The Joy of Cooking for
Seven Celebrity Chefs
When we first bought the vineyard, I had no idea what I was doing. Farming, septic, well, winemaking…It was all so foreign. How did it all get done? How was I going to do it? Talk about stress!
I remember my first harvest. I was truly a doe in the tractor headlights. The concept of harvesting my grapes and getting them onto the crush pad was daunting. Assembling a team that was as passionate as I was about wine and farming made this undertaking far less intimidating. With their help, my confidence built over time, my stress melted away, and joy replaced my fear.
Twelve years later, my level of confidence in farming, country living and even winemaking has grown exponentially. They have become intrinsic parts of my life. Consequently, I am now able to host at our vineyard farmhouse with ease. My most recent gathering included seven celebrity chefs.
Remember my friend, Chef Kent Rathbun? He visited me in June. He also shared some useful tips about grilling in my first “Featured” Section: Grilling Tips and Tricks from Chef Kent Rathbun.
Chef Rathbun called to tell me that he was coming into town with some good friends. If you recall, I said that they are the kind of people that you can’t wait to see again. So, I invited them to our vineyard farmhouse because any friends of Kent & Tracy’s are friends of mine.
The Saturday before they arrived, I called Chef Rathbun and asked “By the way, who are these friends of yours?” He nonchalantly said “They are celebrity chefs from the Dallas Area and their wives.” Then he shared their names with me.
These superhero chefs included Dean Fearing of Fearings Restaurant, Richard Chamberlain of Chamberlain’s Steak And Chop House, Jim “Sevy” Severson of Sevy’s Grill, Kevin Garvin author of Neiman Marcus Cooks, David Holben of Del Frisco’s, Nick Barclay of Fish & Fizz and, of course, Kent Rathbun. Collectively, they have raised over $3 million for The American Cancer Society through The Cattle Baron’s Ball in Dallas. They are exceptional human beings.
As I sat in my garden reading about each of them, I said out loud “What have I done?”
These are SERIOUS chefs with restaurants all over the world, catering companies, television shows, James Beard Awards, CIA training, and cookbooks. I felt the same level of stress and intimidation that I did as a new wine grape grower. Seriously, what had I gotten myself into?
After the initial panic wore off, the motivational self-talk began. I got my head in the game and focused on the details that would make the evening most memorable.
I didn’t let myself think too much about the cumulative years of cooking skills that this group had. After all, they knew that I was not a trained chef and this was not a competition. (more of the motivational self-talk)
My mise en place (a culinary term for organizing and preparing for cooking) extended over three days. I had a plan, a very detailed plan that doubled as an anti-anxiety remedy. Focus conquers fear in my experience.
I settled on a Cajun Menu as this is in my wheelhouse, being a New Orleans native.
For appetizers, I decided on a Crab Mornay dip with toasted baguette slices and crawfish tails in my very secret cocktail sauce on endive leaves.
For the main event, I chose a sausage and shrimp jambalaya. I had Manda’s Sausage from Louisiana shipped in and ordered Gulf Shrimp from my friends at Osprey Seafood.
Since it would be a casual evening, I thought that Po’ Boy Sandwiches would be in order. I included shrimp and oyster Po’ Boys with my homemade Remoulade sauce…a spicy addition that would complement the crunchy coated shrimp and oysters.
I still had tomatoes and basil in the garden, so I added in a Caprese Salad with fresh Burrata Cheese and a balsamic vinegar glaze.
For dessert, I ordered traditional N’awlins Aunt Sally’s Pralines.
I served my Mount Veeder Magic Vineyards Cab, Progeny’s Trinity Blanc, and Abita Beer from Louisiana. As a non-alcoholic option, I made a peach mango iced tea since it is Chef Kent Rathbun’s favorite.
Our DJ, Alexa would accommodate us by playing traditional New Orleans Jazz.
Giving my guests gifts is somewhat of a tradition for me. Since chefs love salt, I made lemon salt and wine salt with my Mount Veeder Magic Vineyards Cab. I packaged them in glass spice jars. I used clear pony tail holders to secure the perforated kraft paper tags around the lid. This added a farmers market look to my homemade favors.
The gaggle of 12 arrived in 2 cars. As this first half arrived and they poured out of the van, Dean Fearing asked my husband, Greg “Where does that road lead?” (Dean is passionate, animated and oh so much fun). Greg replied that it was the access road to the vineyard blocks with our 30+ year-old vines.
With the enthusiasm of someone in line for a theme park ride, Dean expressed his overwhelming desire to go there. Greg disappeared for a moment then emerged from our barn with our Honda Pioneer and a bottle of my Mount Veeder Magic Vineyards Cab. I find it to be bad luck to be in the vineyard without a glass of my wine in hand. They piled in and Greg took the first heat up to see my ‘old guys’.
