Behind the Scenes at Savannah’s Celebrity Chef Event

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I remember reading a movie review for Star Wars: Episode 3 when it came out a bunch of years back and it said “This movie starts faster than anything has since Saving Private Ryan.”

I spent my entire afternoon and evening in the trenches with the people who helped bring together the James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Dinner at The Mansion Wednesday night and I can tell you that all but four were not “celebrities”.  About 50, maybe 60 people worked their backsides off to make Savannah’s Celebrity Chef event a tremendous success.

Yeah, everyone wants to see Hugh Acheson.  The rock star chef who is about to open The Florence on Victory Drive in Savannah, but did you know that Kyle Jacovino, the chef who is actually going to be the Executive Chef at The Florence and live here in Savannah was as big a part of the evening as anyone else?

It was fascinating to watch.

Chef Hugh Acheson Steve Satterfield, Owner and Executive Chef of Miller Union in Atlanta, Chris Hastings, Owner and Chef at Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham, Elizabeth Terry, formerly of Elizabeth on 37th, and Hugh Acheson were in Savannah Wednesday night to take part in the James Beard Foundations Celebrity Chef Tour Dinner.  The history of these types of dinners are a story of their own but we’ll talk about that another time.  Wednesday night was about Savannah.  Wednesday night was about the great people in this town with a passion for culinary greatness all coming together with one common goal.  You add Executive Chef Geir Kilen of The Mansion on Forsyth Park to the mix as well as Jean Vendeville of Savannah Technical College and you have a pretty high octane group for Savannah.

You’ll see the entire day play out for itself on an upcoming episode of our TV Show Eat It and Like It, but I can tell you the day was fascinating.  I arrived a little bit after the lunch hour to find Chef Chris busy at work rendering duck fat for his dish while a couple of dozen assistants from Savannah Technical College were busy chopping, prepping, sorting for these men.  There was a lot of  “yes chef, no chef.”  They knew the importance of the moment.

The quote of the day goes to Garron Gore, Food and Beverage Director for The Mansion on Forsyth Park.  At 3:00pm there was a “Front of the House” meeting.  The point where all of the service staff  (the group that would do all the interaction with the evening’s guests) were told what the expectations were for the night.  This wasn’t another wedding banquet from Colorado.  This was for real.

“This is the most important dinner this restaurant has ever done.  This is the James Beard Foundation.  The Oscars for food.”

I will be honest, at that point?  I got a little excited.  Like a prize fighter ready to climb into the ring.  It was pretty darn cool to understand the magnitude of the expectations for the evening.

Then the bullets started to fly.

Doors opened about 7:00pm.  Dinner was set to start at 7:30pm.  In the kitchen?  About 7:10pm the tone changed dramatically.  The smiles were getting shorter and the game faces were getting stronger.  It was clear this was a show and the people in that kitchen were going to make sure it was the best show they could make it.  There was no room for drama or missteps.  The men in charge wouldn’t allow it.

Chris Hastings Duck 3 ways. Confit, Foie Gras and Seared Breast

First course belonged to Elizabeth Terry.  What a sweet, wonderful woman.  Her Crab Salad was simple, tasty and a crowd favorite.   Chef Kilen’s Chilean Sea Bass was next, followed by courses from the three award winners in the group.  I’d watching Chef Chris (Hastings) sear duck breasts, duck liver and prepare duck confit for hours.  Yeah, safe to say his dish would include duck.  Quick aside, if you love to cook, you haven’t lived until you’ve enjoyed the scent of shallots thyme and chantrelle mushrooms sauteed down in rendered out duck fat and butter.  But I digress.

The crowd loved it.  With each course, each chef came out and introduced what they were offering for the evening and the crowd ate it all up.  And liked it of course.  I saw many smiling faces in that room of 200 Wednesday night.  The wine pairings were exceptional well.  Not a complaint in the house.

I took a random sampling of the room as to which course was the most popular and true to form there was no consensus.  Some liked one dish more than others.  The love was spread across the board.  Award winning chefs in our city spending time teaching students from Savannah Technical College, along side some of the finest restaurant staff in town.  It was a win-win for everyone.

Savannah was the biggest winner Wednesday night.  Time will prove us right.

See you on TV.

Jesse

Eat It and Like It launched in Savannah, Georgia with television personality Jesse Blanco as the host. His passion for food and travel has made Eat It and Like It a two-time EMMY nominated program about contemporary and traditional Southern food.

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Eat It and Like It launched in Savannah, Georgia with television personality Jesse Blanco as the host. His passion for food and travel has made Eat It and Like It a two-time EMMY nominated program about contemporary and traditional Southern food.

2 Comments

  1. Ctv@loopandleaf.com'

    Wonderful article, Jesse. It was great to have you snapping some wonderful shots last night! But I must correct that Chef Elizabeth Terry was actually the first James Beard Award Winner that presented food last (Best Chef Southeast, 1996). It was a wonderful event and we were excited to be a part of it!

    • You are correct, and it is corrected. What a pleasure to meet you! Hope you enjoy the rest of your week in Savannah