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Story by Chad Thurman
Meet Chef Kevin Purdy of the Highlands House Café & Bar in Santa Rosa Beach.
Chef Purdy envisions and creates the menu using his experiences, influences, and educational knowledge to offer coastally inspired and French technique influenced meals. Purdy credits the free and creative atmosphere that Highlands House owner Marc Russack encourages as instrumental to the variety of the menu he has crafted for the guests of Highlands House.
Recently, 30afoodandwine.com spent a few minutes with Chef Kevin to discover his influences and inspirations for his menu.
Chef Purdy’s Highlands House style in his own words:
“The menu is all my creation. Marc has been very generous in letting me have free rein to show my influences, my style of cooking. He has been very supportive of my influences that span a whole lot of different regions and styles of cooking.
I grew up in Miami where the food is a melting pot of South American, Cuban, Haitian, Bahamian, and other Caribbean cuisines. My family had a scuba diving cruise company, and we would take people out on weeklong scuba diving trips. I’d always worked for them growing up, and one day I started cooking on the boats for the passengers. I took an interest in that while we were out cruising the Bahamas catching fish straight from the water and going to the galley to make sashimi sushi, or pulling conch off the bottom of the ocean and making conch salad. It was an incredible job; it was a lot of fun. That was where it all began; ever since I was born my parents have been in the hospitality yachting industry. That’s where I got my passion to cook.
The first restaurant I ever worked at was a Peruvian restaurant at the Sonesta Hotel in Coconut Grove. I worked there for about a year then I took a job at an Italian restaurant. All the while I was going to Florida International University studying restaurant management and hospitality. I started to realize how much I loved cooking while taking classes and cooking in these restaurants. That’s when I decided that I wanted to go to Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. I began studies at CIA in 2007 and graduated in 2009.
While studying at CIA, I moved from New York to Charleston and did an internship at the Peninsula Grill under Chef Bob Carter, who is a James Beard nominated chef. It was a really phenomenal restaurant with South Carolina Lowcountry influenced southern cuisine but with a French technique.
After I graduated CIA, I went to Nashville which is where my career got a kick start. I worked at the Capitol Grill in the Hermitage Hotel under Chef Tyler Brown, who is also a James Beard nominated chef. Then I went to work at F. Scott’s in Nashville which is kind of a Southern-French fusion, a Southern style but with a French technique. I started to get a lot of wine knowledge working there too. Paring food and wine is one of my passions.
From there I went to Watermark Restaurant in Nashville under Chef Bob Wagner, another James Beard nominated chef. It is in a booming spot right downtown; a high end modern place. I went on board there and during my time there we filmed a PBS TV show called Sing for Your Supper recorded at the Ryman Auditorium. We would prepare meals for different singers and musicians who would have to literally sing for their supper. We would cook on stage, and I would showcase a dish that I was making – it was a blast. My fiancé and I moved to South Walton in 2013, and I took a job at Marina Café. I was there about one year before I came aboard with Highlands House this past May.
With my cooking style, Chef Wagner is definitely one of my biggest influences; he brought all of the finesse together for me. He cooked in France for several years and his influences on me are largely French – heavily sauce based. Everything I make in-house from scratch. We do our own stocks, our own sauces, and our own accompaniments. Definitely something that Wagner instilled in me was that you can always make food better.”
Chef Purdy’s diverse coastal history and the educational experiences of having cooked with some of the best culinary artists in the industry enable him the creative vision for food that is much sought after by casual diners and foodies alike. The adventurous spirit to cooking that he retains from his days in the galley while on scuba tour through the Caribbean is embodied in the flavors of his food, while his inventiveness is evident through dishes like his Korean inspired bibimbap kimchi burger, or his German influenced pumpkin spaetzle dish. With the many tapas style offerings and entrée dishes drawn from his extensive background, Chef Kevin Purdy of Highlands House will certainly have your new favorite on his menu.
Story by Sarah Murphy Robertson
They say fish is brain food, which is just what Chef Christopher Holbrook of Signature Catering of 30-A anticipates our new Gulf to Table events will ultimately serve up. When asked what these dinners will bring to 30A, he was quick to answer: “Education for the consumer. Our menus will highlight lesser-known fish; providing a platform for helping both local fishermen and our area’s ecosystem.”
Chef Christopher is excited for these private meals to provide one-on-one dialogues on fishing practices in our area. He is well-versed on the many factors driving the popularity of specific fish, and is ready to bring his knowledge to his diners’ culinary repertoires.
His Gulf to Table menus will emphasize a balanced progression; keeping it fresh and straightforward. “To me, the fish is the star and so that will always be my first focus” promises the chef. While his career’s spanned decades and time zones, most recently he notes his role in encouraging healthy lifestyle choices. His clients are health conscious but also food-savvy. He strives to push his food’s creativity, while also keeping them fit.
