Hail! The Taste is back

■ BY MARCY SHORTUSE     

Roulade. Keftedes. Corn emulsion? For the culinary faint of heart these words may seem a bit daunting. Take courage, dear culinarily-confused comrades, this is what the Taste of Boca is all about; trying new things, learning a lot about food and enjoying a great time with some of the greatest chefs in the area.

The Taste of Boca Grande is one of the biggest parties of the year and its focal point is to show off some of the best food our local restaurants have to offer.

The event was created 15 years ago and it all started with Brian Corcoran, Julianne Greenberg, Thor Johnson, Nick Kaiser and Kathy Hawkins. Back then it was called Taste of the Nation/Taste of Boca Grande, and the event showcased local restaurants and was a fundraiser for a national hunger-fighting organization called Share Our Strength.

After the first year or so the proceeds started to be given locally to the Harry Chapin Food Bank, and the Steve Chapin Band started playing. The Taste of Boca Grande this year will be held on Monday, Feb. 6 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Boca Bay Pass Club. The event is held in a tent outdoors, right on the Gulf. The entertainment this year deviates from years past, when the Steve Chapin Band was the committed act of the evening.

This year the Brett Foreman Band will hit the stage to mix things up and keep it fresh. This highly-praised act has been called “Florida’s most in-demand band,” and they play all kinds of music to please any taste.

When you go through the doors of the Boca Bay Pass Club on February 6, keep one thing in mind. As the great food writer MFK Fisher once said, “Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.”

We couldn’t agree more with that sentiment.

For the last several years the Boca Beacon has provided a guide for the confused, for those who wander the foody path in a chaotic stupor when the read the Taste of Boca menus each year.

Let us be the light in the culinary dark for you, and we will illuminate the path. Here is part one of three in our article series on the menus to be presented by 19 local restaurants at the Taste of Boca Grande.

Beach Road Wine Bar & Bistro 1350 Beach Road, Englewood (941) 474-9500 Chef EJ Webster IV Bistro Fisherman’s Stew: Chef’s bountiful fresh catch in a rich saffron-tomato broth, garnished with crostini and fresh dill. Before we begin with the menu, it must be noted that this establishment has gotten some rave reviews on Yelp, and from the locals. Since Beach Road Wine Bar & Bistro opened owners Jill and Scott Hemmes have only expanded on their original boat and jet ski rental business. Their restaurant went from 0 to 60 in no time flat, which is no easy feat in the land of picky eaters and a bounty of restaurants. Chef EJ Webster will be bringing his best game on February 6 with his Bistro Fishermen’s Stew. The name alone brings a question to light: What exactly is the difference between a stew and a soup? According to “The Master Dictionary of Food & Cookery,” “Soup as a food consists of water in which meat, fish, poultry, game, vegetables or even fruits are stewed, to extract all the food value with the least possible loss of vitamins and flavor. Cereals and thickening agents are sometimes added to give body. Stew…is nothing more or less than simmering foods in the smallest possible quantity of liquid. The meat, poultry or game and liquid are served together as a ‘stew’ … stewing has many advantages from the nutritive and economic standpoints.” As you may know, stew was originally created by a very hungry caveman who went to the leftovers corner of the cave one day only to find the pickings were slim. Being an innovator he started to ponder what exactly he could do with that little piece of brontosaurus left from dinner the night before, a few acorns, some weeds and some tubers. He cut everything into little pieces, concocted a flour paste from the acorns and tuber roots, set it to bubble on the fire and took a nap. When he woke up, viola. He had stew. OK, that may not be the exact method (or ingredients for that matter) that Chef Webster employs, but it sounds like he’ll be following in the footsteps of our ancestors who knew a good steaming pot of fish, lobster, crab and crawfish can do for a man’s soul. While we’ve covered the origin of saffron in Taste articles of yore, it always makes for good reading. Some say it all started with a handsome mortal named Crocos in Greek mythology who fell in love with the beautiful nymph Smilax, but his love was not returned and she turned him into a crocus. None of that makes sense, so we’re quite lucky to no longer live with gods, goddesses and nymphs. A few years after Smilax pulled her magic act people from the Arab culture started using the crocus flower for many things. They called them by their name for yellow, which is “zafaran.” The scientific name for saffron is Crocus sativus, but don’t get too excited about the sativus part of the equation. For those not in the know about whacky weed, marijuana comes in two primary types – indica and sativa. In other words, it is saffron’s cousin no one wants to bring up at the Christmas family gathering. Yes, saffron can be mediated by the same receptors in the human brain and body that respond pharmacologically to cannabis, just not the receptors that make you high. It is still a miracle spice in many ways, as scientists have found that saffron engages both the CB1 cannabinoid receptor and the CB2 cannabinoid receptor, and can possibly give some retinal protection for those with eye problems such as glaucoma. Saffron allegedly can allegedly be used for treating everything from cancer to mental illness. Take too much, though and the spice can produce some rather unpleasant effects such as anxiety, agitation and dizziness. No doubt Chef Webster’s stew won’t have too much saffron in it, as his boss would probably be upset. It’s quite expensive, you see, so it’s used sparingly. Either way, this dish will be served with crostini, which basically means “little dried toast pieces,” so you’ll be sure to savor every bite and wipe the bowl clean with your crostini. Somehow, that sounded wrong.

