The beach towns of South Walton, on Florida’s Panhandle, are known for sugar-white sand, turquoise water and charming neighborhoods. Now they’re also making a name in dining: “100-mile radius cuisine.” It’s geography and philosophy combined, a belief in using Ingredients from no more than a 100-mile-radius of one’s kitchen if at all possible.
You’ve heard of farm-to-table cuisine. This is Gulf-to-table.
In South Walton, one popular ingredient makes it easy to adhere to the 100-mile rule. The Gulf of Mexico is South Walton’s front yard, and it teems with shrimp, crab, Apalachicola oysters, snapper and other fruits of the sea. Local chefs specialize in pairing them with other native flavors such as citrus salsa and avocado. No wonder famed chef Emeril LaGasse makes his home here.
The other coast got a taste of South Walton at an event at Pérez Art Museum Miami, hosted by the Walton County Tourist Development Council. Part of BlogHer Food, an annual conference for food bloggers around the nation, the dinner starred three South Walton executive chefs and small plates of their best work. Michael Guerra, executive chef at The Pearl hotel in Rosemary Beach, served seared Florida blue crab cakes with jicama and candied ginger slaw. Kevin Korman, executive chef at Caliza Restaurant in Alys Beach, created seared Gulf shrimp with fingerling potato & castelvetrano salad with chili & salumi mostarda and kalamata “paint.” Dan Vargo, executive chef at Seagar’s In the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa In Destin, provided his Emerald Coast Duo of Tartare with citrus & herb-marinated tuna & snapper, fork-crusted avocado, citrus salsa and crisp tortilla.
Small groups are In luck when it comes to these three. The Pearl hotel has meeting space for up to 120; Seagar’s has private dining space for groups of up to 30. As for Caliza, its poolside dining draws a crowd most nights.
The event also featured Chaste No. 850, a rum-based cocktail created by craft-spirits company Chaste in Santa Rosa Beach. And noted South Walton artist Justin Gaffrey demonstrated his “sculpting with paint” technique.
The evening provided a feast for all senses, all in all.