January 2008

A Haute Combination

Author: Paul deVere

Hilton Head Island Hosts the ’07 Celebrity Chef Classic

“Cooking is like golf. You just slice it, chip it, and put it on some greens.”—from an apron by High Cotton, Inc.

Imagine. The evening before your tournament begins, you are with a small group of people privileged to listen to world-renowned architect, Pete Dye, and wife Alice, recount stories about building legendary courses such as Harbour Town Golf Links, Long Cove and the TPC at Sawgrass. Stories like Dye still moving sand around hazards on Harbour Town the night before the first Heritage golf tournament was played in 1969. The Harbour Town, the course Dye—with a few suggestions from Alice—and Jack Nicklaus created. The Harbour Town that brought Hilton Head Island national attention. The Harbour Town—the course you’ll be playing Saturday.

Jeff Kruse, Director of Food and Beverage Operations for Sea Pines Resort said that the informal gathering that evening with Pete and Alice Dye took the event into the stratosphere. Harbour Town’s head professional, John Farrell described the “little chat” as extraordinary, a one of a kind experience. “It was such a privilege to be there,” he said.

Or picture this. It’s the first day of your tournament. You pull up to the 13th tee at Pete Dye’s new Heron Point golf course in Sea Pines Resort. It’s lunchtime. Gourmet kabobs await you, courtesy of B. R. Guest’s corporate chef, Bret Reichler, and Sea Pines’ food and beverage department, headed by Chef Michael Ramey. You are obviously not part of the hot dog crowd.

Sea Pines Executive Chef, Michael Ramey

The event Kruse was referring to was the Celebrity Chef Classic, held November 15-18, 2007, at Sea Pines Resort. This somewhat unusual tournament was brought to Hilton Head Island by South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism and the Chamber of Commerce. Sponsors included Golf Digest, Golf for Women, Gourmet and Condé Nast Traveler magazines, among others. Those magazines are part of the Condé Nast mega-portfolio of 30-plus publications and websites. They all share one characteristic: passion. Whether it is golf, travel or cooking, the magazines deal with an emotion that goes beyond mere interest. Hard core readers are not observers. They are participants. This event gave readers the opportunity to participate in a long weekend of extraordinary food and fairways, definitely satisfying both palates and putters.

Following each round of golf, celebrity chefs Sara Moulton and Ming Tsai gave highly entertaining and informative cooking demonstrations in a kitchen set up in the Sea Pines Conference Center. If you’re not a “foodie,” the names Moulton and Tsai might not ring a bell. But if you watch the Food Network or PBS, those names definitely have meaning.

Executive Chef for Gourmet, Sara Moulton

Moulton is the executive chef for Gourmet magazine—she started working for the publication in 1984—and is executive chef for ABC’s “Good Morning America.” The job at GMA came about due to her mentor and friend, the famed television chef and author, Julia Child.

“I was working as a chef manager at a catering company in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1978,” Moulton said in an interview at the weekend event. “We were peeling a million hard boiled eggs, and I started talking about how Julia makes her hard boiled eggs. Someone said she worked with Julia Child as a volunteer on her television series [“Julia Child & Company,” a popular show on PBS]. I said I would love to be a volunteer,” Moulton remembered. Moulton didn’t get to volunteer. To her great surprise, the famed chef hired her. “That was the beginning of a wonderful, long term relationship,” Moulton said.

Beginning in 1997, along with her other jobs, Moulton hosted “Cooking Live” on the Food Network for six seasons and followed by “Sara’s Secrets” for four more seasons. Moulton’s latest show, “Sara’s Weeknight Meals,” will air on PBS in April this year.

Moulton credits the Food Network for the popularization of home cooking. “It’s really great that kids are interested in cooking. We lost a couple generations of kids whose parents weren’t interested, they just didn’t have time,” Moulton said. There is, she thinks, a downside however. “Students think they’re going to graduate from cooking school and have a TV show. It doesn’t work like that. I went into the industry because I was passionate about cooking, not about becoming a TV star,” Moulton laughed.

At Gourmet magazine, Moulton may have one of the most unusual jobs as an executive chef. “I cook for advertisers. We have an elegant dining room where we can only seat 16 people. My job is to make the magazine come alive. Every month I cook from the pages of the magazine. I help get across our message: First of all, the food is good. But we’re half food, half travel. If someone says we don’t have enough travel, I’ll take the magazine and make a whole meal from the different destinations in that issue,” she said.

Moulton is author of two cookbooks, Sara Moulton Cooks at Home and Sara’s Secrets for Weeknight Meals. Both focus on meals that taste good and are quick and easy to prepare. Moulton puts a great deal of emphasis on families eating at home.

Julia Child was also a great influence on Chef Ming Tsai. He signs off his popular PBS show, “Simply Ming,” and the podcasts on his website, www.ming.com, with the phrase, “Peace and good eating.” He said Child was his inspiration.

“She inspired a lot of us. She paved the road. In 1963, I was minus one year old and she was the French Chef in 1963. At the end of her show she would say, ‘Bon appétit,’ which for her, made sense. I wanted to say something that said who I was,” Tsai explained, smiling.

Host of “Simply Ming,” going into its sixth season on PBS, Tsai began his television career at the Food Network in 1998, with “East Meets West,” which won him an Emmy Award. That same year, he and wife, Polly opened Blue Ginger in Wellesley, Massachusetts. The Boston Globe named it “Best New Restaurant,” and Esquire Magazine honored him as “Chef of the Year 1998.”

Born in California but raised in Dayton, Ohio, Tsai learned about the restaurant business by helping out in the family restaurant. But he didn’t discover his passion for cooking until he was getting an engineering degree at Yale. His original idea was to follow in the footsteps of his father, who was a high-level scientist at nearby Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. But his passion for cooking took him to Paris for two years and back to Cornell for a masters in hotel management. Then he spent nine years working under top chefs.

He described his cuisine as “a blending of Eastern and Western techniques that primarily produces food that is bold in flavor, big flavor and a mix of textures. I love hot and cold, crunchy and smooth. Like a hot fudge sundae. That is the perfect food. Cold ice cream, hot fudge, creamy with crunchy nuts,” Tsai laughed and continued. “I think I’m a decent cook, but I’m a great eater. I’m one of the best eaters I’ve ever met. For instance, I just love to chew beef; I love the textures; I love the art—the act of eating.”

Tsai also has a passion for golf. “I dream about it. What could be better? Golf in the morning at a course like Harbour Town, cooking in the afternoon, and a gourmet meal in the evening I didn’t have to prepare,” he said, laughing.

“The reason I’m a chef because I am always hungry. I was hungry as a kid, I’m hungry now and I’ll be hungry later. If you’re a chef, you get to eat. I figured if I know how to cook, I’ll never go hungry,” Tsai explained. “There is a Chinese custom when you greet someone. You don’t ask, ‘how are you?’ You say, ‘have you eaten?’”

“Hilton Head has had the honor of hosting this event for two years now,” said Kruse. “We hope we have the opportunity to combine those two passions again.”

Sea Pines Food and Beverage Director, Jeff Kruse

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