What’s all the HUSH about?

Blackbelly – at first blush, an odd name for a catering company, so I asked about the origin. Blackbelly sheep are native to Barbados, have a distinctive black stripe of fur on their bellies, and are considered a culinary delicacy, signifying the best of the best.

Blackbelly Catering is a new venture between Chef Hosea Rosenberg, the Top Chef Season 5 winner, and his longtime friend and mixologist, James Lee. Matching their respective strengths in the kitchen and behind the bar, they bring the farm to your table via their mobile kitchen trailer. They also source from their own farm, the Blackbelly Farm, just north of Boulder, and from other local farms.

Whatever location a client desires (home, office, outside venue), they are able to come in and create a memorable dining experience for groups ranging from a four-top to a party of several hundred. They are also currently looking for a space to open a restaurant. While the catering business has been in operation for a few months now, there hasn’t been a very public launch yet. Blackbelly Catering  chose to partner with Hush Concepts to preview their concept to the public.

Through Hush Concepts, partners Phil Armstrong and Chance Humphrey have brought the pop-up concept from NYC and LA to the Colorado dining scene.  A pop-up restaurant is exactly what it sounds like – a restaurant that opens for only a few days or seatings, then closes, in venues ranging from the rooftop of an art museum, to a farm, to a wine cellar. As Phil explained, the idea is to give chefs a creative outlet to push the envelope or for rising chefs to make a name for themselves. Seatings are small and intimate. You purchase a ticket for the event and a few days prior, the location is revealed, but the menu stays a secret until you arrive.

For the event with Blackbelly, there were four seatings – two this past Friday night, two on Saturday. The audience: limited to 45 at each seating. The location: Mise en Place Cooking School.

Immediately upon arrival, a cocktail was placed in my hand – an excellent sign of the evening to come. Titled “Blame It on Rio,” my tastebuds were transported to Brazil via Boca Loca cachaça, Thai chili-infused agave, lime, blackberries and cucumber. Cachaça is often mistaken as rum, but rum is made from molasses, while cachaça is made from the pure unrefined juice of sugar cane. This yields a light, floral spirit with a hint of sweetness, that was complemented well by the blackberries, then brightened by the lime juice. The infused agave added a delicious kick of spice to balance the sweetness and the fresh cucumber provided a refreshing, clean note on the nose and at the end of each sip.

Once we were all seated, it was time for the amuse-bouche: oysters and “pearls” paired with the next cocktail, titled “Whaam”. The literal French translation of amuse-bouche is “mouth amuser” – and this pairing more than exceeded that hurdle! The oyster was incredibly fresh and tender, and the natural sweetness was balanced with a slightly acidic dressing. With a nod to molecular gastronomy, the white and green “pearls” were made using liquid nitrogen. They were horseradish- and cucumber-flavored, respectively, and added a fun visual element, a bit of texture, and a burst of flavor. But the “Whaam” completed the oral excitement. Absolut Vodka provided a clean base for the fresh watermelon, lemon juice and agave nectar to play off the sweetness and acidity of the oyster bite. But since it was the fourth and final seating, James wanted to make it a little more special. Enter: champagne. As everything is a little better with some bubbles, it caused all the flavors to dance across our tastebuds with that extra bounce of effervescence.

They were so kind and clever as to hide the decadence by titling the six courses as Reception, Amuse, One, Two, Main and Last. So we embarked upon the first course. We received fall wrapped in a velvety rich soup – Isabelle Farms butternut squash bisque topped with Alaskan king crab and diced apple. Need I say more? The Sommelier with Hush Concepts, Trevor Hertrich, paired this course a Pinot Gris from Kahil Winery, based in Grand Junction, CO. Newly founded in 2010, it is the personal label of Tyrel Lawson, who is also the winemaker for Two Rivers Winery and Chateau. The notes of peach, pear and apple paired well with the dish, though it was surprisingly sweet to me for a pinot gris. An example of a well-done Colorado wine (set aside your bias – I promise they exist), but I would’ve like a little drier, more acidic wine for this pairing given the inherent sweetness and richness of this dish.

