One of my favorite things about working in the food and wine industry is the passionate, inspiring people I get to meet. Whether it’s winemakers, winery owners, chefs, farmers or other Sommeliers, most people in this line of work do it because they truly love it – not necessarily for excessive financial gain. Since these individuals are also very hospitality-minded, they are some of the nicest people I’ve met as well.
This year, I really want to share some of these special people with you. So for the rest of the year I’ll be featuring a monthly installment of “Inspiring Women of Food & Wine” here on the blog. I hope you enjoy learning about these talented culinary and vinous muses as much as I have and what better way to start, than with an amazing trio of fabulous female Chefs from North Carolina who just happened to be in town last weekend for the South Beach Wine & Food Festival?
The Hubs and I were psyched to see this event as part of the festival’s Taste Fort Lauderdale dinner series (woo-hoo got to skip the three hour drive to Miami this year!), featuring the fabulous trio of James Beard Award-winning Chefs: Vivian Howard, Ashley Christensen and Andrea Reusing.
These ladies have been shaping the food culture in North Carolina for the better part of two decades and to have them all in one kitchen for the evening was really something special. Just in case you’re not familiar with them, please let me introduce you.
Vivian Howard is best known for her critically acclaimed restaurant, Chef and the Farmer, which was founded in 2011 in Kinston, North Carolina, the small, rural town where she grew up. Ironically, Howard had “escaped” her hometown years before to pursue a culinary career in New York City. After graduating from the Institute of Culinary Education, she subsequently trained with world-renowned Chef Jean Georges Vongerichten at his critically acclaimed restaurant, Spice Market.
Despite her initial aspirations though, she and husband Ben Knight made the move back to Kinston to start their restaurant. The endeavor brought much needed national attention to this struggling region. In 2011, Howard also began filming her award-winning PBS television show, A Chef’s Life, which documents the culinary culture of eastern North Carolina and showcases her charming storytelling style. The show won Howard her first James Beard Award in 2016 for “Outstanding TV Personality” and her much anticipated first cookbook, Deep Run Roots, was just published in October 2016.
After settling in Raleigh, North Carolina and working in some of the area’s best restaurants, Chef Ashley Christensen opened her first restaurant, Poole’s Diner, in 2007. Since then this culinary dynamo has opened five more venues in the Raleigh area including Beasley’s Chicken + Honey, Chuck’s, Fox Liquor Bar, Death & Taxes and Bridge Club.
Christensen’s admirable efforts have garnered her national attention from such well-known culinary publications as Bon Appétit, Gourmet, The New York Times, Southern Living and Garden & Gun. Her accolades also include a coveted 2014 James Beard Award for “Best Chef: Southeast” and her first cookbook, Poole’s Recipes and Stories from a Modern Diner was recently published in September 2016.
Since opening her own restaurant, Lantern, in Chapel Hill in 2002, Chef Andrea Reusing’s signature technique of infusing the freshest local ingredients with delicious Asian flavors and technique has garnered rave reviews from customers and critics alike. Lantern has been named one of “America’s Top 50 Restaurants” and “Best Farm to Table Restaurant” by Gourmet and one of “America’s 50 Most Amazing Wine Experiences” by Food & Wine magazine.
In 2011, Reusing received her well-deserved James Beard Award for “Best Chef: Southeast” and published her first cookbook, Cooking in the Moment, A Year of Seasonal Recipes which was named one of the most notable cookbooks of the year by the New York Times. In 2015, Reusing also became Executive Chef of the newly opened Durham Hotel in downtown Durham, NC.
The South Beach Wine & Food Festival dinner featuring these three talented women was entitled, A North Carolina Sisterhood. Held at the newly renovated Burlock Coast restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton Ft. Lauderdale, they collaborated with resident Chefs Gavin Pera and Ryan Cross on a fabulous, four-course menu complete with wine pairings.
The delightful reception featuring an assortment of delicious passed hors d’oeuvres. These small bites included Ashley Christensen’s Slow Shrimp with Marinated Peppers and Corn Crumbs; creative and mouthwatering Pork Rillettes with Candied Jalapeño from Vivian Howard; a hearty New York Strip Steak with Bone Marrow and Black Truffle-Cabernet Emulsion by Gavin Pera and a divinely briny and refreshing Moon Shoal Oyster with Caviar and L’Hoste Satsuma from Andrea Reusing who passed them herself on a tray of crushed ice. How’s THAT for Southern hospitality?
The dinner began with an opening salvo from Christensen, a savory Roasted Tomato Tart with Pickled Caesar Salad. The simple, yet divine flavors and textures of the tart were perfectly complemented by the crisp, crunchy romaine leaves. Christensen shared the source of the tomato tart’s sublime “tang” was due to, “a hit of horseradish,” while the flavorful Caesar salad was imbued with briny deliciousness from a unlikely source, “We use some pickle juice in the dressing.”
The dish was perfectly balanced and paired nicely with a 2015 Callie Collection Pinot Grigio a white wine from California’s Central Coast which also contained some Gewürztraminer which gives the wine some added personality.
Next, was Howard’s Crispy Squid with Castelvetrano Olive Stewed Butter Beans and Aioli. “I’d normally use bacon fat for the butter beans, but since people down here like to watch their weight, I used the olives to give the dish that briny, salty flavor,” she wryly explained. The succulent quid ringlets were lightly breaded with cornmeal, giving them a wonderful texture which helped the black, squid ink aioli and garlicky butter bean sauce adhere nicely.
The 2015 Callie Collection Chardonnay matched up well with the weight and flavors of the dish. The inclusion of some Riesling and Muscat Canelli in the wine also gave it a nice floral element which balanced the notes of toasty oak.
Chef Reusing’s main course featured Moulard Duck with Sake Kasu, White Sweet Potato and Pickled Apple. “The Moulard duck is a cross between the Muscovy and Pekin…I like it because it has the gamy, earthy flavor of the Muscovy and the size of the Pekin,” Chef explained. True to her signature style of marrying Southern ingredients and Asian flavors, Reusing flavored the duck with sake kasu, the lees leftover from sake production. This creative combination of the earthy duck with sweet apples and potato was a delightful study in flavor and texture…not to mention pretty darn delicious!
The 2014 Callie Collection Fresh Red Blend, a Merlot-based blend with some Pinot Noir and Syrah added for good measure, was a nice pairing for this dish. Its fruity flavors and minimal tannins enhanced the dish’s flavors without clashing with any of the sweetness.
Chef Gavin Pera’s Palmetto Creek Hereford Pork, Four Ways with Smoked Bean Puree, Pecans, Sage, Winter Squash and Malbec rounded out the savory dishes for the evening nicely. This flavorful perspective on pork featured 4 different yet delicious incarnations which all paired well with the Callie Collection Fresh Red Blend.
Pastry Chef Ryan Cross ended the evening on a delightfully sweet note with a tasty dessert inspired by the islands, a Prosciutto Donut with Roasted Pineapple and Chipotle Cream Cheese. The savory cream cheese was a nice foil to the sweetness of the donut and roasted pineapple and before I knew it, my plate was blissfully empty!
I hope you enjoyed our first installment of “Inspiring Women in Food & Wine” – nothing like an amazing female trio to kick things off right! Next time you’re in North Carolina I hope you have the chance to visit one of these fabulous Chefs’ restaurants. If this wonderful dinner was any indication, I am certain you will NOT be disappointed!
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