‘Community’ dinner gives classic potluck dishes a modern kick

Jessie Cadle | Staff Writer

The chef has before his hands two large clear jars that hold pickles suspended in brine. One jar is the classic green hue that denotes a kosher dill pickle, but the other jar sports a red-tinged brine for one of 24-year-old Executive Chef Ross Warhol’s latest concoctions: Frank’s Red Hot Sauce pickles.

The pickles — which Warhol grew in his garden — will be served with handmade hot dogs at Saturday’s  sold-out “Community” dinner in the Athenaeum Hotel, where Warhol serves as executive chef. “Community” is the second of a three-part Praxis dinner series that showcases Warhol’s gift for inventive cuisine.

“‘Community’ is an upscale potluck dinner — a potluck-cookout,” Warhol said. “It’s going to be fun, because it’s all going to be food that is recognizable to the guests — it’s simple, but yet it’s going to be the best we can make it.

“We’ve always joked about five-star tuna noodle casserole.”

On Saturday, Warhol and his team put a modern twist on old Chautauqua Bird, Tree & Garden Club potluck recipes. Warhol has honed his modern culinary technique by working at some of the best restaurants in the world: Spain’s El Bulli, Chicago’s Alinea and California’s French Laundry.

He does not often get the chance to showcase his inventive side. As executive chef in charge of three meals per day for Athenaeum guests, the dinners are practical, but not playful.

The Praxis dinners are Warhol’s chance to engage in more progressive dishes. He is most excited about the “Community” dinner’s handmade hot dog.

“We were thinking about doing a hamburger, but everyone wants to make the best hamburger,” he said. “But no one ever tries to make the best hot dog.”

Instead of the typical pork, the hot dog will comprise either lamb or duck, and wild boar.

Warhol described the process: The meat will be ground, chilled and chopped. The temperature is raised and adjusted so the fat emulsifies, and the meat goes through a sausage stuffer into a sheep casing. Each step is calculated and precise to create a dish infused with better, stronger flavor, he said.

He plans to infuse that same time and energy into high-quality deviled eggs.

“I want it to be the best deviled egg anyone would ever have,” he said.

Warhol’s goal is to create the best: inventive, yet palatable cuisine, he said. And to add another element of difficulty to his dinners, he tries to source his food locally. He grows many vegetables in a garden off the grounds and in a garden on top of the hotel.

“It’s funny, me and (Sous-chef) Alex went up to the garden the other evening … and we were just running around, screaming at seeing all the produce and how big it was,” he said.

Warhol manages to maintain the garden, with organically grown produce, despite working almost 100-hour weeks. Dinners such as “Community” keep him motivated.

He said he hopes to cultivate interest in inventive meals so he can one day open a similarly themed restaurant on the grounds.

Chautauqua and its residents and visitors served as inspiration for the “Community” meal.

“Food does bring people around the table … and it’s one of the only topics that people can actually agree upon. Food is good,” Warhol said. “Potluck dinners are a big bowl of this … or that. What we are going to do is take that big bowl and make it into really nice, sexy-looking food.”

The “Community” Praxis dinner is sold out. The next, “Painted,” is Aug. 16. Tickets cost $69, or $89 with wine and beer pairings, and can be purchased from the hotel front desk at 716-357-4444 or athenaeum@ciweb.org.