Curated Experiences at the Ritz-Carlton, Part 1

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CE Ritz

What an experience.

No, make that plural – experiences.

The Ritz-Carlton at Grande Lakes Orlando held its inaugural Curated Experiences event last weekend with food and wine events, cooking classes and demonstrations, non-food events such as gold lessons, fly-fishing tutorials and a chance to hold a bird of prey on your hand. And encouraged by the success of the first time, the team at Grande Lakes is already planning another weekendful in April.

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The three-day event started on Friday evening with a reception on the expansive Da Vinci Lawn titled Wheels, Watches, Whiskey and Wine. But it was so much more than that.

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The Wheels part included a display of exotic cars (read: massively expensive) and the Watches part was an array of (somewhat) more affordable timepieces.

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The Whiskey was provided by Iron Smoke Distillery from upstate New York and wines were from Quintessa.

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But the surprise was finding chefs and cooks from the many fine Grande Lakes restaurants. Vitale Spa Cafe had Peking duck served in bao buns and satay paired with a passionfruit margarita. Highball & Harvest had a drunken foie gras and Creekstone Farms pork ribs and was mixing its signature Doc Holliday cocktail.

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Whisper Creek Farm: The Kitchen had Lake Meadow duck pastrami with farmers lemonade (farmers apparently like blueberry-infused Stolichnaya). And Knife & Spoon featured Ozerskey Sliders, a version of the burger named for food writer Josh Ozersky that chef John Tesar made popular at his Dallas restaurant Knife. K&S also offered hamachi crudo and a seared citrus old fashioned.

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Also served: smoked brisket, fish and chips, and, from Primo at the JW Marriott, herb gnocchi and cured local yellowfin tuna collar.

I arrived expecting maybe some passed hors d’oeuvres but went back to my room quite stuffed.

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Saturday morning began with a yoga class in the Citrus Garden followed by mimosas and wine, which really is the only way to get me to do yoga.

Then it was a full day of the Curated Experiences. Each block of time had various choices and making a selection was the hardest part of the weekend. I chose the class on sous vide cooking because I wanted to learn how to better use my circulator. Other experiences included The Art of Chocolate, Italian or barbecue cooking, a fly-casting demonstration and Champagne and Sparkle, for those who didn’t make it to yoga (or those who did make it to yoga and wanted to continue the “glow”).

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The sous vide class was led by Gerald Sombright, chef de cuisine at Knife & Spoon. We tasted meats that were cooked under vacuum as well as fruits and vegetables.

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The most unusual thing was a vodka and pineapple cocktail – a sous vide cocktail; who knew? – and I really loved the coddled egg (63 degrees Celsius for 42 minutes) topped with caviar. Passmore Caviar was something of a partner in the event and representatives were around all weekend putting different types of roe on top of our foods. No one complained.

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After that it was lunch back at the Da Vinci Lawn with such things as shrimp & grits, short rib pastrami and other delectables.

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The first class of the afternoon for me was Dry Aging: Perfume and Process conducted by Tesar. He explained the process he uses at Knife & Spoon and showed us the hunks of meat at various stages of dry aging in all their crusted glory.

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We tasted some, too, including 45-, 150- and 240-day aged versions. The latter two command prices of $225 and $250 respectively on the restaurant’s menu. I actually preferred the 150-day aged, which I guess makes me a somewhat cheaper date.

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After that I made a quick stop by the Bourbon and Bow Ties session to have a sip and see if I’m tying my bows correctly (I am) then hopped a shuttle to Whisper Creek Farm to observe the crops. Chefs were there preparing more food (!). I was too full so I opted to take a stroll back to the hotel where I rested up for the big dinner Saturday night.

I’ll tell you about that and the Sunday caviar brunch at Knife & Spoon tomorrow.

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