And, what is fine dining without exquisite wine? All of the signature event meals will offer unique pairings personally fashioned by 30afoodandwine.com’s partner, Chan’s Wine World. Guests should expect the unexpected and be ready to find some new favorites.
Informing diners, supporting local fishermen, improving our ecosystem, eating healthily…all while enjoying mouthwatering dishes and wine? Sounds like a pretty smart move!
Gulf to Table Signature Events with Chef Christopher at the helm can be reserved through 30afoodandwine.com. The inaugural meal will be held Saturday November 8th. For tickets please call 850.687.3776 or email [email protected]
24215 S Hwy 331
Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459
Waterfront dining taken to the next level
Whether “Sitting on the Dock of…” or thinking about being “Down by…,” the bay is always
portrayed as a relaxing atmosphere with elements of nostalgia and comfort. Jim Shirley’s Santa
Rosa Beach waterfront eatery The Bay lives up to those sentiments exactly.
This family-friendly restaurant sits on a private beach on the Choctawhatchee Bay at the foot of
the 331 bridge. Between the cuisine, an extensive beer and wine menu, hand-crafted cocktails,
regular live music, and unparalleled water views from both the outdoor dining and bar areas,
The Bay is like no other restaurant in Walton County.
Shirley’s first local endeavor, Great Southern Café, was such a smashing success (and continues
to be, as evidenced by the wait during busy hours), the demand for more of his savory cuisine
resulted in the openings of The Bay, The Meltdown on 30A, Forty-Five Central, and Baytowne
The Bay’s prime location, fun atmosphere, and celebrated menu make it a favorite of both
locals and tourists alike. In short, Shirley knows the recipe for restaurant success.
“Outdoor seating is a must in Santa Rosa Beach,” he explained, adding, “What comes out of the
kitchen” is the most important attribute of all. And even though each of his concepts follows its
own playbook, Shirley said that there are certain flavors that, as a chef, he finds himself drawn
to: “smoky, salty, garlic-heat, tangy-acidic” and anything “from new sources.”
Lunch, brunch, or dinner
The mouthwatering, eclectic menus vary from dinner to lunch to brunch, and each presents the
diner with the difficult decision of choosing an order. The dinner menu presents a large
selection of small plate starters, including Fried Ellsworth Wisconsin White Cheddar Cheese
Curds (served with Hog Island dipping sauce), Point Washington Rolls (a Southern take on
Spring Rolls made with alligator tasso and poblano), and classic beach fare Crab Cakes (made
with jumbo lump crab and basil, cilantro, mint and sake buerre blanc).
It’s important to save room for signature dinner plates, or large plates, such as Faux Ya Ya (The
Bay’s take on Shrimp and Grits made with grilled fontina polenta cakes on a bed of arugula with
a sauté of pancetta, prosciutto, crimini mushrooms and cream, then topped with herb-sautéed
shrimp). Fried oysters are served with a smoked Vidalia onion tartar sauce, while the seafood
platter includes fried oysters, blackened shrimp and grilled fish. If the diner is wanting to stray
from coastal cuisine, the 14-ounce hand-cut ribeye, tender 8-ounce filet mignon, or the Bomber
Burger (with caramelized onions, an asiago cheese crisp and a roasted tomato) will satisfy
The lunch menu also includes fish tacos (fried fish loaded into corn tortillas with cilantro,
onions, and corn-tomato-green chili relish) and Thai pork tacos (crispy pork tossed in an Asian
sweet and spicy marine in corn tortillas with grilled pineapple).
Brunch is a special occasion in itself, and The Bay’s Brunch Menu happily adopts that
philosophy with The Bay Breakfast (bacon, two fried eggs, villa tasso potatoes, and house-made
cheddar, herb and bacon biscuit), the Crab Cake Benedict (served over fried eggplant and two
poached eggs with hollandaise), and Chicken and Waffles, with maple bourbon syrup.
There is even a special menu for the younger patrons, which includes such favorite items as fish
bites, fried shrimp, chicken fingers, grilled cheese and pasta with marina sauce.
A highly-celebrated sushi menu is also available and made fresh to order, including a spicy tuna
roll, a Kelli Roll (with ginger shrimp, spicy tuna, avocado, eel sauce, soy wrap, cream cheese and
extra sesame), and the Mr. Billy Roll (with yellowfin tuna, tempura crunch, green onion, and
spicy tuna on top). Also not to be missed is the Hot Mess Roll, made with jumbo lump crab,
spicy krab salad, and avocado, panko breaded and deep fried then topped with spicy mayo, eel
sauce, green onions and sesame seeds).
An extensive wine menu to quench every palette and a 12-draft beer system round out any
occasion nicely, and with regularly-scheduled special events and a beach bonfire with live music
every Wednesday night, The Bay is a memorable occasion just waiting to happen.
The Bay is located at 24215 Highway 331 South in Santa Rosa Beach, and can be reached seven
days a week from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., or on Sundays for brunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., by
calling 850-622-2291. Reservations are not accepted, and more information can be found by