Five local Master chefs interpreting Modern Southern Cuisine turned into an evening of culinary grandstanding and fun presentations in a perfect upscale setting.
As expected without an advance worry about bad weather, the Kick off of the the 2015 Amelia Island Restaurant week at the Ritz Carlton, Amelia Island last Thursday was as superb as it was fun.
The weather, dreary, cold and rainy did not change the plan to start off cocktails and hors d’oeuvres on Café 4750’s outside terrace as the resort staff had placed enough outside heaters to peel most layers of clothing away to the bare minimum. Cozy and lively the evening started with a selection of reds and whites of splendid palate teasing to be accompanied by some of the best southern flavored appetizers I have tasted.
The Braised Short Rib Stuffed Fingerling Potato with Chive Crème Fraiche came from chef Scotty Schwartz‘s (29 South) creativity with blending favors to perfection.
Roberto Pestana (Espagna’s chef/owner and comedian) produced a Fried Green Tomato Panini hors d’oeuvre, stuffed with Vegetables, Wild Mushroom and Spanish Goat Cheese served with Piquillo Pepper Aioli. The Ritz’s Singapore born new Executive Chef Andrew Yeo delighted our table with several repeats of a Beef Wellington production with Blue Cheese and Sea Salt, a simple art of perfection.
Ritz Carlton Alumni chef TJ Pelletier, these days co-owner of The Salty Pelican in downtown Fernandina Beach, took Southern cuisine to a whole new level with his Peekytoe Crab Salad on Carolina Gold Hoe Cake creation.
The hors d’oeuvres experience was a magnificent prelude to what was to come once we were seated.
Our table was graced with both Ritz Carlton General Manager Jim McManemon and PR director Joseph (Joe) Murphy, which showed how deeply and personally both gentlemen get involved in promotions like these and one of the remarkable discoveries this evening was the perfection displayed in pairing a selection of fine wines with the Southern fusion dishes served in this Tribute to Modern Southern Cuisine.
TJ Pelletiers opening course of Butternut Squash and Shrimp Bisque with a Southern Style Shrimp Po’Boy was expertly paired with a J Pinot Gris, while Roberto Pestana’s Panko encrusted Diver Sea Scallops over Lobster, Bay Scallop and Andouille Sausage Jambalaya, was beautifully enhanced by the intense bouquet of a Sonoma Cutrer Chardonnay. But the next one up was a personal eye-opener! Having a large injection of French blood running through my veins, I can’t deny that it took a long time to accept that any other wines than authentic French could be of significance. But with the third course of Sherry Glazed Crispy Pork Belly, Tomatillo Relish, Bacon Powder, Collard Greens, crafted to perfection by chef Andrew Yeo’s team came a Californian Belle Glos “Meiomi” Pinot Noir that got my attention. So much that I went on the internet to learn more about this exceptional wine.
By the time the fourth course was announced by its creator Scott Schwarz, the gourmands that filled the cozy 4750 Café, were in a spirited and inspired mood only to be enhanced by the Braised Veal Cheek on Congaree and Penn Sweet Corn Middlins, Brown Butter Carrot Mousse and Hickory Smoked Almonds exquisitely paired with a Louis Martini Cabernet.
It was at this junction that I learned that the pairing of wines was done by general manager McManemon and I can only add “Chapeau” for a job well done.
Now I usually savor the hearty dishes on a menu without much consideration for desserts or even the digestives, but after repeated “confrontations” with the artistry of the Ritz Carlton’s Dessert king Sheldon Millett, I know better now. He usually pairs 3 complementing desserts on a plate that demands being photographed for its visual artistry. I wasn’t disappointed as his Key Lime Cream, Strawberry Shortcake and S’more Chocolate Sorbet was a delight for the eye, a explosion of flavor on the tastebuds and an assault on my New Year’s Resolution.
The atmosphere at this kick off event was relaxed and pleasant, the five presenting chefs showed a camaraderie of humor and pride and even more so than in the past, it was a fun event, which I credit to the approachable and entertaining manner of the Ritz management team. The service was as always impeccable, which was subtly recognized by management’s complimentary interactions with the staff, and most of all it was exciting to see how Amelia Island is still growing year after year in building a reputation of culinary excellence.
For more information about this year’s Restaurant Week check here.