Full Recap of This Epic Local Chef Collaboration Dinner
“When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.”John Ruskin
The same can be said about the four talented local chefs and one mixologist who came together on a cool night in Orlando to celebrate the 5th Anniversary of Soco in Thornton Park. Their collective love of good food and drinks was on full display in the floor to ceiling windows looking into the kitchen. The end result was a masterpiece for us to enjoy.
How wonderful it is to witness the spirit of community and hospitality coming together in one delicious experience. Thank you Chef Greg Richie for inviting us to celebrate with you. You proved once again why Soco is on my Must Eat List of Orlando.
All Celebrations Must Start With A Fine Cocktail.
The evening started as all fine evenings should, with craft cocktails. Local mixologist PJ Smerechansky, known as “The Alcohol Alchemist” formerly of The Edison, now at Nomad Lounge in Disney’s Animal Kingdom served up a choice of two of his award winning libations.
“Tea Time with Prudence” made with Sipsmith VJOP Gin, Earl Grey Tea, King’s Ginger Liqueur, Honey and Rosemary was not your every day gin drink. The first surprise of the evening is that this gin cocktail packed a punch! Likely as a result of the Sipsmith VJOP overproof gin. “At 57.7% ABV this juniper-forward gin uses double the amount of juniper berries to our London Dry Gin” according to their website.
PJ said he wanted to create a unique cocktail and that he did! The lemon and rosemary garnish took it to the next level with powerful aromatics that enveloped your senses even before you took your first sip. I’m not sure who Prudence is but tea time with her is definitely a hoot!
The second cocktail option was the “Bootlegger’s Basil” made with Basil Hayden Bourbon, Fresh Blackberry, Basil, Angostura Bitters and Orange Peel. It’s a riff on an Old Fashioned mixed with a blackberry bramble. A cocktail PJ tells us he has been working on for quite some time. And it shows. Absolutely well balanced and easy to drink with just the right sweet notes and beautiful contrast by the basil. He says his Italian heritage prompted him to use basil in cocktails rather than mint.
The First Course: Are These Scallops?
Chef Patrick Tramontana from Antonio’s Maitland took scallops to a whole new level. This was the second surprise of the night. The hickory smoked scallops had such an umami meaty quality, they almost tasted like ham. They were served atop uni, popcorn “Polenta” with fermented kabu, brown butter hollandaise, sage sprouts, radish, crisp parsnip, and parsley oil.
It was a wild combination of flavors and textures that made me question by taste buds. What am I eating here? If I was in a blindfold tasting challenge, I may have failed. But my taste buds weren’t complaining. It was delicious! The dish was paired with 2015 La Crema “Saralee’s Vineyard” Chardonnay from Russian River Valley, California.
The Second Course: Where’s The Pasta?
“Pork and Pumpkin” was presented by Chef Venoy Rogers III of American Kitchen Bar and Grill, the signature restaurant of B Resort & Spa in Lake Buena Vista. Koji cured Heritage Breed pork was beautifully cooked and tender. Koji, I learned, is a type of fungus used in Japanese cuisine to ferment foods. It gave the pork a “funky” earthy quality which was another surprise to the taste buds. Crusted in Pistachio for a nice crunch.
But the true surprise of this dish came when I tried the “cannelloni”. Where’s the pasta? The Pumpkin “Cannelloni” was made of thinly sliced pumpkin and I wanted more. Topped with Chanterelle Cream and garnished with pickled grapes with homemade peach vinegar. I wished for less sauce and more pumpkin “pasta. Now that’s surprising!
“This dish paired beautifully with 2014 The Immortal Zin “Old Vine” Zinfandel from Lodi, California. It was robust and rich to contrast all the flavors on the plate.
The Third Course Came With A Warning!
The star of the night was Soco Chef Greg Ritchie. Not only because we were celebrating his restaurant’s 5th anniversary but also because this dish was my favorite. It was so beautifully composed and flavorful I could have gladly eaten a second portion. The Bourbon Barrel Staved Venison Loin topped with fermented blueberries gained nuanced smoky vanilla notes from the smoked wood.
