By Kelly Goodman, Contributing Writer
If you’re in search of sun and sand, go to St. Croix anytime of the year. But if your dining cues come from Ruth Reichl, James Beard or Top Chef, then you should go in April, when celebrity chefs invade the island to eat, cook and enjoy the sunshine. The week-long St. Croix Food and Wine Experience features events that not only highlight local cuisine, but offer an up close, one of a kind experience with visiting culinary luminaries.
The week’s kickoff event was a dinner and auction featuring Tiffany Derry, just off her run from Bravo’s Top Chef All Stars. Poised to open a new restaurant, Private Social, later this year in Dallas, this Texas-born chef prepared an elegant five course meal paired with wines by Napa Valley winemaker, Rudy von Strasser. A leisurely meal (with plenty of wine) lets you get to know the movers and shakers of the St. Croix food scene and fulfill your secret dream of being a Top Chef judge, if just for one evening.
My table tasted each dish, debating whether or not something “worked.” Unlike our television alter egos, we were a much easier audience to please: Tiffany produced dishes full of flavor, with Southern comfort food notes running throughout the meal.
Our meal began with a light and refreshing mahi mahi ceviche that reminded you that you were sitting in St. Croix, as the crisp, peppery radicchio, buttery fish, and citrus were all well suited to the warm locale. Then we moved onto a creamy, yet bright, artichoke risotto topped with fried chicken livers. One bite reminded me of meals with my adopted Italian family in the Veneto, another took me instantly to my grandmother’s kitchen. Savory and satisfying, each bite made me long for just one more.
Our first meat came as an elegant and complex dish of oxtail, diver scallops, pickled shallots, and sweet potato. It was sweet and savory, and tasted like Thanksgiving dinner – if Thanksgiving dinner were fabulous. Following that, we had a spiced, lentil-crusted Moroccan lamb on a cauliflower puree. It was the one dish that I didn’t love instantly; I appreciated it more after my palate sorted through the complex flavors that seasoned the lamb.
We ended the meal with a well-balanced bittersweet mousse and chocolate cake, served with a port. It disappeared quickly and didn’t knock me out with sweetness or decadence. Guilt-free indulgence is always appreciated.
All in all, it was a delicious, convivial and enjoyable evening and one that I won’t soon forget. A friend asked me later if Tiffany’s food was as happy as she was, and I’d have to agree. Tiffany’s bubbling personality not only shines on television, but in person. You can’t help but smile when seated in front of a plate of her food. And each smile erased my determination for being a tough, no-nonsense food critic.
Tickets to the dinner and auction weren’t cheap: At $375 per person or $750 per couple, it was the most expensive event at the week-long St. Croix Food & Wine Festival. The good thing about the festival is that it”s a la carte pricing so you can choose what you want to go to – and what you want to skip.
More coverage of the St. Croix Food & Wine Festival coming up this week!
This event was sponsored by the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism, but the opinions are that of the writer.