Caliza Pool plays host to seventh annual charity event
By Michelle Farnham
ALYS BEACH – A fall foodie fest might not call up images of an elegant poolside gathering under the stars, but with a venue as stunning as Caliza Pool, anything’s possible.
The seventh annual Savor The Season event brought together an all-star lineup of 10 chefs and an array of local breweries to tempt taste buds.
Phil Heppding of 30afoodandwine.com and Susan Benton of 30AEats.com served as judges, gave top marks to Chef Christopher Holbrook from Signature Catering of 30a for his foie gras and shrimp sushi spring rolls in a Thai chili dipping sauce, and specialty drinks.
“We have a hot sake ginger beer quail egg shot. It’s actually poaching the egg as we speak,” Holbrook said as he handed out glasses. “Then we have infused, chilled sake with lemongrass and red limes out of my garden, guava, cucumbers, grapes, raspberries and basil. It’s good stuff.”
Across the pool, Chef Camille Withall from George’s at Alys Beach worked on a burnt ends taco with a caramelized shiitake ketchup and apple chow-chow. She served this with the Ravenswood Belloni Ranch Zinfandel 2012.
“I don’t think it can get any more fall than this,” Withall admitted. “We have an abundance of mushrooms and apples and we incorporated that into one delicious meal.”
By Withall’s side was Heather Regan, pastry chef with the Spell Restaurant Group, who presented a gluten-free chocolate cake with red wine-simmered cherries and chocolate mousse, and an olive oil passion fruit truffle dipped in white chocolate and garnished with orange sugar.
Event host Caliza Restaurant fired up grilled baby octopus with roasted golden beets, Anson Mills’ farro, sherry vinegar mignonette and finished with Georgia olive oil.
“It’s 80 degrees out, so it’s kind of hard to think fall, that’s why we did the live fire out here to give the fall smell in the air,” explained Executive Chef Drew Dzejak. His dish was paired with the 2013 Franciscan Estate Cuvée Sauvage Chardonnay Carneros.
More than just a culinary celebration, the evening benefitted The Taylor Haugen Foundation and the Youth Equipment for Sports Safety (YESS) Program. Brian and Kathy Haugen lost their son Taylor – a 15-year-old Niceville High School football player – in 2008. Taylor took a hit to the abdomen, suffering a torn liver that later proved fatal.
The foundation awards six scholarships a year to local high school students, including The Taylor Haugen Trophy. The YESS program aims to get athletes into EvoShield compression shirts, which help protect internal organs from traumatic hits. A number of current NHS football players attended the Nov. 3 fundraiser, sporting the protective gear.
“The YESS program outfits every single football player from Pensacola to Bay County,” said Brian Haugen, who called the evening “the best one ever on every level.”
As of this season, YESS has provided shirts to 4,300 players in 13 states, across 75 schools.
Brian couldn’t say enough good things about the culinary masterminds behind the scenes.
“We are absolutely taken aback and touched by how much love and support the chefs pour into this event,” he said. “They get there hours and hours in advance to get everything perfect and the food they serve is the top of the line. They’re amazing.”
Chef Mark Eichin of Restaurant Paradis said the charity holds a special place in his heart.
“I used to be a student athlete myself, playing in college, and I understand a lot of what’s going into it,” he said. “I love being able to give back to the local high schools and give other kids an opportunity to go play.”
On the food side, Eichin offered up a barbecue pork belly atop crostini, with a poached quail egg and smoked apple bourbon butter. He offered this with the 2012 Wild Horse Cheval Sauvage Pinot Noir.
“It’s a little bit brighter in the cherry,” the chef said of the wine. “I did it with the pork fat to cut a little of the acidity and also you’ve got the richness from the quail egg and the butter really matches well with the cherry.”
Also rising to the occasion were chefs Dan Vargo of Seagars Prime Steaks and Seafood, Chris Mongogna of NOLA Boiling Co., Bake My Day Destin’s Heidi McAnulla, Ruston Johnson from Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Culinary Catering 365’s Heyward McKenzie and Todd Misener of Stinky’s Fish Camp.