The remainder of us gathered on the porch. I shared champagne as well as a little history about our nearly hundred-year-old farmhouse. We chatted until we were overwhelmed by the sounds of the crunch of the ATV on the gravel and the spirited voices of its passengers.
There was a changing of the guard as the first set of folks exited the ATV and the curious and animated second group ventured into the vineyard with Greg at the helm.
It was time for me to get serious in the kitchen, so off I went. The appetizers were a hit. The Crab Mornay, was thoroughly enjoyed by all. Every one seemed to be settling in and enjoying the many spaces I created in the house for guests to experience. It was heartwarming.
At this point, I was completely focused on preparing the Po’ Boys. This involves an egg wash and a flour and cornmeal mixture. Step one is to coat the shrimp and oysters in the flour/cornmeal mixture. Step two is to dip them in the egg wash. Step three is to put them back into the flour/cornmeal mixture. It is a messy process that is best done with your hands.
Richard Chamberlain and David Holben came into the kitchen and bellied up to my island. You could tell that they really wanted to be a part of what I was doing, yet also respected that they were in my kitchen. It was so kind. They asked if I could use their help with anything. I remember saying “Uuuuuhhhhmmmm…” In my head, I was thinking “Really, Karen, that’s the best you’ve got?”
Richard and David offered to take over the Po’ Boy prep. I thought this was a great idea and I passed this task on to them …instructing them to dip in the dry mixture, then the egg, then the dry mixture again. They both chuckled that I was giving them direction. So did I. Clearly, my confidence was building.
Since the Po’ Boys were in the capable hands of Richard and David, I moved on to the jambalaya. As I lifted the lid and stirred it, Dean Fearing appeared. He sampled a shrimp and made some happy noises while telling me how good it was. I offered him a slice of the Cajun Sausage. I heard “Mmmm” then Dean asking “Have you guys tasted this? This is so well seasoned!” Dean Fearing was giving me high praise. Pinch me!
Kent, Nick, Kevin, and Sevy then joined us in the kitchen and rolled up their sleeves as well. Kent made himself at home with my deep fryer. (Notice how I am using their names without “Chef” in fromt of them? 🙂 )
Before I knew it, we were all in the kitchen. My intimidating task had evolved to friends cooking together and my stress had melted away. I stopped and looked around. These seven talented chefs (my sous chefs 🙂 were beaming with joy and laughter. I welled up a bit and announced “I could die right now and be a happy woman.” I heard a resounding and heartfelt “Aw!” from the entire lot.
Everyone who knows me will tell you that I am ‘all about the food’. I believe that cooking should be joyful. The thought, time and energy that goes into shopping for, preparing and plating it all matters. Food tastes better when love and care are two of the main ingredients.
We put the finishing touches on everything and arranged it on the island buffet-style. We piled our plates high and retreated to the back porch. New Orleans Jazz filled the night air and we enjoyed the food that we had prepared together.
We turned the dessert course into a birthday celebration for Jim (Sevy) as his birthday was just days away. Dean accompanied us on the guitar as we sang “Happy Birthday”. Sevy was so touched by this surprise celebration and the gift of being with his long time friends who are also family. The good times were definitely rolling.
The evening was such a dream come true for me. Having people in my kitchen who share the same level of passion for cooking as I do is indescribable and something I will not soon forget.
Gratitude, joy and laughter flowed around my kitchen island, on my porch, in my vineyard and at my table. I like to think that everyone who visits deposits some amount of love. My bank was completely full that evening.
While it may seem that this evening was simply one of my gatherings, it also taught me something. Often, stress paves the way to something wonderful. Sometimes, when fear takes over, you need to have the courage to do it anyway.
I am thankful that I had the courage to allow my fear to pave the way to farming a vineyard and to hosting these accomplished chefs. I am truly honored to add each of these chefs and their amazing wives to my circle of friends. I offer a heartfelt “thank you” to each of them for gracing our home and for giving me the honor of cooking for them. Laissez les bon temps rouler!
A Note of Thanks
I want to acknowledge Marta Pedraza and Robert Baumgartner for their part in this and all of my gatherings.
Marta helps me keep the house running and is extremely helpful in the kitchen as she is also a chef. I am so fortunate and appreciative to have her on my team.
Robert Baumgartner is as detail-oriented as I am, charismatic and an essential part of the Mount Veeder Magic Vineyards Team and our personal lives. My clients love him and he always adds to our gatherings.
I offer a thousand thank-yous to you both.