Local chef ready to cook in New York

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 20, 2010

For some it may seem unusual for a succulent duck breast to be on the same plate as garden-fresh collard greens, but for Scott Varnedoe it is natural. Varnedoe, the executive chef at Monmouth Plantation, has labeled his cuisine as upscale down south and will soon be taking his food stylings uptown.

Varnedoe was chosen by the James Beard Foundation to prepare an 80-person dinner at the James Beard House in July in New York City.

The James Beard Foundation is a national culinary association that celebrates and preserves America’s diverse culinary heritage.

For Varnedoe, being asked to cook for the foundation ranks at the top of the list for this seasoned chef.

“When I received the call, from the beginning I was saying ‘Yes, yes, yes,’” he said. “There was no way I was going to miss this opportunity.”

Chefs are chosen to cook at the open-table dinner from recommendations by members of the James Beard Foundation, which Varnedoe said makes the honor that much more humbling.

“Being a chef from Louisiana and Mississippi, being asked to do this kind of blows my mind,” he said.

The menu Varnedoe has planned for the dinner highlights his culinary roots in the South.

For passed hors d’oeuvre Varnedoe will prepare miniature grilled cheese sandwiches with crayfish, smoked gouda and sweet corn aioli; rabbit, foie gras, and wild mushroom sliders with pickled shallots, whole grain Creole mustard, and potato gaufrettes

and miniature oyster BLTs with cane syrup-pepper bacon, marinated grape tomatoes, romaine lettuce, Louisiana rémoulade and red onion and country ham jam served on toasted brioche.

The dinner course will feature a pork trio of southern-spiced roasted tenderloin, braised shank and belly served with Creole baked beans, and black-eyed pea relish;

roasted quail and bacon-wrapped duck sausage with smoky cheese grits, green tomato chutney and turtle soup sauce;

savory shrimp, andouille, and bittersweet plantation dairy goat cheese cheesecake with toasted pecan crust and Creole tomato pernod coulis;

pan-seared redfish with crayfish–basmati rice purée, asparagus, candied lemons, Cajun popcorn and blue crab, chive and smoked tomato cream and Steen’s Cane Syrup and cinnamon glazed duck breast with collard green soufflé, crispy sweet potatoes, sweet-and-spicy local peaches, and orange gastrique.

Dessert will be white chocolate bread pudding with brûléed bananas, bananas foster, whipped praline cream, cinnamon and brown butter powder and pecan tuile.

“Every dish on the menu I have cooked some version of it at least one restaurant I’ve been at,” he said. “This menu is very much who I am in the kitchen. It is the style of food that got me invited up there, so I don’t feel any need to fancy it up just because I’m in New York.”

Knowing his local customers in Natchez, are not likely to make the trip to New York City, Varnedoe will return to Natchez and prepare the same menu for the Saturday night dinner of the Natchez Food and Wine Festival on July 31.

Vardnedoe developed his culinary style around his family dinner table, sampling the makings of his grandparents, parents and even his siblings. From a young age, he learned to appreciate Southern flavors and in his kitchen now, he puts an upscale twist on those same down-home flavors.

“Basically everyone in my family is a good cook,” he said. “Growing in Florida and then in Louisiana, I was exposed to so many good flavors that I’m still working with today.”

Cooking at the James Beard House in New York, might even feel a little like being back at home as Varnedoe will share the kitchen with his brother, Todd Varnedoe, who is coming from his restaurant in England to help his brother cook for the event.

Monmouth Sous Chef Adrian Keith will also be in New York to assist Vardnedoe.

“I’m not as worried about the cooking as I am getting the ingredients up there and planning the time to get everything done,” he said. “There is a feeling of eager-stress.

The dinner is on Wednesday, July 28, and Varnedoe will ship his ingredients the Saturday before.

“When I arrive in New York on Monday there will be some impatient waiting until I find out that everything got to the location fine,” he said. “From there, we just cook, and I know we will get that.

“This is an honor not only for me, but for the team I’ll have in the kitchen with me. I want it to be a fun experience, a memorable experience for everyone. I mean, we are cooking on the same stoves as Julia Child and other famous, great chefs have.”