Something’s cooking in the kitchen at Vellos Brickstreet Grill, but it’s not just the restaurant’s pan seared triggerfish or braised lamb shank.
About 20 chefs from around the world were selected to participate in an international festival by the World Gourmet Society. Charles Hahn, the executive chef at Vellos Brickstreet Grill, located at 115 SE 1st St., was the only finalist from the United States chosen to design a special menu for the month-long event.
The society, which encourages food professionals and connoisseurs to “support new culinary ideas and talented young chefs,” is holding its first World Gourmet Society Festival that began Jan. 20 and will continue through Feb. 20. Participants included Michelin starred chefs and TV personalities from Sri Lanka, Kenya, Brazil, the Bahamas and various countries in Europe. For restaurants in Hungary and Austria, the festival will take place in March.
Once selected, chefs were instructed to explore different cooking techniques and ingredients to create limited edition dishes for their restaurants. This year’s theme was discovering new culinary landscapes.
For the festival, Gainesville’s Hahn designed a four-course menu, available upon request and discounted for World Gourmet Society members, which emphasizes the southern flair at Vellos with innovative recipes and high-quality ingredients in a “new cuisine” style.
Vellos, which is currently ranked as number 16 out of 456 restaurants on TripAdvisor’s Gainesville listings, provides an ambiance of dimly lit tables and jazz music for diners to enjoy what Hahn calls “upscale comfort food.”
“I like to take Southern comfort food and make it upscale,” Hahn told Matthias Tesi Baur, founder of the World Gourmet Society. “You know, that is the approach that I take on my menus and my restaurant, is to take it and make it really good.”
Regular customers Calvin Camps, Chris Gordon and Steve Turnage met at the establishment from frequent after-work run-ins. They said they come for the restaurant’s happy hour, recently named the best in Gainesville by HOME Magazine, but they stay for the friendly staff, relaxed atmosphere and, of course, the food. The three said they weren’t familiar with the new menu options yet, but are eager to try them.
Camps said he visits Vellos at least two times a week because he enjoys the food, but he also has gotten to know Hahn on a first-name basis, which makes his dining experience more personal.
“I call it [Vellos] a hidden secret,” Gordon said. “And it’s unique to itself.”
He said he could not think of any cuisine like it, nor any other venue where he could purchase high-quality, affordable chicken and waffles.
Specifically on the festival menu, customers can find goat cheese-stuffed dates, sous vide pork belly, butternut squash soup, sweet potato creme brulee, jalapeño and corn waffles and more at Vellos downtown. The complete menu is available on the restaurant’s website.
Hahn said the main guideline he received was just to “try something [he’s] never done before.” His frequent customers said they didn’t have to know what was on the menu to know it’d be good.
“Anything Charles makes, I’m down with,” Turnage said.