Boca Bay Pass Club 898 Gulf Blvd., Boca Grande (941) 964-0769 Chef Michael Klocinski Katama Bay Oyster Shooter with Bloody Mary mix, key lime crema and micro celery; lamb keftedes with feta, lemon dill yogurt, mint, pickled cucumber and grilled pita. Oyster shooters? Micro celery? Lamb what? Where in the heck is Katama Bay? Ponder no more, dear friends, you’re about to find out what this is all about. In plain English Executive Chef Michael Klocinski of the Boca Bay Pass Club will be serving a Bloody Mary oyster shot with Key Lime crème and tiny celery. He will also bring out some really great baby sheep with that fancy cucumber sauce. This is a great opportunity to talk about Bloody Marys … and what an interesting and debated history this drink has. Some say the name came from Queen Mary I of England, the lady responsible for trying to re-establish the Catholic Church in her homeland. Others say actress Mary Pickford was the drink creator’s muse, as she was one of the first to routinely order her vodka with tomato juice and Tabasco. Some say it was named after a bartender named Mary who worked at the notorious Bucket of Blood bar in Chicago. One of the most logical theories, though, is that it came from the Slav name “Vladimir,” which sounds like “Blod-i-mer” when pronounced. Bartender Fernand Petiot who worked at Harry’s Bar in Paris in 1920 said he first served the drink to a man named, ironically, Vladimir Smirnov. Micro celery is still just celery but it’s harvested when it’s still a baby. Yes, any time you eat a micro green of any sort you have just snuffed the dreams of a juvenile plant that will never have the chance to truly know life, to go off and get married or backpack across Europe. But that’s OK, because micro celery is actually very tasty and tender so the sacrifice is legit. Where is Katama Bay? Many of our readers will know it isn’t in Japan, though it may sound like it. No, it’s in Massachusetts, off Martha’s Vineyards, at a juncture that is more exposed to the open sea than many places along the coast. They apparently have some choice oysters there, because many very popular recipes call exclusively for Katama Bay oysters. They have been described as having creamy-tasting meat, and the oysters themselves have thick shells so they’re easy to open. It’s ironic that many people who really don’t like the thought of eating of a baby sheep somehow manage to overlook their discomfort when it’s drowning in a good tzatziki sauce. There’s a line in a movie called “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” where the groom is being introduced to the bride’s Greek family. When the bride-to-be finally works up the nerve to tell her mother the groom-to-be is a vegetarian, there is a startled silence. “You don’t eat no meat?” the mother asks repeatedly, to which the groom-to-be responds negatively each time. “Fine, I’ll make you lamb,” she finally says. In the history of Greek cooking meat was not as big a deal as it is today, because it was scarce. The meat that was available was lamb, as they were a sheepherding people. Lamb is actually quite good for you, much better than most red meat because the fat it does have is of a monounsaturated or polyunsaturated nature. Tzatziki is a sauce often made of salted strained yogurt or diluted yogurt mixed with cucumbers, garlic, salt, olive oil, sometimes with vinegar or lemon juice, and some herbs like dill, mint, parsley, thyme etc. It is always served cold. It’s that good stuff you get with your gyro or, in this case, your keftedes (Greek meatballs made from lamb). Throw in some pita bread and some feta, and you have quite a mouth party going on. Remember, it was Archestratos in 320 B.C. who wrote the first cookbook in history.

