Serenbe Southern Chef Series

4 Aug

This past weekend, Matt and I visited the Inn at Serenbe for their Southern Chef Series with Chris Hastings, the executive chef/owner of Hot & Hot Fish Club in Birmingham, Alabama.  This turned out to be the ultimate date night for two foodies.  The Southern Chef Series is a two day cooking school where chefs from all over the Southeast visit Serenbe to cook dinner and lunch the next day with a handful of lucky attendees in the private kitchen of Marie Nygren, founder of Serenbe Farms.

Matt and I arrived last Sunday not knowing quite what to expect.   The experience was so personable and Chef Hastings instantly put us to work on our dinner.  We were assigned the second course, which was Red Snapper Jowl, Head-On Shrimp, Fennel, Tomato, Basil, and Lemon Oil.  I had heard of hog jowls before in southern cooking but never red snapper jowls.  The Chef laid the jowls down in front of us and showed Matt how to trim them.  I did all of the vegetable work while Matt deveined the shrimp (he really got the hardest of all of the jobs that night!).  We finished our course early so while I spied on the other dishes, Matt was put to work on the fried chicken skin station…yes, I said fried chicken skins – they were delicious!

Our dinner that night was incredible.  Despite a bunch of novice home cooks handling most of the preparation, the Chef guided us through tasting and proper seasoning to make sure each dish came out spectacular.

Our first course was Hot and Hot Tomato Salad, Sweet Corn, Field Peas, Fried Okra, and Smoked Bacon finished with a garlic Aioli…

 

The second course was our Red Snapper Jowl, Shrimp, Fennel, Tomato, Basil, and Lemon Oil…

The main course was “Chicken Fried Steak” Hickory Grilled Wagyu Beef Sirloin, Crispy Chicken Skins (thanks Matt!), Braised Collard Greens, Fresh Dug Potatoes, and Buttermilk Gravy.  I seriously could have licked the plate but that wouldn’t have been appropriate…

Last but not least was a delicious dessert of roasted white peach and fig creme fraiche semifreddo, and sassafras Gelato…

After the meal, we returned to our room at the Inn stuffed and inspired and with the satisfaction that we got to do it all over again for lunch the next day!

The second day, Matt and I were assigned dessert which was Corn Meal Johnny Cakes with Blueberries, Blackberries, and Lemon Ice Cream.  The Chef had the ice cream starter mixed for us already so Matt was in charge of the ice cream churn on the back patio.  I mixed up the ingredients for the johnny cakes (which included a meringue) and prepared the fruit.  The dish was actually pretty easy until the frying part.  I was responsible for frying the Johnny Cakes and was turned loose over a hot industrial sized range with a large cast iron skillet and an itty bity spatula.  I am not used to cast iron and definitely not used to this lady’s stove.  The grease got a little too hot and it was difficult to get all of the cakes turned in time with the tiny spatula before they burned a little too much on one side.  At one point, the sous chef came over to me and said “do you ever cook pancakes at home?”  I was needless to say a little embarrassed at my issues with the cast iron (and my grandmother would be too).  My first purchase after the class was you guessed it….a large cast iron skillet, I will not be a southern girl caught in this quandary again!

We started the lunch with a spicy gazpacho, tomato sorbet, cucumbers and summer squash…

The second course was Grilled Chicken, McKewen and Sons Pink Grits, Stone Fruit, Verjus, and House Churned Butter.  The grits in this dish were pink and ground from Indian corn…who knew you could get pink grits?

And last but not least was “Slightly Blackened” Corn Meal Johnny Cakes with Wild Blueberries, Wild Blackberries, and Lemon Ice Cream…

It was so neat to sit around the dinner table with a handful of folks and have dinner with a chef of Chris Hastings caliber.   We talked about how important sustainability is and what processed and chemical ridden foods are doing to our health and our country.  We picked his brain about who his favorite chefs are and his favorite places to dine in the Southeast.  He also talked about his experience on Iron Chef which was very interesting.  I always suspected some of the secrets he shared with us.  His Iron Chef episode against Bobby Flay will be airing as a rerun tonight on Food Network at 11 PM.  I encourage you to check it out and I’ll give you a hint…he wins :).

 

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