I know that was almost 5 months ago… don’t tell Chef Brendon… I’ve been busy.

And in that blog post, I wrote about finding light in the darkness of this pandemic year. Now, we find ourselves here, at the beginning of the holiday season, with, as always, both good and bad news. What do you want first? Oh, I guess you can’t tell me - I’m still getting used to this whole blog thing. Let’s go with the good news first: a potential vaccine for COVID-19. And, the bad news: it probably won’t be available till we get through the dark and challenging winter ahead.


At this point, it doesn’t take a genius to tell you that the pandemic has hit the service industry hard. I mean, really hard. In fact, I’ll stay away from providing any projections about the industry because even the conservative figures are more than startling. All I can say is that this holiday season, please continue to support the few local and small businesses that mean the most to you because it means more to them than you know.


That leads me to the main topic of this blog post: pop-up dinners. Recently, a lot of my time has been devoted to brainstorming creative and innovative ideas to safely adapt to this new, socially-distanced world. One of my breakthroughs, if you can call it that, was the idea of having no more than 10-person pop-up dinners in our commercial kitchen space at 554 Fort Ave. with a group of people you know.

I presented the idea to Chef Brendon about a month ago, and, thankfully I got the green light to proceed. Over the next few weeks, we would have long phone calls to draft menus, discuss plating, and figure out all of the logistics for the evening. Only after I started working on ticketing, did I realize that we had chosen the evening of Friday the 13th. But, not to worry, Jason didn’t surprise us. Well, at least not that Jason (one of our chefs for the evening was named Jason).


The night finally arrived, and, it was a roaring success, if I say so myself. Our 10 guests arrived, and we were off! Of course, the evening began with safety first. Our guests had their temperatures taken with a contactless thermometer and were asked to fill out brief health declaration forms. All worries could be left at the door.


Then, they were led into our exquisite dining room, styled by none other than our very own, David Monteagudo. And, for the next three hours, that dining room allowed for our guests to escape to Italy, drink a few cocktails, and lose themselves in the pleasures of the evening.


It all started with a vecchio stile, a simple, yet ritzy cocktail made with bourbon, a simple syrup, and angostura bitters, garnished with orange. As an amuse-bouche, if you will, we served decadent house-made meatballs on a bed of creamy parmigiano polenta. As you get to know me, you’ll understand that polenta is my favorite.


For the first course, we presented a skillfully twirled portion of freshly rolled angel hair pasta in Chef Brendon’s signature white wine sauce, topped with two seared, interlocking U-10 shrimp.


As a palate cleanser before dinner, we tossed a fresh spinach salad with gorgonzola cheese, spiced pepitas (pumpkin seeds), and artichoke hearts.


After all of that, we finally got to the main course, which was a choice between a sous-vide and seared NY strip served with a pomme puree and basil pesto, or a sous-vide salmon fillet crusted in freshly cracked black pepper, served with a beurre blanc and roasted root vegetables. How do you choose? Well, many of the guests had the same difficulty, but being the nice people that we are, we gave them the option of having both! I’m not kidding!


Finally, we would never send anyone home without dessert! Another thing you’ll learn about me is that I study writing in college (please disregard all the grammatical mistakes), and I’ve always seen an intersection between literature and food. When we serve food, we’re telling a story, and the stories I like best are the ones with sweet endings. We put our pastry skills to the test, and baked a lovely almond cake and served it with a raspberry coulis and fresh whipped cream. It was nothing short of spectacular.



Even though I spent most of the time in the kitchen, I still came down once in a while to steal a glance at the dining room. The bright faces of pure enjoyment reminded me why I love cooking so much. I’m not the first to say this, and I’ll keep saying it forever: cooking is an act of love. And, if we keep loving each other and taking care of each other, we’ll make it out of this thing together.


With cases of COVID-19 surging on the brink of the holiday season, I’m not sure that we can safely host another pop-up for at least a little while. But, with the positive feedback and support at this first pop-up, I hope that it’s something we can offer again in the future. In the meantime, I look forward to getting to know you and I hope you look forward to the same.


Stay luxurious,


Nichi

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