Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center is the crème de la crème. And 1856 – Culinary Residence is the cherry on top.
By Jan Walsh
The Tony & Libba Rane Culinary Science Center is located across the street from Samford Hall. And just as I step inside the center, Auburn welcomes me to town with Westminster chimes, playing clock tower carillon. Crossing the threshold of The Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center I enter another dimension. This sprawling culinary masterpiece is unparalleled, from top to bottom. Where else in this world would I find hospitality students learning in an academic setting and working in a real world commercial setting? Nowhere. And to top it all off, agriculture students grow an urban farm on the roof of the building. Many of the dishes and cocktails at 1856 – Culinary Residence, a teaching restaurant, include fruit, flowers or foliage from the rooftop.
Entering 1856 – Culinary Residence, natural light fills this high-ceilinged interior of the restaurant, reflecting off the ménage of colorful spirits behind the bar. Here I find Alabama’s first Master Sommelier, Thomas Price encircled with wide eyed hospitality students, in the front of the dining room. Previously Price was National Director of Wine Education at Jackson Family Fine Wines. And he has also worked with Auburn University’s Hospitality Management program as a visiting sommelier for the past eight years, teaching Level 1 Introductory Course for the Court of Master Sommeliers-Americas. In 2012 Price was the first African American to earn the Master Sommelier certification. Price also teaches Hospitality 4600: Beverage Appreciation for the Horst Schulze School of Hospitality Management, in the College of Human Sciences. His classroom is on Level 2 of this building in the state of the art, Wine Appreciation Center. And his focus is on wine.
Birmingham's own, Tyler Lyne, of Tasting TBL is the inaugural Chef in Residence at 1856 – Culinary Residence. His chef wife, Jennifer, works alongside him here. Both are Culinary Institute of America (CIA) graduates and bring a world of experience to start the restaurant. (link to profiles) The Lynes and their son, came from New York City to reside in the Birmingham area in 2020, where they founded a supper club, Tasting TBL. Each year a different nationally chef will become the chef-in-residence, cooking up an annual evolution of 1856’s culinary experience.
The restaurant’s private dining room is flanked by a two-story wine room, which is walled off with glass making the walls of wine visible in the Culinary Corridor (expansive hallway in the center of the building). On the inside the private dining space is open to the kitchen. Yet the kitchen can be closed off for privacy. Collaborating around this 12-seat dining table, we meet and greet the restaurant’s culinary team: Chef de Cuisine, Tom Baco-Wang, Sous Chef, Marcus Poor, and Director of Culinary Innovation, Antony Osborne, plus a face I know, General Manager, Jacob Hoop. Hoop a shining example of an alum working at the Rane Center. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Hotel, and Restaurant Management and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Auburn University.
In collaboration with this team, and along with Auburn’s culinary instructors and students, Lyne develops lunch and dinner menus served here on Tuesdays through Saturdays. Lunch is a la carte, and dinner is a tasting menu. Students in their sophomore year work lunch. They experience equal time in the back of the house food production and front of the house service. Junior and Seniors work dinner, with some taking on supervisory roles. And for guests who enjoy wine, no need to fret over which wine to pair with each dinner course because Price has your back, literally, pouring each of his own selections, generously. And unlike the in-residence chef position, the Master Sommelier position does not rotate annually. Thus, Price is here to stay.
After our two-hour tour, my Auburn Restaurants team, Ada Ruth Huntley and Richard Phillips are ready for a before dinner cocktail at 1856 – Culinary Residence. I ask which cocktail, among the Fine Cocktails list, will photograph the best. Our server suggests Classic Blue, which is a team-colored orange and blue drink. Cheers for our new Auburn signature drink! Empress 1908 gin, Giffard Pamplemousse, Trincheri dry vermouth, “Classic Blue” tea synthesize into an easy sipper, topped with orange rooftop citrus peel. Likeminded, Ada Ruth and Richard select the Greyhound, which is a tasty, on the rocks thirst quencher of Wheatley Vodka, rooftop rosemary simple, and garnished with a slice of ruby red and rooftop rosemary. Also, before the courses, our server asks if there are allergies at the table. Very impressive that I am politely asked about allergies, rather than having to interrupt and forewarn restaurant staff.