Boca Grande Club 5000 Gasparilla Road (941) 964-2211 Chef Greg Foos Maine lobster and shiitake mushroom agnolotti, shellfish and sweet corn emulsion, shaved Grana Padano, micro citrus; kahlua and dark rum gelato, sea salt, caramel, candied hazelnuts. Chef Greg Foos has become a fixture at the Boca Grande Club, and it’s no wonder. He is an amazing chef with an impressive following, and we’re sure at Taste his booth will have some of the longest lines. Of course, Maine lobster might have something to do with that as well. So you get the lobster part, but what about these crazy mushrooms? And why are they named Agnes? Well, shiitake mushroom popularity has exploded in the last years, so much so their numbers consumed make up about 25 percent of all the mushrooms eaten every year in this country. The earliest reference to this frosty-capped fungus came about in 1209 during the Southern Song dynasty. They like to grow in decaying hardwood, but then again don’t we all. Interestingly enough many people order spores for shiitake mushrooms and grow them at home. Find some good wood, drill some holes, plant your spores and wait. You can also “shock” your mushrooms by soaking the wood in cold water for a day, then bashing the wood with a rock or a hammer (DISCLAIMER: While you may know people who are called “mushrooms” because they like to be kept in the dark, you still cannot soak them in cold water and bash them with rocks. It has become politically incorrect). The word “agnolotti” comes from Italy, and believe it or not an agnolotti seems an awful lot like what we call ravioli. It is a small flat piece of pasta that is folded into a square after being stuffed with vegetables or meat. There are two theories as to where the name came from, once being it is named after Angelot from Montferrat (insert limerick here) who is said to have created the little pockets of goodness. Another theory is that the word comes from the Latin term “anallus” and refers to the ring-shaped material within the pasta. We prefer the former, we’re not sure why. Keeping in mind the agnolotti is the base food of Chef Foos’ dish, we will now add the shellfish and sweet corn emulsion on top, like a sauce. If you’re like me the first thing you think when you ponder sweet corn emulsion is how much work it takes to make this fragrant liquid. You take your corn off the cob, take the kernels and some onion and some oil and cook it all for a bit, add garlic, cook it some more, add heavy cream, cook it some more, add chicken base, cook it some more … then strain it all through a cheesecloth. Good gravy – literally! It is so full of flavor it is almost a meal in itself. The dish will be garnished with Grana Padana, which is a type of hard cheese from Italy that is a bit like Parmesan, and with micro citrus. Again, the imagery might be disturbing for those of a sensitive nature but think of the tiny citrus that gave their lives for your enjoyment. Sniff. Chef Foos will be outstanding in his field when it comes to dessert as well. He will serve a Kahlua and dark rum gelato with sea salt, caramel and candied hazelnuts. Gelato, of course, is ice cream’s cousin from the Olde Country, a cousin with a bit more elasticity and softness than the hard-bodied American ice cream. Of course if we were talking about people in the same way that verbiage would probably be reversed, which is neither here nor there.

