It’s a mystery that has plagued Sundance’s bon vivants, foodie freeloaders and gourmands for years: What’s with all the beef short ribs around here?
Last year, we reported on how the economically priced yet palate-pleasing meat cut had become the festival’s ubiquitous “It” foodstuff. Short ribs turned up on the menu of no fewer than seven swanky dinner party events programmed around the festival’s film offerings and were literally on the tip of everyone’s lips last year. (Well, at least everyone connected enough to get into things like the Bon Appetit Supper Club and various catered cast parties.)
On Saturday night, Beau MacMillan, executive chef of Sanctuary at Camelback Mountain in Arizona, became the latest celebrity chef to proffer short ribs, the highlight of his four-course set menu at Chefdance, an annual event that this year drew 225 fine-food enthusiasts including Adrian Grenier (director of Sundance documentary entry “Teenage Paparazzo”) and, inexplicably, “Beverly Hills, 90210” cast member Ian Ziering. MacMillan presented his meltingly tender, perfectly seasoned version of the carne atop a mound of creamy grits accompanied by braised cherries and cherry reduction and garnished with chervil.
A Los Angeles-based chef for many years who manned the stoves at Hotel Bel-Air and Santa Monica’s Shutters by the Beach before launching his own restaurant, Beau knows short ribs. Ambushed in the Chefdance kitchen just as he was overseeing the plating of desert (salted caramel panna cotta topped with popcorn and a gourmet version of Milk Duds), the cook shined a light on why short ribs are all up in Sundance’s grill.
“You probably see short ribs all over the place here because short ribs are foolproof,” said MacMillan, a robust man with an easy smile and a pronounced Massachusetts accent. “You can braise them and hold them. And they stay juicy as opposed to cooking [another beef cut] to temperature and having it dry out.”
To wit: Two other culinary maestros on the Chefdance roster also have beef short ribs on their programs. Tonight, Geno Bernardo will offer Barolo braised short rib with pumpkin polenta. And on Friday, Zane Holmquist served up Idaho Wagyu short ribs accompanied by parsnip bread pudding.
MacMillan laughed, recalling a certain misunderstanding that would have altered the outcome of his Chefdance debut had he not picked up on it at the last minute.
“Until five days ago, I thought I was cooking for just 50 people,” MacMillan said. “When they told me it was 225, my heart almost exploded!”
-- Chris Lee
Photo of short ribs: Ringo H.W. Chiu