Chautauqua Institution is known for its wonderful speakers, great music and theater, good conversation - and fine dining? Probably not. But now the 24-year-old Executive Chef at the Athenaeum just might be changing that perception. Chef Ross Warhol is a native of Hamburg and has been frequently noted recently in the world of fine cuisine and celebrity chefs.
Chef Warhol is a top-of-his-class graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. He has honed his skills at some of the world's top-rated restaurants, notably Alinea in Chicago, the French Laundry and El Bulli in Spain, a restaurant once viewed as one of the best worldwide. That restaurant is now a culinary school.
This writer had the good fortune to go with friends to the Athenaeum Hotel recently. The friends who made the reservation had the erroneous impression the chef had planned to create one of his multi-course special dinners that evening. When we saw only the regular, but quite fine-looking, menu for the evening, my friends asked to speak to the chef. The night was slow, so Chef Warhol proposed he serve us a dinner of his own design. We readily agreed, and what followed was a remarkable meal for five, doubly impressive because it had been unplanned.
Our initial disappointment in the evening turned to delight as soon as the first course was served - a fragrant onion soubise topped with house cured Scottish salmon. This was followed with a "BLT" - a fried green tomato with baby lettuces topped with a bacon jam and truffle vinaigrette. The meal continued through foie gras, grouper, sorbet and a pomegranate-glazed quail, then was topped off with a blackberry mascarpone cheesecake. Each tiny plate was beautifully sauced and several were accompanied with a wine to suit the course. Ingredients were fresh and seasonal - our initial conversation with the chef had been delayed because he was out in the garden picking zucchini. What had started as a disappointing evening turned into nothing but smiles and appreciation. When the chef emerged after dinner we gave him a very well deserved round of applause.
In addition to his regular duties as Executive Chef at the Athenaeum, Warhol has planned a series of special dinners there in August and September. Young Chef Warhol intends to continue his training in various restaurants around the world, but ultimately Western New York will benefit when his long-range dream of opening his own restaurant in the Buffalo area comes true.