by Jimmy Im and Sherelle Jacobs, The Telegraph, July 2017
The Spicy Togarashi Prawn on a stick looks like a lollipop. It’s carefully executed (playful, yet highbrow) and scrumptious, with a hot, tender prawn in the centre. I could devour a whole plate, but I’m distracted when the chef unloads a tray of his Beet-Cured Trout next to it.
The fish is a stark contrast to the prawn: delicate, bite-sized smoked trout roe – with sweet potato blinis, cucumber and dill. It's served with a Rye & Shine prosecco cocktail (with a hint of hibiscus).
I am at Taste of Waldorf, a competition (in it's third year) to uncover the world's hottest new dish. It's taking place at the newly-opened Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills hotel, which puts innovative food at the heart of its operations. The chef duo behind the beetroot-cured trout are Michael Zachman, executive chef of Waldorf Astoria Park City, and rising culinary star Alex Blois.
I try and engage Michael. He is shy and reserved. It turns out he comes from my small, modest hometown (Marietta/Roswell, Georgia) where notable dining is non-existent. I can only imagine his long journey from a line cook to being one of five top Waldorf chefs competing at the annual Taste of Waldorf food competition – though his journey has just begun.
Along with the judges, who include celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, I nibble my way through memorable, elevated bites like Pork Belly Loco Moco (nem sausage, pork rinds, crispy rice cake, grilled lemon and pineapple curd), Gyuniku Marinated Beef Tataki (garnished with pickled beets, carrots and sliced radish atop sourdough with beetroot mustard) and Kobe Beef Carpaccio (including bone marrow toast with parmesan crema, king mushroom and shaved white alba truffle).
The competition is stiff, though Spicy Togarashi Prawn and Beet-Cured Steelhead Trout, in my opinion, outshines them all.
After the judges and intimate crowd graze through all five competing food stations, Alex and Michael are announced the winners. Michael reacts with a smile of disbelief, and I can’t help but think: 'Small-town dreams do come true. He's going to be famous.' After all, Alex and Michael will now see their inventive dishes featured on all 26 Waldorf Astoria menus, a prestigious award.
"What an amazing feeling," Michael Zachman tells me after being declared a winner. "I can now have a story to share with my chef friends and brag a little to them. I look forward to the interaction that will come with all the properties and chefs."
But that’s not the icing on the cake. Could the winning chefs’ prawn and trout pairing become the world's next big dish? Waldorf Astoria is, after all, renowned for inventing world-famous recipes.
This includes eggs Benedict. Oscar Tschirky created the classic recipe featuring poached eggs, crispy bacon and hollandaise sauce in 1894 at the original Waldorf in New York City, when a Wall Street broker asked him to help cure his hangover.
Around the same time, Oscar also invented The Waldorf Salad with candied walnuts, apples and truffle vinaigrette, which appeared in The Cook Book by 'Oscar of the Waldorf' in 1896. Like his Benedict, the salad stood the test of time, and Cole Porter even featured it in his 1934 song 'You’re the Top'. Perhaps Taste of Waldorf reveals the hotel group's desire to reclaim its reputation for creating legendary, classic dishes.
At any rate, the event fits nicely into the big culinary plans intended for the new Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills. Celebrity chef judge Jean-Georges Vongerichten helms the hotel’s food and beverage. It’s the Michelin chef’s first partnership with Waldorf Astoria and his first restaurant on the west coast.
The restaurant is also predictably zany and experimental: Vongerichten is famous for his trademark New French technique with Asian influence. He has also tapped into the abundance of Southern California farms and fishmongers to create a menu with California-coastal flair. Expect dishes like broiled Santa Barbara prawns with champagne dressing grilled octopus with papriki emulsion; avocado carpaccio; and lobster tartine with lemongrass and fenugreek broth. It's all as squarely aimed at the local foodie community as it is at well-heeled hotel guests.
"I’m honored. To have this relationship with Waldorf Astoria is California Dreaming," Vongerichten tells me in a quiet moment.
Less formal yet elevated Jean-Georges bites (like fish tacos and Spring Pea guacamole) are featured on the pool menu, the only pool menu in LA curated by a Michelin chef. Adjacent to the pool, The Roof Deck by JG is surrounded by sweeping views of the city, already a hot spot for locals who can soon order Spicy Togarashi Prawn and Beet-Cured Steelhead Trout. Along with the menu by Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the Roof Deck is quickly seducing foodies too.
But will the winning Taste of Waldorf dish become an instant classic like the Waldorf Salad or Red Velvet Cake? It might be a bit complex and niche for other chefs to replicate. Nor does 'Beet-cured Trout and Togarashi Prawn' quite roll off the tongue like eggs Benedict. Though trend-chasers take note: it may well be the dishes to order this summer in LA.
9850 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, California, 90210, United States. (00 1 310 860 6666; waldorfastoria3.hilton.com) Double rooms from £557. Read our guide to the best hotels in Los Angeles.
This article was written by Jimmy Im and Sherelle Jacobs from The Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].