When I read the description for the second course, I was quite perplexed – fish and pork in one dish, paired with a red wine. However, Chef Hosea and Trevor worked their magic. A bed of Brussels sprouts with a pomegranate brown butter was topped with a slab of pork belly (yes that is a technical culinary term, used in reference to anything from our favorite little piggies), topped again with a filet of Wild King salmon. The fattiness of the pork belly and salmon complemented each other well, and the mild flavor of pork belly did not compete with the salmon. The Brussels sprouts added a contrast of texture, while the pomegranate cut the fattiness and added the necessary acidity to brighten all of the flavors. Note: you may want to take a break and wipe the drool from your keyboard right now.

But we can’t forget about the wine pairing – a Beaujolais from Pavillon de Chavannes, Cote de Brouilly, France. Brouilly is the largest wine area in Beaujolais, the primary grape is in Beaujolais is the Gamay grape (full name: Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc), and this wine is typically a light-bodied red that is low in tannins. Note, this is not to be confused with Beaujolais Nouveau, a purple-pink wine that is very light in flavor and, outside of the marketing hype, not considered to be very good. I would term it the Kool-Aid version of Beaujolais. But back to the good kind: as I raised the glass towards my nose, I was overwhelmed by the scent of butter, confusing me yet again. The taste however, was light, slightly mineral, with some darker fruits, that balanced out the fat in the dish, without overwhelming the delicate flavor of the salmon and pork belly.

Then we arrived at the main course – porcini crusted venison loin over sunchoke puree, topped with a chokecherry sauce and fried sage. The pairing? A Durif wine from the Nugan Estate in Riverina, Australia’s second largest wine producing region, located in the southeast state of New South Wales. Durif is a rich and robust red grape variety that is also known as Petit Syrah. It is a full-bodied wine and a quick sip prior to receiving the main course overwhelmed my palate a bit. This was the perfect example of how a pairing can bring out the best in the food and the wine. The earthiness of the wine complimented that same characteristic in the porcini mushrooms and venison. The spiciness and tannins in the wine enhanced up the flavor of the vension. The notes of blackberry and cherry in the wine played off of the sweetness of the chokecherry. James put it well, comparing it to a French burgundy that softens on your palate at the end of a sip.

We closed the meal with a pumpkin “Napoleon” paired with the “RoseLē” cocktail. It was a cold dessert – alternating layers of frozen, creamy pumpkin and honey crisps (layers of honey buttered phyllo dough that had been baked, cooked and cut into squares), garnished with cocoa nibs. It was a refreshing end to the meal and the cocoa nibs brought a depth of flavor to the pumpkin. The “RoseLē” was James’ homage to his business partnership with Chef Hosea and their last names – Rosenberg (Hosea) and Lee (James). For the cocktail, you may be like a few at our table, nearly frightened off by the list of ingredients – Plymouth Gin, Campari, egg whites, lime and lemon juice, and agave nectar. But as with my fellow diners, you’d be won over in a sip. Plymouth Gin is a style of gin that by law can only be produced in Plymouth, England; its flavor is slightly less dry than the much more commonly available London dry gin. It contains a higher proportion of root ingredients, yielding an earthy flavor and while the juniper is a significant component, it doesn’t overwhelm your palate. Campari is a bitter Italian aperitif that similarly contains herbs and aromatic plants, but also fruit. The cocktail itself was a refreshing, lightly acidic, and creamy. The agave nectar balanced the bitterness, the egg white added the creaminess, and the lemon and lime juices brightened the overall flavor.

They certainly lived up to their name: as the blackbelly sheep is a known delicacy, it will not be long before Blackbelly Catering is known as one of the premier catering services in the Colorado area. Stay tuned from more news on their future plans and check out Hush Concepts for an amazing night with fun people, amazing cuisine, and of course, delicious libations.  Cheers!

About Jennifer Fowler

She drinks nothing but the finest of craft spirits. So think twice before you slide that cocktail glass filled with vanilla vodka in front of her. This lady likes her cocktails brown, bitter, and stirred.