Are you ready for your culinary close up?

Culinary Close Ups

Pretty in Pink: peel ‘n eat shrimp Florida and Georgia coast menus
It’s not enough to simply relax and dine on the dishes chefs create for restaurant menus, some folks want to jump in and help cook the meal.  The promise of an “Epitourian” experience in the professional kitchens of the Sawgrass Marriott Resort in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida is what attracted Maureen and Billy Ray Price of Moultrie, Georgia. “I found it online. We wanted to go to the beach to celebrate our wedding anniversary but we wanted something different,” says Maureen Price. “My husband is a really good cook and I thought ‘he’ll learn to make even more great things for me’ and it will be fun.”

So while other guests at the golf centric resort, host hotel of THE PLAYERS Championship, headed out to play one of the areas eight championship golf courses or grabbed a book and a beach chair at the Cabana Beach Club, the Prices jumped on a golf cart with Executive chef David Scalise to visit the on-property bee hives.

Off they go to find the bee hives with Chef Scalise and Heidi Barfels of Miami
Scalise tends two bee hives tucked away in an area guests wouldn’t normally see behind tall trees and overgrown with black berry bushes and other natural plants of north Florida, “At first everyone panicked when they heard I wanted to set up bee hives on the hotel property. But these honey bees are not aggressive and finally even the lawyers understood it was going to be OK, “ says Scalise who set up the hives about a year ago. 
Sweet life: Executive Chef David Scalise tends the hives at the Sawgrass Marriott Resort
“Our first harvest yielded fifteen gallons. The honey is a little nutty tasting with nuances of the wild blackberries. We use pieces of the honey combs on our cheese platters.”  The hotel’s homegrown Sawgrass honey not only sweetens the culinary program, it’s sold in the gift shop and used in the spa for treatments. “We’re even working on using the bees wax to make lip balm, “ says Scalise.  
Proud beekeeper shows off part of the honey harvest.
He says another bonus from beekeeping is developing stronger relationships with local farmers, “We lend our bees to pollinate their crops including a strawberry farmer nearby. So then we get strawberry honey.”

Cook and Learn

Next stop for the Prices on their culinary adventure is the farmer’s market in nearby Neptune Beach to shop for foods they’ll cook with that afternoon.  On the menu for today is a lesson in making fresh pasta.  “I’ve always loved to cook. Even in college at the University of Florida I made spaghetti sauce every Sunday for the other students in my dorm,” says Billy Ray Price who’s a physician in Moultrie.   

Romantic lighting in the Augustine Grille captures the beauty of handmade gnocchi pasta with local vegetables.
A few notches up from spaghetti, Scalise led the Prices through the steps needed to make fresh gnocchi including the delicate broth based sauce that would be served to them for dinner that night as well as other guests in the Augustine Grille. So their “epitourian” experience went beyond creating their own courses, the Prices truly were part of the Sawgrass Marriott’s culinary staff for the day.

Maureen and Billy Ray Price celebrate their Epitourian experience in the Augustine Grille
Watch and Learn

If you’d rather stay out of the line of fire in a busy restaurant kitchen, but still want to be close enough to see exactly how the chef sears a piece of fish then you can take a seat at the Chef’s Table at The Cloister at Sea Island, Georgia.  
Elegant settings and sumptuous bites of the finest food and wine at The Cloister, Sea Island
Seating four guests comfortably in a small yet elegant glassed-in dining room the table overlooks the expansive kitchen of the Georgian Room where chef de cuisine Daniel Zeal and his brigade of chefs turn vegetables into jewel like shapes, expertly grill meats, poach lobster in vanilla and citrus, delicately prepare fine fish such as cobia, garnish plates with edible flowers and create multi-ingredient desserts.  Can’t keep up with the action? Just change the channel.  Above the picture window in the chef’s table dining room is a wide screen television. “We give the guests their own remote control to switch camera views around the kitchen so they can follow their meal every step of the way and I pop in to answer any questions they might have about techniques or ingredients,” says Zeal.

Under the direction of  Resort Executive Chef Jonathan Jerusalmy, Sea Island chefs
create a wide range of culinary experiences for guests.
Off the Farm

Snapper ceviche with micro greens at Edwards Fine Food & Wine, Rosemary Beach,  Florida
It’s nothing new to see the names of farms and farmers on menus today as more chefs create business bonds to bring the best in locally grown foods to their guests. But, take a look around the dining room and you may even see a farmer. 
Eating dinner one night at Edward’s Fine Food & Wine in Rosemary Beach, Florida I asked chef Edward Reese about the deliciously fresh micro greens in salads and garnishing plates. He smiled and replied pointing to the man sitting at the next table, “Why don’t you ask Claus Kazenmaier, they came from his farm this morning!”

So it seems that another component of judging culinary quality is today is how close we can get to knowing where our food comes from and exactly how it’s prepared even when someone else is doing the cooking.

Now let’s head to the beach……….
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