The Palm Beach Food and Wine Festival is back again, that time of year where foodies from up north flock to the warmer climate of South Florida to show off their creativity and gather some inspiration. This year has been no different.
There are a multitude of events, from Chef Talks to children's cooking lessons to the themed Chillin' N' Grillin', in which to participate. This is the story of that grill-centric event, which took place on Saturday the 13th at the Four Seasons in Palm Beach.
As outdoor events go, the Festival (herein referred to as 'PBFWF', partly because of laziness) scored a lucky break. A recent cold front pushed through and left us with a cool and rain-free Saturday. Situated on one side of the pool deck, guests were invited to mingle and peruse from booth to booth sampling the grilled concoctions of each of the participating chefs. Easy enough, right?
Luckily a standard breakfast of just coffee prepared my stomach for the onslaught of well prepared food. It's quite possibly the biggest problem with foodie events like this: even if a food item doesn't appeal to your personal enjoyment factor, at least it's been prepared basically perfectly. You have to at least give everyone credit for that.
From the food to the people, there was a lot going on. Luckily, as the theme suggests, there was a feature to tie everything together: grills. Everything was grilled. From grilled pizzas, to grilled cheese sandwiches, to grilled oatmeal cookies, everything had that delightfully smoke-forward flavor profile.
Now, going through each dish would be tedious. It really would. With the dozen or so participating chefs, the nuances are too numerous. However, there are a few standouts.
-- Jeff Mauro, star of Food Network's Sandwich King and winner of the 7th season of Food Network Star, produced a pork burger al pastor that shined out as an example of how to transfer a dish from one variation to another without losing a lot of what makes it good in the first place. Spiced pork patties are grilled to the appropriate temperature, then set upon a bun with pineapple and fruit, and unleashed into the world. The result is juicy, tender, succulent, and an amazing swirl of umami and sweetness tucked between your hands. Break out the thesaurus when describing this one.
-- Robert Irvine's biceps are even bigger in person.
-- Palm Beach was graced with the presence of Christina Tosi, the chef, owner, and founder of momofuku milk bar, who brought with her a decadent smoked oat cookie grilled up to that fresh-out-of-the-oven state and set beside fresh Florida strawberries, strawberry froyo, and charred marshmallows. The sugary sweetness and freezing cold of the yogurt complemented the hot cookie and chewy marshmallows. Talk about a mix of extremes -- it worked extremely well. "I love temperature differentiation in desserts," Tosi told us, "we want to serve a cookie... in a way that still gives you the feeling and flavor of eating something off the grill."
-- The chefs generally don't seem to mind the attention of people coming up and asking for photos. In fact, uber-celeb Ted Allen was in attendance just hanging out, and many times would take the time to snap a pic and chat. There was one woman in a wheelchair with whom he spoke at length. Hopefully some good cooking tips!
-- Finally, there was this crispy and crunchy smoked salmon pizza by the kind and generous duo of Elizabeth Karmel (grilling sensation from North Carolina) and Bob Blumer (host of Food Network's Glutton for Punishment). Citrus, dill, and a some peppery spice pushed this dish into the stratosphere of something that must be created and tasted again. They were kind enough to give us their book, Pizza on the Grill, and lo and behold the recipe is in there, right on page 64. If a smoked salmon and garlic cheese pizza can't make it in South Florida, we're all doomed.
Sunday hosts the 8th annual Grand Tasting event in downtown Palm Beach, in which a metric crap ton of local restaurants will be attending with three local chefs competing for $10,000 in throwdown finale.
If you weren't able to make it this year to the PBFWF, it's a great event to sample some of the country's finest chefs without leaving your backyard. For a hundred bucks to sample for a few hours, it beats flights to New York City in the winter.
(As a bonus treat, Listen to Robert Irvine, Jeff Mauro, and Christina Tosi describe their dishes below.)
Doug Fairall is a craft beer blogger who focuses on Florida beers, and has been a homebrewer since 2010. For beer things in your Twitter feed, follow him @DougFairall and find the latest beer pics on Clean Plate's Instagram.