By Jennifer Kornegay
Down here in the South, we love our food, and the chefs who prepare and serve it best are rewarded by being elevated to rock-star status. Some of the biggest names hail from New Orleans, as evidenced by the recent NOLA-heavy winners list at the recent James Beard Foundation awards (like the Oscars for food).
If you’ve ever wanted to mix and mingle with one of these culinary kings and can’t make it to New Orleans any time soon (and even if you did, the chances are slim to none you’d make it back in the kitchen to thank the chef for your meal), you’re in luck. All you need do is get down to Orange Beach this summer and snag a ticket for one of the Southern Grace Celebrity Chef Dinners hosted by Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina.
Two of the six events have already happened, but four more are left, and each features a noteworthy Big Easy chef. And they’re all incorporating fresh Alabama seafood and other locally sourced products into their menus.
Fisher’s itself is a must-do when on the Alabama coast. Located adjacent to the Orange Beach Marina, the restaurant opened last summer and has two distinct personalities: a “flip-flops and cover-ups welcome” vibe invites you to relax and enjoy a meal in the open-air downstairs section that’s dockside. Upstairs, a gleaming wooden bar and contemporary décor washed in soft sea colors creates a more sophisticated atmosphere, but one that’s still laid back. Both menus are full of innovative and classic takes on coastal flavors and ingredients including selections like blackened fish tacos with citrus slaw; flounder stuffed with cornbread and shrimp, drizzled with a lemon beurre blanc; and perhaps the perfect starter, ham and green onion hush puppies.
Owner Johnny Fisher decided to bring some of his famous friends to his home to show off the area and the amazing seafood consistently pulled from its waters, but he also wanted to give guests the unique opportunity to discover and hang out with some true titans of taste. Each event begins with a cocktail reception attended by the evening’s chef. When dinner is served, it comes to the communal tables family style, fostering conversation among the guests.
“With these dinners, we’re creating a very special and memorable experience, for the chefs, our team and our guests,” Fisher says.
The April 17 dinner had Justin Devillier of La Petite Grocery at the helm, and on May 7, Chef Donald Link joined Fisher’s Executive Chef Bill Briand in the kitchen. Link has several restaurants: Herbsaint, a contemporary take on the French-American “bistro” was his first. Others include Cochon and Pêche Seafood Grill, which earned the James Beard Foundation’s “Best Restaurant” award this year.
Fisher’s Chef Briand worked under Link for years and their collaboration produced a menu for Southern Grace that was everything you’d expect from such a lauded talent and his protégé. Airy blue crab beignets stuffed with sweetmeat and paired with white remoulade for dipping, ceviche with the bite of raw red onion and particular punch of cilantro, giant grilled royal reds and braised lamb in a briny olive sauce were a few highlights.
The evening finished on a high note with an only-slightly sugary lemon tart studded with plump blackberries and dense, eggless chocolate chip cookies bursting at their brown-crisp edges with chocolate chunks. Link didn’t hesitate to give credit where credit is due, noting how fortunate Alabama diners are to have Chef Briand.
“This guy is amazing. I hope you all know how lucky you are to have him here,” he says.
The rest of the Southern Grace events promise to be just as delicious, with the remaining chefs boasting numerous accolades and awards between them: John Besh (Restaurant August, Borgne, La Provence, Luke, Luke San Antonio Riverwalk, American Sector, Soda Shop, BeshSteak, and Domenica), Tory McPhail (Commander’s Palace, SoBou) and Sue Zemanick (Gautreau’s, Ivy). John Currence, who headlines the final Southern Grace dinner in August, is the only chef not actually in New Orleans, but he often credits his NOLA roots and the area’s unique food culture with inspiring his love of food and cooking. His multiple Oxford, Miss., eateries — City Grocery, Bouré, Snackbar, Big Bad Breakfast and Lamar Lounge — put that tiny town on the region’s culinary map.
But Southern Grace is not just about good fellowship and good food. It’s also doing a good deed; a portion of the proceeds from each dinner goes to support the SouthernFoodways Alliance (SFA), a non-profit organization based at the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture that documents, studies and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the changing American South. The SFA has commissioned a short film celebrating the Alabama Gulf Coast foodways with a focus on two coastal cuisine staples that originated in Alabama, West Indies Salad and fried crab claws. The finished film is being screened at each dinner.
Eat the Big Easy in Alabama
Southern Grace Schedule
Tory McPhail – June 14
Sue Zemanick – July 17
John Besh – July 31
John Currence August 14
Get your tickets and find more details at www.FishersOBM.com.