A five-page menu for a four-course meal is a sign of what’s in store for diners at the annual Culinary Creations dinner.
Created as a benefit for the Quantum House at St. Mary’s and the Palm Beach County Chef in Distress fund, the dinner brings together chefs from area country clubs, resorts and restaurants to prepare a unique round-robin meal for diners at the Kravis Center.
Coordinating a legion of chefs
Executive chef Jeff Simms of The Breakers coordinates the dozens of chefs, members of the American Culinary Federation’s Palm Beach County Chapter, and assigns them each a course (or two). They make portions to serve one diner at each table; no two diners at a table of 10 get the same dish.
“I start in January, and try to reconfirm the chefs who’ve done it before,” he said. Confirming and reconfirming chefs and their dishes takes months – the actual event is almost a cake-walk compared to the initial menu and chef match-ups. “I have a couple new people this year, but the main number have been supporting this event for a long time and know what to do.”
He tries to encourage them to do the foods they love to make. “The idea is that you can have a traditional dish and Pan-Asian for the next, or French classic for the next – it’s all a mixed bag.”
The hardest part, he said, is at the dinner – matching each seat to the food. “The first item on the first course is a sous vide duck breast. The person who’s seated at seat one at each table will get duck, but I have to coordinate the rest of the meal so that the same diner doesn’t get duck at each course.”
Each year, there’s an ingredients that’s prominent. “This year, it’s duck. Duck is king – go figure. But that’s the thing – everybody shares food at the table. A lot of the diners have been doing this for years, too – so I don’t have to explain how it works or worry too much that they won’t get some tastes of the other dishes.”
Of course, there’s friendly competition among the chefs, who watch what others are doing and make mental notes to try new things on their own menus. A trend right now, Simms said, is sous vide cooking that infuses flavor with the long, slow cooking time. “We have a lot of sous vide items on the menu.”
The scene in the staging area resembles a military assembly – with long rows of folding tables specific to each course filling the room. They’re lined with plates and the chef’s hot pots and mise en place foods. On a cue, the chefs go to work, using their teams to plate their dishes. Students from the Lincoln Culinary Institute and West Boca High School Culinary program are involved in helping the chefs. The staff from The Breakers is lined up to serve, and pick up their plates, guided by a director to their appointed tables. Each table of diners is served in synchronized motion.
The front tables in the staging area are then broken down and new chef teams begin prepping their course at the next tables. To keep some semblance of order, the latter courses and the chefs are brought in just before the previous course goes out. The dessert chefs wait in a holding area.
Timing is crucial – but Simms has been doing this for nearly a decade and his work as a banquet chef for The Breakers serves him well in pulling it off with very few hitches. The country club chefs are no strangers to banquet service, either – so it’s
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun, too – and it’s for a worthy cause,” Simms said.
Auctions also involve chefs
Along with the food is a live auction, with chef dinners as lots that include a Palm Beach getaway with a two-night stay at the Brazilian Court Hotel and a wine dinner for two at Cafe Boulud; a Chef in Your Home Dinner – five chefs prepare a 10 course tasting meal with wines, for eight diners; an Interactive at home Dinner Party or Brunch for eight with wines and black-tie service, or a Gourmet Wine Dinner for eight. In the silent auction, $25,000 worth of goods, including golf packages, restaurant gift certificates, a Lilly Pulitzer Father’s Day basket, custom decorated cake and more have been donated.
Chefs’ time and the foods are donated by the clubs. Those participating this year include: Turtle Creek Club, Pinetree Golf Club, Eau Gallie Yacht Club, Mar-a-Lago Club, Mariner Sands Country Club, PGA National Resort, Hunter’s Run Country Club, Boca Grove Plantation, Boca Lago Country Club, The Country Club of Florida, The Fountains Country Club, Broken Sound Country Club, Boca Woods Country Club, Sailfish Point Country Club, Restaurants and others include Echo Palm Beach, the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, Sysco Southeast Florida, Lincoln Culinary Institute, Cafe L’Europe.
Few tickets are left, but there may be cancellations, Simms said. “We’re approaching a sold-out event; maybe people will put it on their calendars for next year.”
When: 6:30 p.m., Monday, June 13
Where: The Kravis Center, West Palm Beach
Tickets and information: 561-494-0515; www.quantumhouse.org