Dinner at this teaching restaurant, 1856 – Culinary Residence begins with Price teaching a culinary student table side how to open a bottle of Champagne, quietly. The evening is off to a lovely start as this wine is my very favorite, Delamotte. From one of the oldest champagne houses, established in 1760 in the village of Les Mesnil-sur-Oger, France. It is the sister estate and neighbor to Salon. The wine is paired with Canape of Tarte Flambee, Bacon, Caramelized Onion, Fromage Blanc. Light gold in color, Delamotte whispers clean and fruity notes of white flower, citrus, and lemon. It is fresh and round with a lovely mousse. And its finesse and effervesce brightens and lightens the smokiness of this captivating canape, almost lifting it from its plate.
The next taste is Foie Apple with “Frenchie” Viennoiserie Bread. This dish is Classic Lynes. I had the peach version at their Tasting TBL and an orange version will soon replace the apple. Each version is a dramatic work of art and a divine concoction. Tonight’s apple is a sculpture of foie gras, apple bavarois, along with rosemary quince puree. Price pairs this dish with Saint M, Riesling, 2020 from Pfalz, Germany. Elegant notes of apple and citrus marry well with the apple glazed art. The wine also has a lovely balance of sweetness and acidity. Also accompanying the apple is the Lynes’ signature “Frenchie” bread. The viennoiserie bread is the namesake of their restaurant, Frenchie, coming to Birmingham’s Southside in early 2023. Difficult to imagine that a bread could stand up to such a dish. Yet Frenchie bread is also unreal, soft, light, buttery inside and crusty on the outside, perfect for slathering the foie apple atop.
From the Sea is a golden, crusty Skate Wing Schnitzel. Apples and schnitzel… have my table happily humming, The Sound of Music: “crisp apple strudels… schnitzel with noodles.” Foie Apple and Skate Wing Schnitzel are two of my new “favorite things.” Skate is a type of shark, and skate wing is a filet from the huge pectoral fins. This succulent white fish has a mild flavor similar to scallops, yet a hint of nuttiness, such as crab. This delicate fish is breaded and fried, thus the schnitzel. We Southerners, just think “country fried,” and we get it. The fish is enhanced with roasted sunchokes, green apple, Yuzu Caviar, and floats on beurre blanc. Of course, Price pairs an Austrian wine with this schnitzel: Gruner Veltliner, Schloss 2020 Gobelsburg, Austria, which boasts structure with crisp hints of green pepper that stand up nicely to this delightful dish.
Here come the noodles! The pasta is a course of comfort. In this dish, twisty al dente casarecce noodles wrap like ribbons around the foraged mushrooms (not for me due to allergy), scrumptious Italian sausage speaking with an accent of Italian herbs, brightened with a hint of licorice from its crown of fennel pollen. The single vineyard Barbera d’ Alba, Diego Conterno, “Ferrione” from Piedmont, Italy is deep ruby in color with fruity notes of blackberry, black cherry and plum and a structure that stands up to the earthy pasta dish.
And here’s the beef: Koji Dry Age Ribeye! Cooked to tender perfection, served atop veal jus, and plated with a scrumptious saffron risotto cake, Tokyo turnip, and Kabocha Squash Puree, which lends flavors sweeter than butternut squash, similar to pumpkin and sweet potato. This pairing of Stoller Pinot Noir 2019, Dundee Hills, Oregon is my favorite red of the evening. Complex kisses of mocha, chocolate, oak and cherry embrace the beef dish in a perfect marriage.
For dessert(s), Chef’s Favorite Gateau Basque is a heavenly, buttery French cake filled with pastry cream, which makes a delightful contrast between outside and inside. Also decorating the dessert plate deliciously are flavors and textures of salted caramel, cherry mousse, vanilla anglaise, and praline almonds. And we end with one more show off dessert of Petit Fours Mignardise. These bite sized babies are a chocolate lovers dream! Poor Richard doesn’t eat chocolate. His loss! I love a good port, and tonight’s port pairing is Sercial, Madeira, Chaleston, Historic Series, Port. This seducer is deep amber in color with hints of coco, vanilla, and hazelnut. Highly recommended!
Chef Tyler is a molecular expert, and Chef Jennifer is an artist, whose medium is food, especially pastry arts. Together they push the boundaries of gastronomy and pull together the elements of taste. And Price is indeed a master at pairing.
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