Taste of the Race pairs local cuisine with classic bangers
By Michelle Farnham
Feb. 20, 2024
SEASIDE – Seaside’s hottest ticket Friday night was the Taste of the Race culinary event, where modern cuisine met ’80s-era rock. Benefiting the Seaside Neighborhood School Foundation, 19 restaurants came together to offer guests a taste of their menus while competing for a trio of awards.
Several Seaside students were on hand early in the evening, either performing live on stage, or handing out VIP event hors d’oeuvres.
One of those students, McArtney Young, said the culinary program offered at the school has not only helped expand his mind, but also his palate.
“The best part is being able to try new things,” he explained. “I never liked bruschetta, and I don’t like tomatoes, but that’s what we’re serving today, so I got to try that and now I like it.”
Over at the restaurant tables, Chef Richard McCord was loading up his creation, BBQ cannoli, at the Marrow Private Chefs booth.
“This is a smoked brisket, chopped and tossed with pepper-jack cheese and barbecue sauce, inside a cannoli shell, finished with a cheese mornay and some pickled collard greens,” McCord explained, adding they came up with the dish just for this event. “This is a wonderful season at the beginning of the year, we get to do a lot of charity events and be in front of people. It kind of shows off our personality, the fun we have with the food we cook.”
The Marrow crew will get to be in front of more faces in the near future with the opening of their Marrow Chefs’ Bar, a 12-seat space allowing for intimate dining experiences, expected to go live in early April. Long-term the project includes a venue for up to 100 people.
Across the aisle, Shunk Gulley Oyster Bar manager Pete Gill and crew were doling out Southern-style Rockefeller Oysters.
“We do ours with creamy collard greens, cheddar, bacon and a little bit of buttered breadcrumbs on top,” Gill said at his very first TOR. “Everybody’s really enjoying them, and we’re all enjoying the atmosphere and the great party. I’m having a blast!”
Seaside newcomer 87 Central Square, Chef Jim Shirley’s newest South Walton concept, had easily the most generously portioned bites of the night with their marinated pork ribeye burrito with Spanish rice, beans, cheese and housemade cilantro aioli.
Nearby defending champion Pickle’s Burgers & Shakes brought a little sweet and savory with their chicken biscuit sandwich.
“This is one of our brand new breakfast items at Pickle’s,” explained co-owner Ashley Beecher of parent company The Dawson Group. “It’s our homemade chicken biscuits, smothered in sausage gravy and maple syrup.”
That biscuit caught favor with Chef Kyle Swift, who said it was in his top three. Swift was manning the table for his Swiftly Catered and Blue Mountain Bakery businesses, and his team put out a lobster and shrimp taquito.
“There’s a little corn and a lotta cheese mix blended in with that, chorizo, queso, salsa verde and some cotija cheese,” Swift said. Not to be outdone, they also served a key lime tart with toasted meringue and an espresso martini shot.
While guests bounced from booth-to-booth, UK-based ’80s rock band The Molly Ringwalds entertained, getting the crowd’s attention with such classic bangers as “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurythmics, “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC, and “Fight For Your Right” by the Beastie Boys. By the end of the night, a nostalgic dance party had broken out in front of the stage.
The evening was also a chance to celebrate the upcoming Seacoast Collegiate High School expansion project, a multi-million dollar permanent home for SCHS at the South Walton campus of Northwest Florida State College. While students in grades five through eight attend classes at the iconic Seaside school, those in ninth and 10th currently meet in five classrooms leased from the South Walton branch of NWFSC, while 11th and 12th grade students attend classes at the Niceville campus.
The evening concluded with the announcing of the restaurant awards, with Judge’s Choice going to Marrow Private Chefs, Chef’s Choice was presented to Daytrader Tiki Bar for its KFC Slider (a Korean-fried chicken sandwich with Asian slaw and house-made pickle), and the prestigious People’s Choice nod going to Jackacudas for its pork dumplings with miso soy beurre blanc.
Photos by Michelle Farnham