On your mark, get set, eat!
Emeril Lagasse headlines Taste of the Race culinary event on 30A
Food Network star announces Grand Boulevard restaurant will be “coastal Italian”
By Michelle Farnham
March 9th, 2017
Carb-loading before a big race is a ritual for many seasoned runners. At the Taste of the Race event – the precursor to the Seaside School Half Marathon & 5K Run – athletes get to “pregame” with the likes of world-famous chef Emeril Lagasse and the top culinary players in the South Walton food scene.
The Friday night food event sold out with over 750 tickets issued, as did the race, with proceeds benefiting the Seaside School Foundation, the organization which helps fund Seaside Neighborhood School.
As residents of the area, Chef Lagasse and his wife Alden – who is on the board – have two children currently attending Seaside. It’s that drive as a father and neighbor that inspires the famous chef to lend his time and talents to the cause.
“As a resident of the community, I just want to see things evolve at Seaside,” Lagasse said. “It’s amazing for the community. I mean, I wish I could come to school here!”
More than dine-and-dash
Alicia Butler, executive director of the Seaside School Foundation, said money raised over the entire race weekend goes to supplement state funding, and is used for technology, music, arts and the gardening program.
With the help of the Lagasses, school executives, Seaside founder Robert Davis, and local chefs, the pre-race meal has evolved over the years from a simple pasta dinner to one of the great food and beverage events on the coast.
“There’s so much love here it’s unbelievable, and it gives people a taste of the panhandle,” Lagasse pointed out. “You know what? We have so much talent here, we have so much great food and great chefs and restaurants, but nobody knows about them. To be able to tie that in with the school – to make the community even better – makes me really happy.”
Butler credited the work of many for the event’s success.
“It’s really become a community event,” Butler said. “Everybody volunteers their time and services, and staff members of all these organizations volunteer, too. It’s just amazing how the community comes together for this event.”
A lucky few attended a VIP reception with event co-chairs Lagasse, Chef Jim Shirley, and Chef Jim Richard. Foodies will know Shirley from his restaurants, including The Great Southern Café, 45 Central, The Meltdown on 30A, The Baytowne Melt, and The Bay, while Richard has brought local diners Stinky’s Fish Camp and Trebeaché.
Shirley and chefs Michael Mix (The Bay) and Tim Plowick (The Great Southern Café) served up a twist on Ya Ya Pizza and Faux Ya Ya, respectively.
“When it comes to the Seaside school, “I’m all in,” Shirley said. “I’m on the school board and it’s a group I cherish. As a merchant of Seaside, I really love having the kids here.”
Alongside Trebeaché Chef David Cunningham, Richard was dishing out a Louisiana Crawfish and Tasso Ragout with Potato Gratin. Like Lagasse, he has two kids in the Seaside schools, and couldn’t be more proud of the way the charter has evolved.
“I’ve lived in a lot of places and it really is unparalleled,” he said of the school. “Supporting this school, supporting the community is really important for all of our businesses, for everyone who lives here. You can’t say enough about it.”
Richard had easily the youngest sous chef on his line, in Seaside Neighborhood School sixth-grader George Bailey. Bailey said his duties for the evening included “a little bit of cooking, but a lot of helping out, serving, giving food to people and smiling.”
Bailey admitted cooking is just a hobby for him; he has his sights set on becoming a stock broker, a career that will be bolstered by his love of math and a challenging curriculum at Seaside.
“It’s the most wonderful school; it pushes you. It has a great environment and the teachers are amazing,” Bailey said of SNS.
The dish on the dishes
There were eats-a-plenty, with 21 chefs coming together to present everything from Mullet Cake with Remoulade Sauce (Grayton Seafood Co.), to the Gulf Seafood Cioppino with Cheese Toast (Fish Out of Water), to bite-sized desserts from Sweet Henrietta’s. Drinks were poured from Grayton Beer Company, Buffalo Trace and The Craft Bar.
Atlanta resident Joanie Fagan and her four girlfriends make a special trip to Seagrove every year for a girls’ weekend, centered around the Taste of the Race event.
“We love the food, and it’s even better this year,” Fagan said.
Chef Gregg Smith brought a Southern Slider from 30A newcomer Surfing Deer. The dish featured hot honey fried chicken, peach marmalade, a ginger pickle and a house-made buttermilk biscuit.
Like many under the tent on the Lyceum Lawn, Smith and Surfing Deer owners George and Ann Hartley have a vested interested in the school.
“The Hartleys have been a part of this community for many, many years. Their children went to this school, and my 24-year-old daughter went to this school in 6, 7 and 8th grade,” Smith said.
Kevin Korman, the culinary mastermind behind Roselie Dining & Seafood Bar, kept diners on their toes with his offering.
“This is a little play on shrimp and grits, but it’s reversed,” he explained. “It’s a grit fritter, and on the bottom is charred shrimp in a tomato sofrito, and then we did a sweet and spicy tomato and pepper jam.”
New restaurant on the horizon
The folks from Emeril’s Homebase have been pretty tight-lipped about the culinary master’s next venture at Grand Boulevard – his 14th eatery.
Lagasse did let it slip that his new restaurant is “going to be Italian – very coastal – not just spaghetti and meatballs … It’s going to be damn good.”
Located next to the Carmike Boulevard 10, the restaurant will feature “food graffiti” courtesy of a New Orleans mural artist.
Many of the local chefs were excited to have a name as big as Emeril Lagasse shining the spotlight on their burgeoning culinary mecca.
“It really puts us on the map as a restaurant destination,” Richard said. “You can look at our tourist development numbers, and restaurants are the number two reason people come here. For those of us who have been in the business a long time and owned restaurants, we know that he’ll raise the bar because everyone’s going to have to step up a little bit. That’s only going to make our restaurant scene better, by him being here.”
Korman thought it was no coincidence Lagasse chose South Walton for his next venture: it’s the next big thing.
“That exactly why we decided to open a restaurant here,” he said of Roselie, that opened at Inlet Beach in June of 2016. “We thought about a lot of other locations … but ultimately we decided here for that reason: it’s about to pop.”
Perhaps Shirley said it best. “Emeril’s lived here for a while and we enjoy that, and now he’s going to do his thing, that’s great. It’s on!”
To close out the evening, Lagasse joined the band Masterpiece on stage, dancing with the crowd and even saddling up behind the drum set for a song.