Monday, November 2, 2015

Chef Marion Ohlinger's 10th Anniversary Dia de los Muertos Dinner

Dia de los muertos
Chef Ohlinger, the former chef/owner of Richwood Grill, hosted another dinner in the 2015 Appalachian Global Dinner Series. The goal of the Appalachian Global Dinner Series is to highlight the role of Appalachian cuisine in global culture, and to bring West Virginia recognition as a culinary destination, as per the website. Chef Ohlinger would combine dishes he's learned through his travels with an Appalachian twist during the inventive dinners at Richwood Grill (and Solera) and while he's searching for his next permanent location, he is completing this year's dinner series in a host of guest kitchens in the area.

Dia de los muertos

The 10th Anniversary Dia de los Muertos Dinner was held Oct. 30 and Oct. 31 at Table 9. From the event Facebook:
In celebration of Dia de los Muertos, you are invited to “throw down the burdens of time and reason” and partake of a three-course traditional Mexican feast, each course paired with premium hand-bottled tequila. 
Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a celebration that takes place mostly in Mexico, but is celebrated throughout the world. It is a time in which the spirits of those who have passed are remembered and celebrated. It is believed that the spirits of the dead come to visit their families at this time. Traditions include the cleaning of the graves and the construction of altars. The altars are decorated with flowers, fruits, photographs, etc. Food is offered to the dead and varies according region, age and favorites of the spirits. A traditional offering is the Pan de Muerto which is a bread made from egg dough. Sugar candies with skull designs are also popular. In some areas of Oaxaca and Michoacán, bakers shape the bread to resemble humans or animals. The dead receive the finest foods which include molés and tamales. The spirits also drink their favorite beverages, whether soft drinks, coffee, chocolate, beer, or tequila. Some people maintain that the level of the liquid decreases overnight, showing that the dead do indeed return to share in the feast. 
It might sound somewhat morbid, but during this time, people react to death with mourning along with happiness and joy. They reflect their fear by mocking and living alongside death. Many euphemisms are used for death, La calaca (the skeleton), la pelona ("baldy"), la flaca ("skinny"), and la huesada ("bony"). There are refranes, sayings, and poems that are popular with day of the dead. For example "La muerte es flaca y no puede conmigo" means "Death is skinny/weak and she can't carry me." Calaveras (skulls) are decorated with bright colors with the name of the departed inscribed on the head. Children carrying yellow marigolds enjoy the processions to the cemetery. At the cemetery, music is played and dances are made to honor the spirits. Death is a celebration of Life in Mexico. This menu focuses on traditional dishes from the state of Oaxaca while using as many local and organic ingredients as possible. The diversity of local agriculture and the Morgantown Farmers Market makes it possible to prepare international food while utilizing primarily local sources. Our Dia de los Muertos Celebration was one of the first and perennial favorites at Solera Café, and has carried through from Richwood Grill to become a Morgantown tradition.
Dia de los muertos
Pan de Muerto with pumpkinseed butter - You know a butter is good when you have to stop yourself form just taking a spoonful of it and eating it alone. A nicely browned biscuit was a perfect vessel for this textured butter that had a mild but satisfying flavor.

Dia de los muertosFresh corn tamale with beef and chorizo tinga (paired with El Mayor Blanco tequila) - This was a pretty substantive appetizer course with a dense, toothsome tamale topped with shredded beef (and chorizo?). At first, I thought the chorizo would be inside the tamale, but it must've been in the "tinga," which is a Mexican dish made with shredded beef in a sauce made of red and green tomatoes, chipotle chili and onion strips. This was a nice, filling few bites with some real flavor.

Dia de los muertos
Choice of roasted pork loin or roasted chicken in molé verde served with frijoles charros, yams in piloncillo butter & fresh hand-made flour tortillas (paired with Cazadores Reposado tequila) - This is probably a ridiculous thing to comment on first off, but those yams were the best yams I've ever had. They were just basking in that piloncillo butter - which was basically just whole cane sugar. But it was rich, decadent and nearly caramelized. The sweetness was a perfect addition to a bean, tortilla and pork dish. The mole verde was a nice touch, too, for the pork. A fresh, herb sauce added some complexity.

Dia de los muertosWarm flan with dulce de leche (paired with Herradura Anejo tequila) - If only you had watched me eat this. I did everything short of physically moving this plate to my face and licking it. This flan was to. die. for. The custard was dense but creamy. And the dulce de leche ... there are no words. This is why I love these dinners.

As for the future, the dinner series for this year is complete. However, I think Chef Ohlinger has something even more exciting cooking up soon.