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Flaming saucepans at The Cooper

There was major festive Fall fun at the Feast of the Sea Chef Challenge Semi-Final Four at Williams Sonoma last Sunday, September 27th. The store looked and smelled wonderful, with autumn decorations, gleaming gadgets, yummy food stuffs and food and wine and drink stations all over the store and spilling out into the Mall’s courtyard. A big part of the evenings success was the feisty emcee Maude Eaton who is the blogger dame behind For the Love of Food. Her non-stop fun commentary over a loudspeaker kept things moving along and allowed everyone to know what was going on everywhere they roamed.

This was the final semi-final before the big finale October 24th in downtown West Palm Beach which will be the outdoor all day 2nd Annual Feast of the Sea Challenge with over 15,000 hungry people expected to watch and see which of the four chefs from the challenge will emerge as top dog, or maybe top fish.

The celebrity chefs that competed included Executive Chef Adam Brown from The Cooper, a farm-to-table restaurant specializing in the finest foods and beverages sourced whenever possible from local farms, food artisans, small-batch distillers, and craft brewers. The Cooper provides a warm, upscale dining experience, mixing sustainable seasonal dishes with an innovative take on classic American cuisine. Brown’s appetizer was a roasted fig stuffed with manchego cheese, a tasty combo of sweet and savory.

Stuffed Figs from The Cooper
Stuffed Figs from The Cooper
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Also competing were Executive Chef Eric Grutka of Ian’s Tropical Grill, one of the only restaurants on the Treasure Coast sourcing local produce, meats, and fish, combined with an award winning wine list hand crafted cocktails, and friendly service. Chef Grutka went really bold with his appetizer – country fried alligator with a spicy sauce made from red ey-oli, coffee, kimchee, cilantro and yuzu – a sour Japanese citrus fruit. Daring, different and really creative, this crunchy little monster had some real bite!

Executive Chef Sean Collins from Brio Tuscan Grill was competing, Brio, (meaning “lively” or “full of life”) is a “polished casual” restaurant serving authentic, northern Italian cuisine in the Gardens Mall right down the hall from Williams Sonoma. The subtitle, “Tuscan Grille” is descriptive for a menu that features oven-roasted steaks, chops, and seafood; similar to what one would find in an authentic ristorante in Tuscany. Brio’s philosophy is “to eat well, is to live well” and it’s a personal favorite stop when shopping at the Gardens Mall, I always get the lobster bisque, Wedge Salad or Steak Salad, a glass of Prosecco and pick a luscious desert. The appetizer Brio made was a cup of that fabulous creamy Lobster Bisque and Grilled Chicken and quinoa.

Finally there was Executive Chef Michael Molloy of the Wyndham Grand Jupiter at Harbour Side Place representing Deep Blu Seafood Grille where one can enjoy fresh and seasonal seafood in the casually chic ambiance. From freshly caught seafood to sizzling, hand-cut organic cuts of the finest steak, Deep Blu boasts an abundance of exquisitely prepared dishes, featuring both local and international favorites, prepared by esteemed chefs and using only the freshest of ingredients.  Their appetizer was a decadently rich buttery risotto with mushrooms and peas topped with a pan fried scallop.

Billowing nitrogen dry ice at Potions in Motion
Billowing nitrogen dry ice at Potions in Motion

As usual there were wines to be sampled – a Prosecco, some Pinot Grigio and two reds. The big fun in the Mall lobby was from Potions in Motion who brought their giant nitrogen tank and like mad scientists were brewing up insanely fun cocktails turned in frozen slushy sorbet type drinks like the strawberry lemonade with vodka and a Prosecco sorbet. The nitrogen is frozen down to minus 320 degrees amid a great deal of exciting billowing dry ice vapor and then poured into a mixer where the various ingredients are added. In addition to the drinks they made a frozen chocolate mousse and a very vanilla flavor too with toppings like nuts and sprinkles. Then serve it up in a martini glass. I love this company.

Judges-with-Ms-United-States-2015-Celine-Pelofi-of-Florida
Judges with Ms United States 2015 Celine Pelofi of Florida

Another beautiful sight was the real live beauty queen, special guest judge Ms. United States 2015 Celine Pelofi of Florida, who was crowned on July 3, 2015 in Washington, DC. She came complete with sparkly tiara crown and a jeweled satin sash. Gorgeous, blond, tall and slim, Celine was vivacious and happily posed for pictures with everyone.
Noshing on apps and browsing the store, I spied some spooky cool fall table decorations like the large silvery skull candle and a pair of black wax raven candles so want worthy I bought one.

Brio's-lobster-dish
Brio’s lobster dish

And now….drumroll please…..time for the secret seafood ingredient to be unveiled. The crowd oohhed and ahhhed as the cloth was lifted on an overflowing platter of….lobster tails! Wow, you could see the chefs excitement and mental wheels turning as they scrambled to the Whole Foods sponsored ingredient table and grabbed the extras to make their dishes.

They had a full hour to cook, it was fun to watch and guess what they were going to create. Some were chopping the tail meat into small bites, others were prepping the tails to be broiled whole, side dishes were taking shape with vegetables, grains, fruits and spices going into the mix.

Finally the plates were prepped and the judges served. They tasted and made notes, took pictures and chatted with each other comparing unusual layers of flavor. After eating the last bite of lobster – to the envy of the crowd who did not get any lobster because we are not beauty queens – the winner was announced. Chef Eric Grutka won for his astounding Lobster with Fruit Salsa. He will go on to compete in the big finale October 24th.

A final free for all ensued when Hostess Maude said we could take what remained on the Whole Foods ingredient table so I loaded up on cherry tomatoes, lemons, limes and avocados to make a salad for the next day.

The Feast of the Sea Chef Challenges have been great fun, kudos to Danny Blevins and crew. The 4th Feast of the Sea Chef Challenge Semi-Final at Williams Sonoma in Palm Beach Gardens Resulted in a Night of Beauty Queens and Nitrogen Ice Creams

Sandra-Schulman Sandra Schulman is an arts writer, music and film producer. Born in Miami, her work has appeared in Billboard, Variety, Rolling Stone, Ocean Drive, Country Music Magazine, The New York Daily News, News From Indian Country, and Entertainment Weekly. She was an entertainment columnist for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel for 8 years. She has authored three books on pop culture. She currently lives in West Palm Beach with her blue eyed whippet. Sandra Schulman’s column appears weekly. Contact her at sandraslink@gmail.com.