The Crow’s Nest 1968 Tarpon Center Dr., Venice (941) 484-9551 Chef Tony Bellanca Jumbo lump crab bruschetta and Parmesan flatbread, raspberry chocolate mousse and pirouette. The Crow’s Nest has been a regular contributor to the Taste of Boca, and if you’ve never ventured up there to the north country of Venice you’re missing out. Chef Tony Bellanca presides there, and he has a reputation for doing seafood very right. This year at Taste he’ll be serving jumbo lump crab bruschetta and Parmesan flatbread, as well as raspberry chocolate mousse and pirouette. None of that should be terribly confusing, but let’s explore it a bit anyway. There are many ways to serve crab. You can eat the claws, you can make a stew or casserole, or you can use the delicious lumps of meat in any number of dishes. Crab is light, dreamy meat that pretty much goes with anything, and is excellent as a stand-alone. In this case, it will be served on toasted Italian bread drizzled with olive oil and accompanied by a little garlic. Italians consider bruschetta (prounounced “brew-SKET-tah”) to be magical, and its history dates back to the Etruscan age, during the first millennium BC. When the Etruscans began draining swamps (uh oh, sounds familiar) and transforming the rural Tuscan countryside from the land of sheep into a more modern civilization that would later include parts of Europe, Asia and North Africa, they took bruschetta with them. When their influence drove Michelangelo to create his work “David,” it made him crave bruschetta. Some words of wisdom regarding a hearty bruschetta snack are these: “Day-old bread, month-old oil, year-old wine.” The French word “mousse” literally translates to “foam” in English, and while the Spanish are the ones who brought chocolate to the French, the French took it to a whole new level in the 18th century. In the United States mousse was introduced in 1892 at a food expo held at Madison Square Garden. Back then it was more like pudding than foam, but it has evolved over the years through the hands of many chefs. Once egg whites are separated from the yolk and mixed to foam they become what makes mousse, mousse. Unfortunately you need an electric mixer to get it right, and back in the 1800s there was a shortage of electric mixers. It may sound gross, but originally mousse was commonly used in the late 1800s in France with savory, not sweet, dishes, and chocolate wasn’t used. Now when one things of the word “mousse” they think of chocolate. What’s even more gross is that one of the pioneers of the mousse frontier in France named Toulouse Lautrec (perhaps you’ve heard of him) originally called it “mayonnaise de chocolat.” Chef Ballanca’s mousse will be served with a raspberry hint and a pirouette cookie, which is a cookie made from a flat dough rolled into itself in the shape of a tube, sometimes filled with crème or chocolate. They twist, they turn, they taste quite good.

