Being a true sun baby (even though my skin color will tell you otherwise) I have always been drawn to the beach and everything that comes with it, be it just recharging my body by basking in the sun to snorkeling for that ‘one of a kind’ shell or diving for exploration. The sea & I have always had a passionate love affair and now I was about to experience what has been awarded 2015’s Top Beach in America by TripAdvisor’s Traveler’s Choice. Siesta Key Beach and several other iconic attractions located in Florida’s beautiful Gulf Coast in Sarasota County. Sarasota also happens to be where my multi-layered journey started and of course FOOD was the driving force to this sunny local!
How fortunate I was, to be asked to take part on a Culinary Immersion trip experiencing the impressive flavors that Sarasota County has. Culinary Immersion trip and then some, as Sarasota County has the highest concentration of Zagat-rated restaurants in Florida which in turn draws in some of the best chefs within the industry. For those of you not familiar with Zagat, it’s a survey which rates restaurants on a 30-point scale in the categories of food, décor, service and cost. It also provides price estimates and a paragraph-sized description (in 2011 Google bought the company for a reported $151 million, not bad for a company that started off by a husband and wife duo who had a passion for dining).
Located on Southwest Florida’s Gulf Coast, Sarasota County offers a vibrant arts and cultural scene, a diverse array of culinary experiences and a variety of opportunities to take advantage of the clear waters and the great outdoors.
Speaking of being fortunate, my adventure started at the idyllic Gulf retreat of the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota where I was a guest during my Culinary Immersion trip. The view from my hotel room was enchanting and breath taking as it overlooked the expansive Bay.
Gorgeous Bay view from my room at the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota hotel
Jack Dusty, The Ritz-Carlton‘s principle restaurant was an excellent start to this culinary trip as it boasts a creative approach to seafood dining and they didn’t disappoint with their hypnotic libations either. Being a fan of the Elderflower liquor Saint Germaine, Jack Dusty’s cocktail ‘The Siren’ (one of their most famous handcrafted cocktails) had me hook, line and sinker.
The Siren was the perfect accompaniment to the seafood delights of crab cakes and deep-fried oysters that I had. I must confess that I usually prefer my oysters in their natural state – RAW. However, I was willing to try and give it a go….like they say, when in Rome! And it turns out that they were pretty tasty with a nice crunch factor.
The Siren: Hendrick’s Gin, St. Germaine Elder Flower Liquor, fresh lemon juice and Prosecco. Served over grapefruit, cranberry & flower ice!
Jack Dusty’s fish cakes
Jack Dusty’s famous fried oysters
Every restaurant has its signature dishes and renown cocktails but if you’re anything like me, you’ll remember their chef inspired amuse bouche that they served prior to the appetizers; let alone the warm crusty bread that left you intoxicated with its aromas. And with that said, let me introduce you to Jack Dusty’s famous Naval Brown Bread. This buttermilk and molasses bread is just what any table needs. Not only is it heavy with flavor and fragrance but it’s delivery is very original: they serve the bread literally out of a can.
As the story goes, tight spaces and limited resource’s in a ship’s kitchen inspired this unique method of baking bread onboard sailing vessels. This bread came alive as butter was applied…worthy of a try…And now you can. The Ritz-Carlton Sarasota was generous enough to provide the recipe for the Naval Brown Bread.
Jack Dusty’s Naval Brown Bread (with it’s baking can beside it)
I know that there are many of you out there that love a good soup. Typically I am not a fan of them for the simple fact that it takes up valuable space in my tummy. Don’t laugh…it’s true. There is a reason why we have always been told to eat a hearty soup, it fills you…thus taking up valuable space. I prefer to reserve that space for other culinary treats but on that particular day, I was going to experience a very refreshing gazpacho that was highly recommended. Refreshing indeed and it was welcomed, as I hadn’t gotten used to the humid temperatures that Sarasota was generously giving out.
The only way to describe the flavors of the strawberry and tomato gazpacho is to say that it tasted like summer. Light and refreshing the soup was. It had remarkable undertones of tarragon and garlic – that alone had just convinced me that it was worthy of my valuable tummy space! Again The Ritz-Carlton Sarasota was generous to provide the recipe for the Strawberry and Tomato Gazpacho.
The ever so refreshing Strawberry and Tomato Gazpacho
I’d say that my Culinary Immersion trip was off to a good start: beautiful hotel: check, good food: check, and the warmest of hospitality: check!
As the sun was setting in the distance showcasing a rose colored skyline, I could only imagine how the next few days were going to be. What flavors and experiences was I going to be exposed to?
Stay tuned as Sarasota had so much in store for me!
** Featured photo courtesy of Visit Sarasota County