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James Beard Foundation celebrates best of American cuisine, wine with Celebrity Chef Tour

  • Courtesy Savannah Food & Wine Festival

James Beard Foundation celebrates best of American cuisine, wine with Celebrity Chef Tour

02 Nov 2016

The James Beard Awards are known as the Oscars of the food world. While they are the highest honor a chef or beverage professional can receive, the James Beard Foundation doesn’t want to just glorify these professionals — they want to educate, inspire, entertain and foster an appreciation of American cuisine. And to do that, they bring these talented chefs together for an experience to remember known as the Celebrity Chef Tour.

For the fourth year in a row, the Savannah Food & Wine Festival brings the Celebrity Chef Tour to Savannah. The dinner is a celebration of camaraderie between James Beard Foundation award-winning or nominated guest celebrity chefs and some of Savannah’s best chefs to create a unique dinner experience through an interactive, multi-course dinner. The evening also features world-renowned winemakers, master sommeliers and beverage experts who complement each course with the perfect wine for a one-of-a-kind dining experience.  

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The James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Tour Dinner will take place on Nov. 9 at Cohen’s Retreat. The event begins with a champagne reception and passed hors d’oeuvres at 6 p.m. and dinner starts at 7 p.m. Tickets are $185 per person. Proceeds from this dinner benefit the James Beard Foundation.

While the venue is new this year, the 2016 Celebrity Chef Tour Dinner also features a record seven James Beard Foundation award-winning chefs.

One of the first chefs you will meet that evening is Michael Sullivan, who will offer a one-of-a-kind tutorial with his charcuterie display. Sullivan is the butcher at Creekstone Farms and he is known for bringing unique spices and flavors to a variety of meats to create innovative dishes.

Another visiting chef is Lionel Vatinet of La Farm Bakery in Cary, N.C., who will create the artisan breads for the evening. Vatinet is a James Beard Foundation award semi-finalist for Outstanding Baker and is known for his depth of knowledge, from growing and milling to fermentation and baking.

Michael Ginor will create the second course. Ginor is the president of Hudson Valley Foie Gras in Ferndale, N.Y., and the executive chef of Lola in Great Neck, N.Y. For the past 20 years, Ginor has altered the world of foie gras and received the Angel Award from the James Beard Foundation as well as the American Master Taste Award from the American Tasting Institution. He is also known for his proficiency in Mexican, Mediterranean, Singaporean and British cuisine.

Kelly English is responsible for the third course of the evening. He is the executive chef/owner of Restaurant Iris and Second Line in Memphis, Tenn. English was recognized as a James Beard Award semi-finalist for Best Chef Southeast and he achieved the title “Prince of Porc” in the National Cochon555.

For the fourth course, Ryan Prewitt, executive chef of Peche in New Orleans, will create fried cobia served in a spicy shellfish broth with pickled collard and kale greens. Prewitt was named the May 2014 James Beard Foundation Best Chef South; his Peche Seafood Grill also won the James Beard Award for best New Restaurant the same year.

John Currence, chef and owner of City Restaurant Group in Oxford, Miss., will take the lead for the dinner this year and create the fifth course. He is this year’s James Beard Foundation Best Chef South winner and received Restaurateur of the Year and Chef of the Year from the Mississippi Restaurant Association in 1998 as well as the Southern Foodways Alliance Guardian Tradition Award in 2006. He is known as a leader on the food scene in Oxford, branding his six restaurants as “the Dine-asty.”

And rounding out the main dishes for the evening with a tamarind braised beef short rib is Sue Zemanick, who is the former executive chef at Gautreau’s & Ivy’s in New Orleans. Known for her unique spin on the tastes of New Orleans, Zemanick has been a James Beard Award Finalist for Rising Star Chef three years consecutively and has made several appearances on Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters.” She also received Chef of the Year from New Orleans magazine and was named a Top Ten Best New Chef by Food & Wine.

Local chefs Dusty Grove from Pacci Italian Kitchen + Bar and Lauren Teague from the Atlantic will create the passed hors d’oeuvres for the reception, and Jean-Yves Vendeville, department head of the Culinary Institute at Savannah Technical College, will make a return appearance at the dinner to create the dessert: pinot gris-saffron poached pears with vanilla bean panna cotta, stewed spiced cranberry and tawny port reduction.

