A Chef’s Table at B. Christopher’s
Something special happened on the evening of Feb. 19. Gone was Valentine’s Day, but love was certainly in the air, the love of food and fellowship. Thus, the story of another Chef’s Table, this one, featuring Chef Chris Russell of B. Christopher’s Steakhouse. It could’ve been made special by the fact that the 40-seat dinner sold out in two days flat. It could’ve been made special by the fact that Chef Russell added four more seats that sold out in 10 minutes to accommodate a waiting list.
But what made it most memorable and extraordinary was the sheer delight in the camaraderie of Russell’s guests, some who’d never stepped foot in his restaurant. That’s what Chef’s Tables are all about; to introduce you to a chef, get to know him or her a little better and to dive in and try a restaurant that maybe you just haven’t gotten around to yet. Oh, and it’s also to have a little fun. And by the chatter in the room, I feel pretty certain that folks were having a great time.
Established in 2000, B. Christopher’s American Steakhouse was a popular restaurant in Burlington and enjoyed business there for nearly 15 years before Russell relocated to downtown Greensboro four and a half years ago. I’d just eaten there for the first time last August and reviewed it here on Page 8 after a wonderful experience. It was then we all agreed that this steakhouse, which was about much more than just steak, was a natural fit for a Chef’s Table. Russell spent part of his growing up years in Burlington and attended Elon University before he began his culinary journey. He said his first love as a chef has been roasting and grilling proteins but he’s enjoyed going in many other directions over his 30-year professional career. “Lately, I don’t think about what I cook or how I’m cooking necessarily, but why I’m cooking and putting this on a plate,” he said. Russell said today he’s taking a more artistic approach. “Not to be too serious about it because it is just nutrients that people need, but like any artist, I want people to see what I’m up to. Hopefully, people will see the care in it, whether it’s the knife skills or vegetable cuts, the layers and depth of flavor. Our palates work in a linear way, and a bite may catch you one way, and by the time you finish it may taste another way.”
Chef prepared four courses, each featuring a different key component from Shellfish to Sweet.
Citrus/ Thai chili / mango / ginger / rice vinegar / mint / oil
Grilled Pear Salad
Greens / pears / candied walnuts / blue cheese / mustard vinaigrette / caramelized onions / balsamic
45-day Dry Aged Ribeye
Horseradish potatoes / roasted Roma tomatoes / Foyot sauce
Flourless Chocolate Torte /
Each course was thoughtfully prepared, and I heard more than one person say that the salad was the best they’d ever had. I, for one, love a great steak. And Russell’s ribeye was simple, yet beautifully presented. I can’t think of a single time I’ve ever enjoyed a flourless chocolate torte, but our dessert that evening was very creamy and very rich and really delicious.
Speaking of his cooking style, Russell told me, “I like clean, approachable ingredients that people are familiar with and I like to sneak in some that people aren’t and that’s also fun.” Russell’s approachability extends far beyond just his food in the kitchen. After welcoming the guests at the Chef’s Table and retreating to the kitchen to get some courses out, Russell made it a point to come out and speak to each guest, often taking a seat at their table to enjoy some conversation.
“Not only was the food phenomenal, but it was awesome that Chris was as involved with the group as he was,” said Chef’s Table “alumna” Meg Lohuis, of Greensboro. “It was great chatting with him. It really struck me how personable he was.”
Russell has also been a mentor for many young chefs in the area, most notably, Chef Kris Fuller of the widely regarded Crafted restaurants in Winston-Salem and Greensboro. “When I met her as a teenager, I knew she had more get up and go in her pinky than most people had in their entire body, so it’s wonderful what she’s done and today I get inspiration from her, and she and her family are very good friends.” Fuller recalled the day she walked into his restaurant, and he took her under his wing,
“Chris and his brother Eric were so kind and patient with me as just a kid in high school trying to figure out if my passion for cooking meant that this should be my career path. I didn’t know it then, but I know now that my time with them was very important in me pursuing this career. And all these years later, it’s great to have had worked under them and to still have a relationship with Chris to this day.”
Russell said he considers it a great accomplishment that he has been able to serve as a mentor for many sous chefs and others in his restaurant that he’s seen leave to achieve their own dreams.
“It is one of the greatest feelings that one can have when you can mentor or inspire a person in a way that they go on and do great things. I want to take what I’ve learned and give that to someone else. It should be the natural way of the world, to pass on our knowledge so that others can move on and do better. I take a lot of pride in that.”
Kristi Maier is a food writer, blogger and cheerleader for all things local who even enjoys cooking in her kitchen, though her kidlets seldom appreciate her efforts.