The executive chef at Chicago's Spiaggia and runner-up on Top Chef season 9, Sarah Grueneberg is the guest chef at The Mansion, joining Churchill Downs' executive chef Jo-Jo Doyle. Yes, the new invite-only sixth floor area where tickets are around $7,500 to $12,000 is offering food that's on par with the view. It's the first time Churchill Downs is having a guest chef at Oaks and Derby.
Levy Restaurants, Churchill Downs's food and beverage provider, reached out to Spiaggia and brought Grueneberg down for a visit. "At that point it was a construction zone," Grueneberg said of The Mansion. "There was nothing up here except one of those metal cranes and a little dry wall. The kitchen wasn't here. The bar wasn't here. So it's really made a huge transformation ." Later a team from Churchill Downs flew up to Chicago and ate at Spiaggia.
For Eater Louisville, on Thursday, while finishing touches were being put on The Mansion, Grueneberg prepared a potato gnocchi and wild boar ragu, hand-rolled gnocchi (which Grueneberg described as "little pillows of heaven") topped with 24-hour braised ragu, which is being served in The Mansion. The process took five minutes—about as long as it takes an infield-goer to move up three feet in line for a pre-cooked burger.
"I think this is a dish that's going to sop up the alcohol later in the day," she said.
Other dishes Gruenenberg is preparing for The Mansion's guests include
·ricotta and mascarpone cheesecake: crafted with rhubarb and pinenuts
·skewered diver scallops and pork belly: Crowned with Vietnamese lime chile sauce
·Spanish-style scampi and pimento cheese grits: fresh Gulf shrimp, brandy, Anson Mills polenta, butter, Spanish paprika, Manchego and Piquillo peppers
The Houston-born Grueneberg's been in Louisville for much of the past two weeks preparing for Oaks and Derby weekend. Please and Thank You has been a near-daily coffee destination for Grueneberg. She's also visited Garage Bar, Toast on Market (twice), Seviche: A Latin Restaurant, Proof on Main and MilkWood, where she ate with her vanquished Top Chef rival Edward Lee. Any dirt on Lee? "He does a mean karaoke. And 'Suspicious Minds' is his song of choice. It's hilarious."
And, in case you're wondering about Grueneberg's Derby picks, "There's one with like a kitten name, isn't there? [Charming Kitten] And then Orb I heard was gong to be awesome."
·All Kentucky Derby 2013 Coverage [~ELOU~]
[Photo: Zach Everson]