Grove, a Savannah native, will also create the first course featuring oysters from the nearby UGA Oyster Hatchery.

When asked if he thought there would be a James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Tour Dinner in his hometown when he started his career, Grove shakes his head and says, “No, never in a million years.”

“Back in the ’70s and ’80s when I was coming up, downtown Savannah was not the best place to be ... It’s great now and I love it. The restaurant scene is getting big ... and the restaurant scene in Savannah is growing. I think Charleston losing Johnson & Wales helped Savannah’s food scene. Charleston kind of had the monopoly on Lowcountry cooking and I think once they lost their talent pool, the guys coming into the region started looking at other places.

“And Savannah is just a given, to me. It’s beautiful.

“... I came back to Savannah because of the water. I grew up with grandparents having a place in Vernonburg. I fished and sailed and skied ... had oyster roasts ... and shrimp boils. I just love it ... All my kids can throw a cast net and that’s awesome.”

Grove adds that while the Savannah food scene is growing, he feels the potential for where Savannah can go is huge.

“We sit on a pretty good space for food. We are on the water and with Georgia farms and the Lowcountry, we can do just about anything here ... We are in a pretty darn good fertile area for foodies.”



What: James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Tour

When: Nov. 9; 6-10 p.m.

Where: Cohen’s Retreat

Cost: $185 per person



Menu for James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Tour

Reception 6-7 p.m.

Hors d’oeuvres

Charcuterie display by Michael Sullivan, butcher at Creekstone Farms

Dusty Grove, executive chef, PACCI Italian Kitchen + Bar, Savannah

Rabbit Galantine, Heirloom Carrot Chip, Pickled Mustard Seeds, Cabbage Emulsion, Pacci Meatball, Parmesan Fricco, Red Pepper Romesco

Lauren Teague, executive chef, Atlantic, Savannah

Pan Seared Duck Breast, Sweet Potato, Green Tomato Chow Chow, Lemon Scallop, Sweet Peas, Artichoke, Radish Salad

Wine: Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Brut, Stella Artois Beer, Torres “Pazo das Bruxas” Albariño, Rias Baixas, Spain 2015 and Torres “Ibericos” Crianza, Rioja, Spain

Artisan Breads

Lionel Vatinet, La Farm Bakery, Cary, N.C.


First Course

Dusty Grove, executive chef, PACCI Italian Kitchen + Bar

Oyster Duo: Raw with Campari, Grapefruit and Cucumber and Fried Oyster Saybayon, Roasted Oyster Mushrooms (or Brown Beech), Red Frill Baby Mustard Greens

Wine: 2014 Stonestreet Sauvignon Blanc, Alexander Valley, Calif.


Second Course

Michael Ginor, president, Hudson Valley Foie Gras, Ferndale, N.Y., and executive chef, Lola, Great Neck, N.Y.

Foie Gras Torchon with Toasted Hazelnut and Bruleed Fig

Wine: Elk Cove Pinot Gris Willamette Valley 2015


Third Course

Kelly English, executive chef/owner, Restaurant Iris & Second Line, Memphis, Tenn.

Vegetables, Fennel and Sherry Soup with Winter Squash Bread Pudding

Wine: The Four Graces Reserve Pinot Noir Dundee Hills, 2014


Fourth Course

Ryan Prewitt, executive chef, Peche, New Orleans

Fried Cobia Served in a Spicy Shellfish Broth with Pickled Collard/Kale Greens

Wine: NV Benvolio Prosecco, Friuli, Italy


Fifth Course

John Currence, chef/owner, City Restaurant Group, Oxford, Miss.

Beer-Poached Springer Mountain Farms Chicken Boudin Blanc, Dirty Rice Grits, Vinegar Collards, Mustard Jus, Crispy Chicken Skin

Wine: 2014 Jackson Estate Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, Calif.


Sixth Course

Chef Sue Zemanick, former executive chef, Gautreau’s & Ivy’s, New Orleans

Tamarind Braised Beef Short Ribs, Sunchoke Puree, Fennel and Coriander

Wine: Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 and Greg Norman Estates Reserve Shiraz 2012



Jean-Yves Vendeville, department head, Culinary Institute at Savannah Technical College

Pinot Gris-Saffron Poached Pears with Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta, Stewed Spiced Cranberry, Tawny Port Reduction

Wine: Penfolds Tawny Port