Photo Credits: Jacob Studios
A torrential downpour gave the Feast of the Sea Chef Challenge Two an additional set of challenges when the dark clouds came rolling in right before the event started Wednesday July 22nd, raining all over the beautiful setup around the pool at the International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington.
When the rain came there was a mad scramble to move it all inside the Polo Club bar room to accommodate the hundreds of guests that were pouring in as fast as the rain came down.
There were individual tents for the chefs, the bar and the lavish hors d’oeuvres spread set up, with flowers and tables with umbrellas for everyone. The judges table with 4 wine glasses for all the samples and the extra fancy dinnerware was relocated inside from its special area set up by the pool. A reggae combo on steel drum and guitar had to quickly unplug all the electronics and mics and re-set up inside. The floor was flooded, making it a challenge for everyone to walk through in their nice shoes and high heels. There were no barstools so it became standing room only, making it harder to see the chefs working.
But the good news is everyone who was there wanted to have a good time, so with 4 drink tickets in hand me and my trusty friend Ellen who I have known since High School, made our way to the wine bar to sample some crisp Pinot Grigio.
The hors d’oeuvres table was much more lavish than the one at the first Chef Challenge last month. A huge spread included multiple salads with olives, roasted peppers, asparagus, cheeses, crackers and flavored breads, salamis, stuffed grape leaves and more. It was quite delicious and healthy too with heavy emphasis on the Mediterranean foods. I must mention the gorgeous centerpiece flowers that were hand carved from vegetables – beets and apples – to resemble roses and peonys. Very creative and beautiful and exotic, a nice secret touch.
Speaking of secrets, the secret seafood ingredient that the chefs had to make their dish from this time around was salmon. An added secret layer happened when some of the chefs snuck in a secret ingredient to their finished dish, something beyond what was provided by the vegetable/grain/fruit/oil table they had to gather components from.
Each restaurant chef table made a small plate to start the evening off
Executive Chef William Sellner of The International Polo Club Mallet Grille made a delicious plate of sea bass with a couscous fritter and herbed salad with fennel.
Executive Chef Clay Carnes of The Grille Fashion Cuisine in Wellington, who has been a winner on the TV show Cutthroat Kitchen, whipped up a lively little shrimp taco that had us coming back for seconds.
Executive Chef Bret Hauser of JEY Hospitality Group & new restaurant Pizza Craft made a baguette with two kinds of spreads – tomato salad and sautéed mushrooms.
Executive Chef Elmer Saravia of Bice Palm Beach, long time classy favorite restaurant on Worth Avenue, served up a creamy ravioli.
After the small plates had been served, we cruised the room looking at the stylish crowd – hello Tony Solo – photography art display, and wonderful witty polo mallet lighting fixture hanging high above the bar. We looked out over the soggy grounds of the polo field itself but there were no horses to be seen this time of year. Finally the rain cleared up in time for a glorious sunset to glow over the horizon behind the pool area as the crowd began making their way outside while sidestepping puddles.
Inside the action picked up fast and furious as the tuna was brought out and each Chef had 60 minutes to create a dish featuring the now unveiled mystery ingredient for the Judges prepared with pantry items including fresh produce, baked goods and grocery items courtesy of Whole Foods Market West Palm Beach.
The race was on as we watched the comical and highly entertaining Chef Hauser start slicing the salmon skin off into little strips and frying them like bacon, something I had never seen done before. Usually that skin goes to the kitty food bowl.
Next to him Chef Carnes, with tattoos lined up and down his arms and his trademark Ex Machina trucker cap firmly on his head, was whipping up strawberries in a blender for some kind of dressing while chopping and sautéing vegetables.
Finally the hour was up and the plates were served to the judges who included Maude Eaton of For the Love of Food and Libby Volyges of Libbyvision.com.
After the judges made little speeches praising the merits of each dish, the chefs got up one at a time to describe what made their take on salmon so special.
I think Chef Sellner added a bit of bourbon whisky to his dish as the opened bottle was on his table, but he mostly described the timed steps to preparing fish and how it needs to “rest: after cooking to finish locking in the flavor and texture.
Chef Saravia claimed his secret ingredient was saffron, that bright orange spice associated with Mediterranean dishes.
Chef Hauser used imported truffles from France, which got a big round of oohs and aahs and applause.[fruitful_sep]
The winner was Chef Clay Carnes who will go on to appear in the big finale in October’s festival in downtown West Palm Beach.
The chefs and judges all received gifts of wine while posing for sweaty damp victory pictures. By this time the sun had set, the wine was gone and the sated crowd filed out to retrieve their cars from the valet.
The 3rd Maestro del Mar Chef Challenge semi-final round will be held at Saltwater Brewery in Delray on August 26th. The all-star lineup for Semi-Final #3 consists of Executive Chef Blake Malatesta of 50 Ocean, Executive Chef Kelley from The Office in Delray, Executive Chef Dane who runs of South Florida catering company Potions in Motions; and Executive Chef Jarod Higgins from CUT 432 will be showing diversity as he demonstrates his culinary skills creating amazing dishes for everyone to enjoy. Tours of the brewery will be given.[fruitful_sep]
Feast of the Sea Chef Challenge Two: Wet and Wild at the Polo Club. Chef Clay Carnes is the Semi-finals Winner to Appear in the Big Finale in October’s festival in downtown West Palm Beach.