1703 Restaurant’s Curtis Hackaday: Chef and Fungi
Fungi: (fuhn-gahy) n: more than one fungus; see also, a male (chef) that likes to have fun (with food).
Curtis Hackaday, chef at 1703 Restaurant and Catering in Winston-Salem, likes to dabble in the extraordinary when in comes to his creations.
A few glances at photos of his food and it won’t take long to realize that he’s one of the most daring chefs in the Triad. Where else can you go for tapas that feature Grilled Sturgeon Tacos or Squid Ink Steamed Milk Buns stuffed with fried Chicken of the Wood? Which brings us to a brief departure: Raise your hand if you know what Chicken of the Wood is. Look closely enough in the woods and you may find this genus of edible mushroom. It’s a firm, meaty fungus that kind of tastes like chicken, hence the name.
Chances are you’ll find Hackaday foraging local woods for this highly sought–after delicacy along with a few other types of edible mushrooms.
“I wouldn’t call myself an expert,” he says. “But I definitely know how to identify the mushrooms I like to cook with. The trick is finding the right tree and knowing what grows on it.”
Hackaday also says that though several types of mushrooms grow in some of our nearby woods and even on the side of the road, you can’t pick just anything. “You have to be careful because with chanterelle, there are lookalikes. And those lookalikes can make you sick. If you aren’t sure, it’s best to leave it alone.” Some local folks even allow Hackaday to roam their woods. “It’s time consuming but it’s something I’m able to do with my family outside and my daughter is learning in the process too.” Hackaday says he’d like nothing more than for 1703 to be the place to go out and eat mushrooms when they’re in season.
YES! Weekly’s readers voted 1703 Best Restaurant in Winston-Salem and overall in Triad, but I will say that 1703 is still one of those restaurants that doesn’t get quite the attention as some of its counterparts enjoying the bustle of downtown. Nestled quietly at 1703 Robinhood Road at its intersect with Reynolda, for the past 15 years Joe and Molly Curran have enjoyed a popular catering business as well as their fine dining establishment. Actually, they are one of the few that do both successfully. And here comes the globally enthusiastic Curtis Hackaday. On his canvas you’ll find beautiful and colorful creations with ingredients that come from a half dozen or so local farms, as well as their own garden right outside their front door.
“I look for farms that offer something special that you won’t see in other restaurants and then here on site, we have tomatillos, tomatoes, swiss chard, rhubarb, lettuces, greens and herbs, just to name a few. Anytime a restaurant has the space for a garden, they might as well use it.” Even their customers have been known to bring in some garden swag from time to time.
But let’s get back to that global menu. Although it changes as often as Hackaday’s imaginative brain, here’s just a sampling of what you may find on Tapas Tuesday, which also happens to be half-price wine night. We had the advantage of a table of seven trying all kinds of plates, just to give you a glimpse of what’s possible. And Hackaday was given carte blanche to send out whatever.
The Shrimp Tempura is perfect for the less adventurous with its beautifully crispy shrimp and a lime sweet chili soy sauce. There was also a big winner on the table and Hackaday’s favorite””the Short Ribs with Chili Crab Haricot Vert. It had that wonderful braised texture you love and al dente green beans with a light chili crab on top. But for the more adventurous you might enjoy the Lamb Tartare, which included lamb heart, whole grain mustard, black mint, Thai basil on top of dirty potato salad and topped with a hen yolk.
Now let’s get back to those milk buns that we spoke of earlier. They were dyed with squid ink, steamed, then filled with fried Chicken of the Wood Mushroom, trout roe, and pickled carrot. You seriously would think you were eating fried chicken. The crispy mushroom inside the fluffy steamed bun along with the pickles was my personal favorite of the night. And there was this Tomato Pie, which was unlike any other tomato pie you’ve probably tasted. Slow roasted tomatoes, ramp crÃ¨me fraiche, Chantilly avocado, topped with lump crab salad. And a Lobster Salad that was fresh and light on sliced tomato succotash and it was the sweetest tomato that ever was on a plate. Oh and if organs are your thing, you may love the House Maple Cured Bacon Wrapped Duck Hearts with Fish Sauce Caramel. This meal left us all a bit gobsmacked and our dining companions who didn’t think they’d like certain items were thrilled that they tried something so intrepid and delicious.
Don’t fret though. Know that there are plenty of items on the menu that will please those who like to keep their feet on the ground, when it comes to eats. But Hackaday says, “I want to do what no one else is doing and still it be something that tastes really good.” One recent evening showcased Huitlacoche. Sounds fancy, right? It’s actually Corn Smut, aka Mexican Truffles. It’s a fungus that ruins corn but is considered a delicacy by those who don’t look at it as disease. “I made corn smut hushpuppies with crab and put them on a drop of pimento cheese with some avocado puree.” It sold out.
All this and one would never guess that Hackaday is””self-taught. He began cheffing just five years ago. “I’m very grateful that Joe and Molly Curran gave me a chance. I was just a server when I started in the kitchen there. I learned a lot from the chefs who came in and out of the kitchen, as well as from Joe, and they allowed me to create my own path.”
To be sure, his path is taking us all into a world of pure imagination. !
1703 Restaurant is located at 1703 Robinhood Rd. in Winston-Salem. They are open Tues-Sun with varying hours for lunch and dinner. Visit www.1703restaurant.com to learn more.