For the past 17 years, the annual Forgotten Coast Chef Sampler has showcased the culinary creations of the area’s growing number of fine establishments.
This year, there were some new twists, including stylish mixed drinks, a celebrity chef and the cuisine of a retirement community – all part of the area’s evolving face of its food establishments.
Once again, the annual fundraiser for the Apalachicola Area Chamber of Commerce was a sell-out, attracting more than 210 people to the Armory Sunday night.
A huge array of volunteers helped to make the event a success, with their efforts matched once again by the students in the Franklin County High School’s culinary arts program.
Debbie Fletcher, a former restaurateur who directs the program, said seven of her 66 students took part in preparing sweets for the event, including succulent chocolate éclair cakes and white chocolate toffee cake. Taking part were Brittany Bryant, Karl Sanford, Casey Sapp, Daniel Carrino, Brittany Carr, Chandler White and David Butler.
“It was a great inspiration to them, and left a lasting impression,” said Fletcher.
While the young people did not of course take part, a new addition to the offerings this year were fancy mixed drinks, courtesy of the two newest beverage spots, The Tap Room and Tamara’s Tapas Bar. Traditionally, beverage suppliers, such as Southern Wine and Spirits, Lewis Bear Company and Republic National Distributing Company, handle all the libations.
The Tap Room offered up a selection of craft beers, Bees Knees martinis and Key Lime cocktails, while the Tapas Bar poured blueberry lemon drop martinis.
It was difficult to determine who had the most delicious dishes, all were fantastic.
Among the first to “sell out” was the Blue Parrot Oceanfront Café’s baked grouper St. George with red pepper sauce. Owner George Joanos plated a hefty chunk of fresh grouper, lightly breaded and baked to seal in the moisture, and then topped with a delicate sauce.
Right alongside him was the Apalachicola Seafood Grill, which had owners Bev Hewitt and Jerry Hall serving up tropical rice with sweet and sour shrimp, and Jerry’s famous smoked fish dip.
The Owl Café saw owner Susan Gary presenting an alligator sausage Creole, with grits cake, made from sausage she gets from New Orleans. This was accompanied by brie with bread, and baklava made with local Tupelo honey and pecans.
Up the Creek Raw Bar, and chef Brett Gormley, delighted patrons with Thai noodles with mung bean salad with ginger crisps, as well as crab cake with chipotle aioli.
Caroline’s Dining of the River served up Panhandle grouper with sweet pepper, leeks and a light garlic sauce.
The Crooked River Grill offered a seafood blend of grouper, shrimp and crab, served over jasmine rice with a remoulade sauce. This was accompanied by filo stuffed with puréed peas with basked salmon and dill.
Tamara’s Café offered home baked rosemary foccaccio bread, with mozzarella, heirloom tomatoes, spinach, basil aioli and prosciutto ham, tossed with balsamic vinegar.
Ira’s at the Gibson Inn offered salmon on cucumber rounds, and a sweet potato soup, while Eddy Teach’s Raw Bar served up, what else?, but raw oysters, accompanied with a curried potato salad.
Café Con Leche offered a host of delicacies, including chocolate chip lavender cookies, bacon dipped with chocolate, kumquat liqueur, kumquats dipped in chocolate, amaretto cakes, mocha cake and monkey bread.
Jonathan Brubaker, a graduate of Johnson and Wales who now works as chef and dietary director at the Bridge at Bay St. Joe nursing home, showed the new face of a growing niche in the culinary industry, that of fine foods at long-term care communities. He offered a salmon mousse and she crab soup to delight the palate.
Attracting a lot of attention was chef Joe Rego at the Front Porch restaurant in Tallahassee. A native of Portugal, Rego secured the title of “Chopped Champion” on the widely popular Food Network television show, gaining national recognition through the competition that challenges skill, speed and ingenuity.
Rego served up a house specially, ceviche, with the restaurant featuring on its menu a make-your-own ceviche bar with a choice of fresh snapper, tuna, scallop, shrimp or salmon. For the Chef’s Sampler, Rego made a spicy ceviche with watermelon, served on malanga chips.
Each of the tables was designed by a volunteer with a different theme in mind. These designers included Andrea Duval, Kathy Andrews, Caty Greene, Judi Stokowski, Amy Price, Denise Butler, Kelli Boxberger, Butch Rowell, Jan Houser, Kayd Selden, Bonnie Fulmer, Katherine Neill, Elizabeth and Rich Wynn, Shelly James, Dixie Partington, Karen Brown, Beverly Coxwell and Anna Carmichael.