The dish even came with a warning from our server: “Remove the meat from the wood plank before you cut it!” We instantly laughed. You know someone tried to cut the wood and nearly lost a digit. I must admit when I saw the plate at another table I didn’t realize it was wood and wondered what cut of beef could be cut so perfectly squared. We learned the wood planks came from Soco’s first special blend bourbon barrel. A nice touch on this 5th year anniversary.
At our table, we compared the plate presentation to a Picasso. It was indeed artistic. Beautiful dollops of cornbread, smoky collard greens, beech mushrooms, baby carrots and tiny beet balls, all carefully placed just so to create a bit of drama.
The 2016 J Vineyards Pinot Noir from Russian River Valley, California was a nice complement. Just the right notes of black fruit to balance the smoke.
Chocolate is always the answer.
What was the question? When in doubt, chocolate is always the answer. A dinner like this deserves a rich chocolate ending. Chef Stuart Whitfield from The Glass Knife was up to the challenge. The rich Chocolate Brioche Bread Pudding with salted caramel, cocoa nib tuile, chocolate whiskey cremeux, brown butter powder and pecan praline was simply dreamy.
The surprise here was that this was not your ordinary slab of thick bread pudding as you may assume just hearing the name. It was unlike any bread pudding I’ve ever had before. Paired with Penfolds “Grandfather” 20 year Tawny Port from Australia. I only wish I had enough room to finish it all. But that’s why God invented to go boxes. I enjoyed the remainder of this treat for breakfast. Don’t judge!
Good Wine is a Must!
All wines sampled during the course of the evening were beautifully paired. That is no easy feat when you consider the intricacy of each of these dishes and the surprising flavor profiles. Good wine is a must in a dinner like this. Great pairings are not always guaranteed. My hat’s off to Chef Greg Richie and his wine vendors!
The A Team at Soco 5 Year Anniversary Dinner
Chef Greg Richie was joined by a talented group of local culinarians who all brought their A Game to make the Soco 5 Year Anniversary Dinner a memorable night. Chef Patrick Tramontana, Chef Venoy Rogers III, Chef Stuart Whitfield and Mixologist PJ Smerechansky joined Chef/Partner Greg Richie and it was fun to watch. I have even more reason now to visit them at their respective restaurants.
This is a worthy keepsake of the evening. Thank you for being rock stars with the sharpie guys!
Good Food, Yes! With Good Company, Even Better!
Great food and wine are only best enjoyed in good company. What started out as dinner for two, turned into 3, then 4 then 6! This was the most pleasant surprise of the evening. We were fortunate to be joined by my favorite local food critic and playwright Joseph Hayes of Orlando Magazine.
Orlando foodie Jesslyn Hernandez of @OrlandoFoodieGirl just published her first novel “Toxic Moon”and shared spoiler alerts for the second part of the trilogy. It was like listening to a movie plot. So fun!
Longtime friends Irina and Richard Pabis of Celebrity Chef 4U were seated at the table next to us. We all enjoyed the cool temps in the patio together with lively conversation. This is what neighborhood restaurants like Soco thrive upon. Good food, good drinks, and good people.
If you missed this special dinner, follow Soco on social media to learn of their upcoming special events. You can read more about Soco and the 9 Tasty Reasons Why You Should Visit to see what dishes and cocktails are on my Must Eat and Must Drink List.
Congratulations to Chef Greg Richie and the Soco team on your 5 Year Anniversary!
Disclosure: I was a hosted media guest for this event for promotional purposes. I am under no obligation to share this post. As always, all opinions are my own. I only share with you products and experiences I love to inspire you to get together with family and friends (virtually for now), celebrate life and go #MakeSomedayHappen one delicious bite, sip and trip at a time! You can read more about my guidelines in my disclosure policy. Cheers!