An American shindig

Karl Wells
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Annual Florida event attracts hundreds of food and wine lovers

I’ve just returned from a trip to the U.S. where I attended an event organized, in part, by the American Culinary Federation in Palm Beach County, Fla. Fifteen executive chefs and members of their kitchen brigades took part in the 10th annual Taste of Compassion. Hundreds of food and wine lovers attend this event each year.

Wines and spirits are supplied by Southern Wine and Spirits. Southern has a massive portfolio listing wines from around the globe. Encountering new wines, or wines you may never have heard of before, is quite common at the Taste of Compassion event.

Several tables dispensing only white wines and several tables dispensing only red wines were placed strategically throughout the spacious and beautiful Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach. About five of its connecting spaces and corridors were engaged for Taste of Compassion. (The Rooms in St. John’s would be perfect for such an event.)

Atrium

In the atrium area of the Norton, which is slightly derivative of the magnificent Frank Lloyd Wright design for New York’s Guggenheim, several chefs and restaurants served appetizers.

My first taste was a novel combination of rock shrimp and pork belly done takoyaki style (shaped into a ball and cooked with flour). It was dressed with guajillo (a type of chili pepper) aioli and bonito flakes. The shrimp and pork seemed to meld into one delicious new flavour. The dish was the creation of Chef Robert Goodhue of the Country Club of Florida.

Upon entering the Norton’s main events hall where more substantial fare was served, I was greeted warmly by Brian Wykoff, executive chef of Indian Spring Country Club in Boynton Beach, Florida. He was serving outstanding cognac braised short ribs in jus with a supremely creamy dollop of truffle-scented whipped mashed potato.

I asked him about the American Culinary Federation’s activities in Palm Beach County.

“It’s a very, very active group. That’s why I like to be a part of this chapter, because we do so many events for charities and we do a lot of teaching for up and coming students,” he said. “It’s a non-stop chapter. It’s just great.”

The particular event I was attending was a fundraiser for a charity called Quantum House. The house has a number of suites to provide temporary accommodation to parents and their sick children who require treatment at county hospitals.

Wykoff says area chefs never hesitate to pitch in where charities are concerned.

“You know what? You never get tired of helping people. It’s part of who we are,” he said. “For instance, we have nutrition programs for students, kids and families in need. You never get tired of that part of it. To see the reaction of the families that we’re helping out. It’s the pleasure that we get.”

The Breakers

The famous Breakers Hotel of Palm Beach was well represented at Taste of Compassion. Chef Jeff Simms created a beautiful snack, replete with contrasting textures, in his smoked pork shank taco. It was complemented by avocado purée, mango chayote slaw, Texas caviar (black-eyed peas) and roasted bell peppers.

I thought it would be excellent served with a peppy lager. Alas, there was no beer on site. I made do with a glass of red wine.

Actually, the wine from NY Rosenblum Cellars was very interesting, and not only because it was a very credible entry level Cabernet Sauvignon.

First there was the clever name — Stark Raving Cab — and label, with a drawing of a ruggedly handsome fellow (reminiscent of a Harlequin romance novel cover) examining an empty wine glass. His expression says, “Give me more, or else.”

I was told that proceeds from the about-to-be-released wine will be donated to help America’s war veterans. If helping war vets is not a good cause, then I don’t know what is. Let’s throw out a challenge to Canadian wineries to do something similar to help our brave Canadian veterans.

Most attractive station

The most attractively presented station at Taste of Compassion belonged to Chef Ed Balboni of High Ridge Country Club. The station looked like something that would have fit in perfectly on the set of Raoul Walsh’s 1924 silent film classic “The Thief of Bagdad.” On either side were totems made from every shape and size of fresh melon. Of course, each melon had been hand carved with various elaborate designs.

In the centre, between the high melon towers, was a plinth carved from clear ice. Positioned on the plinth was a great vase, also carved from clear ice, that contained a colourful arrangement of flowers. Food was served on either side of the station allowing guests to take in the full impact of the artful display — a display I’ll wager took many hours to accomplish.

One of the entrees served by Balboni was a seafood lover’s dream dish. It was creamy polenta and smoked shrimp topped with butter poached lobster and fennel salad. This recipe is hard to beat when everything is perfectly prepared. I'm happy to report that it was.

Dessert

No food and wine event would be complete without sweet options ,and many were available, from Paris style macarons and orange-scented chocolate truffles to something called smoked coconut and key lime brûlée cheesecake by Delray Dunes Country Club. It was my favourite dessert, perhaps because I love coconut so much. I wasn’t sure about the cheesecake reference because it tasted very much to me like a coconut flavoured creme brûlée. At any rate, it was grand, and so was the Taste of Compassion event.

• • •

For regular updates on Rogers’ “One Chef One Critic,” my Telegram Dining Out column and the latest developments on the local culinary scene please follow me on Twitter @karl_wells.

Karl Wells is an accredited personal chef and recipient of awards from the national body of the Canadian Culinary Federation and the Restaurant Association

of Newfoundland and Labrador. He is also a restaurant panellist with enRoute

Magazine. Contact him through

his website, www.karlwells.com.

Organizations: Southern Wine, Norton Museum of Art, Country Club of Florida.Upon American Culinary Federation Quantum House BreakersThe famous Breakers Hotel High Ridge Country Club Delray Dunes Country Club Canadian Culinary Federation Restaurant Associationof Newfoundland and Labrador

Geographic location: Palm Beach County, Boynton Beach, Florida, New York Indian Spring Texas America Paris

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