February 2018

James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Tour Dinner: Making Its Way to the Hilton Head Island Seafood Festival

Author: Kitty Bartell

Hilton Head Island’s Seafood Festival is welcoming the island’s first-ever James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Tour Dinner the evening of February 22…and it is one hot ticket. Once he found his footing in the business of food and drink, James Beard (1903-1985) was a bit like a shooting star, and attending one of his foundation’s most sought-after seats, is a bit like being sprinkled with culinary fairy dust.

The Beard mission is to “celebrate, nurture, and honor chefs and other leaders making America’s food culture more delicious, diverse, and sustainable for everyone.” Considered the pinnacle of all food-minded standard bearers, The Beard Foundation elevates the profile and street cred of nearly every event and cause associated with it.

Jan and Gordon Gourley, partners in The AdFish Group, a culinary event advertising and public relations firm, and co-founders of the Savannah Food & Wine Festival, learned this first-hand. “Part of what set the festival [in Savannah] on a national scale was to host a James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Tour Dinner,” Jan Gourley said. Joining the Hilton Head Seafood Festival team for their 2017 event, The AdFish Group knew right away that Hilton Head was the exact right place for a James Beard Dinner. To the organizers, proposing a Beard dinner on Hilton Head Island seemed like a no-brainer. Getting approval and on the foundation’s calendar was another thing; apparently, they liked what they saw.

“Five years ago, we began working to grow the seafood festival into a regional or national event,” said Clayton Rollison, owner and chef of Hilton Head Island’s Lucky Rooster. “Andrew [Carmines] put in a ton of work. It’s a passion project for me. It’s a passion project for Andrew.” Carmines, owner and chef of Hilton Head Island’s Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks, and founder of Shell Ring Oyster Company, has been a driving force in growing the island’s seafood festival, hosted by his family’s David M. Carmines Memorial Foundation. Carmines and Rollison were part of the team that brought The AdFish Group on board to help expand the event’s footprint and visibility. This year’s Seafood Festival is a seven-day culinary and cultural tourism event, where chefs, mixologists, and sommeliers will come together to share their talents and their resources—along with art, live music, and wildlife.

The James Beard Celebrity Chef Tour Dinners are designed to epitomize what takes place at the iconic James Beard House in New York City, where chefs are invited to host an evening and cook their own signature cuisine, or cook around a specific ingredient, or holiday. The Tour Dinners are a way to bring the magic of the Beard House to a limited number of events across the country and feature James Beard Award nominated and winning chefs alongside local chefs who have been invited to participate.

The Hilton Head Island Seafood Festival’s James Beard Celebrity Chef Tour Dinner will feature six courses from celebrity and James Beard Foundation award-winning and nominated chefs. Winemakers and sommeliers from around the world will pair wines with the courses throughout the dinner. Headlining the event will be celebrity chef, restauranteur, author, and television personality Maneet Chauhan, along with Chef Martín Rios of Santa Fe’s Restaurant Martín, Chef Ryan Prewitt of New Orleans’ Peche, Chef Jimmy Bannos, Jr. of Chicago’s The Purple Pig, and Chefs Hayden Haddox and Senena Delancy of the Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront Resort. VIP Premier Patron ticket holders will also enjoy a private meet-and-greet champagne reception with hors d’oeuvres prepared by Hilton Head Island’s Chef Matt Roher of Sea Pines Resort, Chef Clayton Rollison of Lucky Rooster, and Bluffton’s Chef Brandon Cater of FARM.

Descriptions of the delectable dishes planned for the Beard reception and dinner evoke a need to draw to the table, place a napkin on one’s lap, take up a fork and knife, and begin:

Charcoal Grilled Oyster—mint, cilantro, salsa macha, sweet potato…
Ossabaw Hog Prosciutto Canapé—fennel pollen whipped lardo, clay pot oyster sauce marmalade, bamboo charcoal black toast…
A Variation on an Oyster Stew—smoked oysters, onion velouté, and fermented chilis…
Black Garlic Shigoku Oyster—trumpet mushrooms under an American Kobe beef veil, fresh wasabi, cucumber-smoked onion tea…
Roasted Open Blue Cobia—Taylor clam and salami broth…

These are but a few clues and snippets as to what is to come—and so much more is to come. A clearer picture of each dish may only materialize as the dish is set on the table. Patience is certainly a virtue here, although perhaps not a welcome one.

In a time when food often takes on the patina of religion, and the devoted seek experiences, and knowledge, and tastes, wherever they may go, the Hilton Head Island Seafood Festival and the James Beard Celebrity Chef Tour Dinner promise their share of these, along with simply a fabulous time with friends, family, neighbors and guests.

Interestingly, it is the time spent with friends and family and neighbors and guests that the James Beard nominated, and award-winning chefs nearly unanimously identify as the most important feature of a fabulous meal. What makes for a great meal? “I think the magic is in memorable food, the drinks which are easy to drink, the perfect backdrop music and most importantly the people,” said Maneet Chauhan. “The company is what truly makes a meal great.”

“A great meal is when we’re all there for the same good company and the conversation that takes place,” said Ryan Prewitt. “The conversation and the environment will trump the food pretty much every time. That’s what I always look for.”

“The fact that they’re cooking dinner and I get to eat and enjoy their hospitality and the laughter and the communal experience,” said Clayton Rollison. “At a great meal, the food is secondary to the experience and the connection with others.”

Through the foundation that bears his name, James Beard is the conduit by which great food experiences are shared. “Good is good, period,” Rollison said. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re brown, black, purple, transgender, straight…when the food and wine are good, the playing field is level, and you can have fun and connect with people.”

Taking a seat at the Hilton Head Island Seafood Festival table on any given day will be the beginning of a culinary adventure, with the promise of a great food experience sprinkled with a bit of culinary fairy dust. Mr. Beard would most likely approve.

To purchase tickets, or for more information, please visit hiltonheadseafoodfestival.com.

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