Coral Creek Club 13111 Gasparilla Rd., Placida (941) 697-0830 Chef Timothy Fain “Maine Event”: Chef’s homemade lobster macaroni and cheese with cavatappi pasta, gruyere béchamel, fresh picked maine lobster meat and Ritz crumb topping; deconstructed New England clam chowder, whole belly clams, applewood smoked bacon, New England-style broth. Before we begin with this chef’s offering, may I add my soliloquy to lobster mac and cheese. It is, by far, one of the best things I have ever eaten. Even if you haven’t eaten macaroni and cheese since you were a child, you must try this; it is a matter of life and death. If you have always wanted to be carried away in a riptide of creamy cheese and perfect bits of lobster, you must do this. OK, let’s talk cavatappi pasta first. The word “Cavatappi” means “corkscrew,” which is the last thing you’ll feel when you eat this particular dish … we promise. You can call it cellentani, amori, spirali, tortiglioni or fusilli rigati, but it’s all good when it comes to lobster macaroni and cheese. Yes, we have Americanized it, but if the taste is the same we shouldn’t be scolded. To confuse things even more Americans have taken to calling this particular type of pasta, the one you always seen used in the boxes of mac and cheese on the store shelf, “Scooby Doo.” No one knows why. In light of all of these things, cavatappi can be summed up with this: When the moon hits the corkscrew and you think it’s Scooby Doo that’s amori.” When I got to gruyère béchamel I had to turn to my go-to girl for all things food, Martha Stewart. Normally she doesn’t steer me wrong, but this time she just casually threw a recipe at me and wouldn’t give me a hint as to the details of the dish. Instead, I turned to our resident chef Julianne’s well-worn copy of “Food Lover’s Companion,” which is a great book if you don’t know a damn thing about fancy food. According to the Companion gruyère is a cheese from Switzerland, and is named in particular for a valley of the same name in the canton of Fribourg. It is a cow’s milk cheese with a sweet, nutty flavor used often in cooking. Béchamel (pronounced bāSHəˈmel) is French and is proudly called one of the “four mother sauces.” It is made with milk, herbs, butter and flour. In this case we will add some gruyere for good measure. So, in short, gruyere béchamel is cheese sauce. You might be wondering what deconstructed clam chowder is, as I was. Not that I was deconstructed, but I was curious. According to a site called foodiebuddha.com, a deconstructed dish should contain all the classic components of the original dish, with the difference being in the preparation. Apparently you cook something almost the same as the original but you plate it differently? I don’t know, but foodiebuddha.com called deconstructed food “elaborate and artsy-fartsy,” so I was even more intrigued. Because I prefer a bit of mystery in my life I didn’t pursue this matter with Chef, I thought I would prefer to be surprised on the night of Taste. I did get a kick out of a quote from Anthony Bourdain who described a particular deconstructed dish by saying, “Intermittent flavors of the constituent elements mingle with the remembered taste of unified chowder.” When we’re talking about whole belly clams, that means the bivalve is prepared with its gastrointestinal tract intact, giving them a fuller flavor. According to Wikipedia, “sometimes the clam’s chewy siphon, also called the neck, is removed.” I don’t know if Chef will be removing any clam necks, but it’s reassuring to know they do indeed have them to begin with. This mac and cheese dish will be topped off with applewood smoked bacon, giving it a slightly sweeter flavor than regular hickory wood would. This can only lead to the age-old question: How much applewood would a woodchuck chuck if he was offered lobster macaroni and cheese?

Eagle Grille and Miller’s Dockside 220 Harbor Drive, Boca Grande 964-8000 Chef Antonio Olivero Crostini Bolognese: Ground Angus beef with fresh basil tomato sauce and parmigiana cheese; Serrano ham flatbread with pesto sauce. Whatever you do, don’t think bologna, don’t go there. The word is tricky to look at if you grew up in the era of bologna and white bread sandwiches like I did. Chef Antonio Olivero will be cooking up something far better than that. The word actually describes a sauce including ground beef – or in this case ground Angus beef – tomato, onion and herbs. If you refer back to our discussion on the crostini you’ll remember it’s a bit of dried toast with a delightful porous surface, insuring that the sauce and meat will hang onto that little piece of bread for dear life … tighter than Leonardo hung onto that door that Kate so rudely woudn’t let him share in Titanic. Chef Antonio will also bring out a dish that includes Serrano ham and flatbread with pesto. Serrano ham, according to the Boar’s Head website, “is truly the great Spanish ham,” so make sure you bow in its presence. Serrano ham is dry-cured for more than a year in the mountainous regions of Spain, giving it an intense flavor and a firm texture. It is usually served very thinly sliced. If you’re wondering how meat can stay good for more than a year in some cave somewhere in the mountains, there are several reasons. First, mountain air is drier which makes it easier to cure meat. Second, if you remove the excess fat, cartilage, nerves and veins that are found close to the bone on your cut of meat it does not spoil in the same manner that regular meat does. You can bleed your own meat by applying pressure with your fingers on the ham, working outward from the center of the piece of meat toward the tip of the ham. Like my mother always told me, “Never forget to remove the blood from the veins first, especially the ones found next to the bone.” She may not have been talking about pigs, but it sure applies here so thanks, Mom. Pesto is a mixture of garlic, basil and pine nuts blended with cheese and oil that originated in Genoa in the 16th century. Pesto actually means “to pound, or crush” and that is what you do with the solid ingredients of this sauce.