If you're looking for a reason to be grateful for good food in Fort Lauderdale, be sure to stop by the Grateful Palate. With a colorful global menu and inspiring up-and-coming chef behind exotic, creative small plates, it's an unexpected treat hidden amid the businesses that make up the city's bustling 17th Street yachting district.
The Grateful Palate's executive chef, Hector Lopez, oversees all of the operations of the restaurant, including the restaurant's busy yacht provisioning department. Unlike most chefs, Lopez's responsibilities include developing recipes and designing the restaurant's seasonal menu, as well as coordinating the purchasing of some very hard-to-find products from all over the world.
Here, it's not unusual for customers to request offbeat ingredients including guinea pig and kangaroo.
"We've had some really unusual requests, and it's my job to find them. One of the strangest dishes I've ever made? I'd have to say a kangaroo pithivier," said Lopez. "Basically, like a minced meat pie, but using kangaroo meat instead of beef. It's got a gamey taste to it but is quite flavorful."
And although it's a lot of work, it's well worth it, he says. "I have so much creative freedom... and can develop amazing, unique dishes because I have all of the resources to get [hard-to-source] products."
That means access to products and ingredients most chefs could only dream of -- items like expensive caviar, rare truffles, and game meats you'd never see on another menu.
Despite the use of offbeat ingredients and its touch of high-end service, the Grateful Palate has a lounge-like, relaxed vibe and a menu that is equally understated. Here, Lopez serves a true continental menu, what he describes as a combination of large and small plates inspired by countries across the globe.
Right now, Lopez is loving the menu's take on ceviche. Made with jumbo lump crab and tart kiwi for a fresh snap of flavor, the dish has a tropical flare when served with fresh-fried plantain chips. Another favorite: the salmon tartare marinated with a citrus vinaigrette and served with dill crème fraîche.
It's a far cry from the staples of Lopez's childhood, a Latin-flavored past with family favorites like his mother's steak Milanesa, a dish that brings back all of his favorite childhood memories.
Hailing from South America, Lopez began cooking in Argentina, where he ran a small "cafeteria" -- a small sandwich shop. His first job after culinary school was at the Grateful Palate, where he has been cooking since he began as assistant to then-executive chef David Learmonth in 2009. A former yacht chef himself, Learmonth taught Lopez the best way to give both restaurant guests and yacht clients what they were looking for: simple, fresh food and amazing service.
"It's been history ever since," said Lopez, who took over as executive chef in 2011. "My style is definitely internationally inspired. I like taking classic dishes and adding twists and flavors from different parts of the world."
That's especially true of one of Lopez's favorite recipes, a dish he's dubbed kangaroo pithivier. A pithivier is a round, enclosed pie made by baking two disks of puff pastry filled with meat or vegetables.
Keep reading for directions on how to make this flavorful, exotic dish:
Makes 15 pies
Ingredients for Pithivier Pastry:
1 lb. flour
3 sticks butter
12 oz. crème fraiche
Directions: Blend flour and butter in food processor until consistency of sand. Fold in crème fraiche. Divide dough into equal size portions. Rest in refrigerator
Ingredients for Kangaroo Filling:
2 lbs. kangaroo meat, minced
1 diced onion
1 diced red pepper
1 diced carrot
2 heads garlic, chopped
1 bunch thyme, chopped
1 Tbsp. red wine
Salt & pepper to taste
Paprika to taste
Directions: Brown kangaroo meat. Drain fat. In separate pan, sauté veggies. Add meat. Mix together and add red wine to flavor, and salt and pepper to taste. Let cool.
Roll out dough and cut into 6 inch discs. Scoop heaping spoonful of meat mixture onto disc, place another disc on top and press around edges to create dome. Brush with egg wash, add bit of salt and paprika. Bake 5-10 minutes at 425° until golden brown.
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