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.
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.
The Wheels part included a display of exotic cars (read: massively expensive) and the Watches part was an array of (somewhat) more affordable timepieces.
The Whiskey was provided by Iron Smoke Distillery from upstate New York and wines were from Quintessa.
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.
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.
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.
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”).
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.
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.
After that it was lunch back at the Da Vinci Lawn with such things as shrimp & grits, short rib pastrami and other delectables.
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.
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.
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.