CLEVELAND: When it comes to food and rock ’n’ roll, chef Steve Schimoler said before the sold-out audience at the Chef Jam on Sunday night at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Northeast Ohio kicks ass.
The Chef Jam was a charity event that filled the several floors of the rock hall with tasting stations. Proceeds benefited the culinary education programs at Polaris Career Center in Middleburg Heights and Lorain County JVS, along with the rock hall’s education programs.
Schimoler, the owner of Crop Bistro in Ohio City, was one of the event’s organizers, a presenter of awards, and the drummer for the first of the two bands that rocked the house. Cream of the Crop, an ensemble of local chefs, played a broad selection of classic rock tunes with a jam band flavor.
The headliner was Akron’s own Wesley Bright and the Hi-Lites, who have become a top draw in Northeast Ohio and whose recordings are picking up an international following. The band draws its inspiration from 1960s Northern Soul, complete with a tight horn section, tight sport coats, and Bright decked out with a narrow ’60s tie and handkerchief, displaying some serious dance moves.
The mostly original set included a few reconceived covers like Soft Cell’s Tainted Love and Stevie Wonder’s Uptight (Everything’s Alright) and had the crowd dancing and shaking the moment the horn section honked out its first classic soul riff.
The food stations located throughout the building represented a broad range of cooking styles, from bar food to serious fare.
Matt Fish, owner of Melt Bar and Grilled, personally manned his stand dressed in gold lame Elvis garb, a shiny black pompadour and some serious mutton-chop sideburns. He served peanut butter banana bread pudding with caramelized banana bourbon syrup.
The B Spot offered a grilled brat with jalapeño salsa, and the Black Pig presented “Hemp Crusted Goo Ball, Magic Mushroom and Mint Hits.” Bon Bon served Tibetan spiced hummus, and the Beachland Ballroom offered up chicken chilaquiles with fried eggs.
Dante Boccuzzi, proprietor of dba in Akron among other restaurants, made crispy fried chicken “Drum Styx.” The Parkview Nite Club prepared chipotle smoked pork tacos with honey chipotle glaze, cheddar, pico and sour cream, which as high-end bar food was particularly well suited for an event in which each dish can’t be prepared to order.
Mahall’s, a trendy bowling alley, bar and restaurant in Ohio City, served up Swedish goat meatballs with potato puree, goat gravy and pomegranate. The popular East Side restaurants Moxie and Red offered strawberry, rhubarb, basil and tapioca trifle. ABC Tavern and XYZ Tavern cooked up fresh ground lamb quesadillas with feta, spinach, tomato and fresh cucumber sauce
Mark Doray from Lakewood said he was there for both food and music. “I really like the bisque from Pier W and the chicken wings from Dante’s.”
Marcel deSade said he had never been to the Rock Hall: “It’s fantastique. Absolutement.”
Brett Thorson from Cuyahoga Falls said, “We love Wesley Bright. So we’re mostly here for that. And the pierogies were excellent. I had two different kinds.”
“For sure, the tapioca strawberry pudding, that was delicious,” said his wife, Emily Thorson.
Bright himself said he had been too busy getting ready to sample much of the food. Nonetheless, his high-energy set kept the crowd rocking until the end.
Daryl Rowland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.