Food for Thought

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GREAT SPIRITS Go ahead, try to stump Peter Whitely, bartender extraordinaire for the Cà d’Zan Lounge at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota. Algonquin? No problem. Caribbean Cowboy? Coming right up. The affable 45-year-old has been tending bar since his college days, and when he ran out of cocktails to memorize, he started concocting his own. An avid […]


GREAT SPIRITS

Go ahead, try to stump Peter Whitely, bartender extraordinaire for the Cà d’Zan Lounge at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota. Algonquin? No problem. Caribbean Cowboy? Coming right up. The affable 45-year-old has been tending bar since his college days, and when he ran out of cocktails to memorize, he started concocting his own. An avid mixologist, Whitely invented most of the Cà d’Zan’s specialty martinis and is currently compiling a book of martini recipes.

Drink me. His award-winning chocolate martini comes in a Swiss chocolate-rimmed glass filled with vanilla Stoli, two Godiva liqueurs and a splash of Bailey’s Irish Cream for a frothy top layer-which he garnishes with messages ("Happy Anniversary!") written in Swiss chocolate ganache. Shaken not stirred? Au contraire, Mr. Bond. Traditional martinis should be stirred with a metal spoon-16 times counter-clockwise, if you want to be a stickler. Shaking supposedly "bruises the gin"-damaging the spirit’s delicate molecule-but mostly, he says, it makes for a watered-down martini. Don’t cut corners: Good cocktails require high-quality ingredients: top-shelf liquors, homemade mixes and extremely fresh garnishes. He makes the bar’s sour mix from scratch, and his homemade blue cheese-stuffed olives are Cà d’Zan favorites. No jigger needed: To free-pour with precision, know the speed of your spout, the viscosity of the liquor, and practice, practice, practice. "I can pour to one-quarter ounce. My elbow is calibrated daily," says Whitely. It’s personal: "Take care of your guests, and they’ll take care of you." When he’s behind the bar, Cà d’Zan regulars have their drinks before they get to their chairs. Listen up: Bartenders should be first-class confidantes. "I’ve seen just about anything you can imagine." But don’t ask for tales-his lips are sealed.

MOTHER EARTH

Growing up "disconnected from agriculture" in suburban Coral Gables, Fla., Eva Worden grew fascinated with the origins of food when her parents planted a fruit grove. In 2003, she and her husband started Punta Gorda’s Worden Farm, one of just a few certified organic producers in Southwest Florida. Through farm memberships, newsletters, workshops and the downtown Sarasota Farmer’s Market, Worden, now mother of a toddler, works tirelessly to bring people closer to the things they eat.

Education: M.S. in horticulture from University of Maryland; doctorate in ecosystem management and agri-ecology from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Got that wrong: "Some people think organic farming is basically neglecting crops-’Oh, they don’t use fertilizer, they don’t use pesticides, they don’t control the weeds.’ Organic farming often requires more intensive management than conventional farming, because we’re not relying on chemicals to do the work." Setbacks: Hurricane Charley destroyed the Wordens’ new barn in 2004. They rebuilt it, following the example of Eva’s parents, who "did what they had to do" to recover after Hurricane Andrew ravaged their grove in 1992. And weather is "major," she says. "We get frosts and we’re out at 3 in the morning running the overhead irrigation. Healthy hint: "Plan meals seasonally based on what’s freshest. You’ll get the best product and the best price, and you’ll also get the connection to the natural world." Ask your produce supplier: "When was this harvested? What’s the best way to store this?"

KEEPING IT SIMPLE

Inspired by the classic Italian enoteca, or casual wine café, chef Cliff Whatmore, owner of Southgate Gourmet, sees his restaurant/market as an epicurean experience "without the formal pretense." Having pursued his culinary passion around the globe-even studying tribal cooking in Indonesia-the one-time philosophy student preaches simplicity as the path to perfection. "I don’t want to make it look fancy," he says. "I want to know how your grandmother does it."

Under pressure: Among Southgate Gourmet’s featured techniques, sous vide (literally, "under vacuum") enhances flavors by sealing ingredients in an airtight bag and cooking them at a low temperature. Cutting edge: A stickler for good knives, Whatmore prefers the precision of a Nenox with custom-blended steel and a custom-fabricated handle. "We’re not in hack-and-chop mode here. I like delicate work." Simplify: Buy ingredients in season. "Get the best price you can, cook them simply, try not to screw them up." Worst trend: Additive overuse. "I don’t want to go into a restaurant and hear about someone experimenting with transglutimase." Real organic: Acquiring organic certification can be prohibitively expensive for small farms-and certification still allows for a variety of farming techniques. Whatmore researches his suppliers, certified or not. "I can talk to them, see what they’re doing, and I trust their definition [of organic]." What’s the beef? Black Angus beef is becoming the gold standard, but a cow whose hide is 51 percent black can be certified Angus, he warns. Without a trustworthy supplier, your Angus steak might actually have come from a predominantly black Holstein.

POURING FOR THE PEOPLE

Though Jeff Rubin boasts a palate with a "photographic memory" and is on a first-name basis with the top vintners in Napa, the owner of the Rosemary District’s Vin Cella and founder of the Florida Wine Club is no snob. "If you want to put ice in your Bordeaux, that’s fine," he insists. "Wine is supposed to be fun."

From Napa with love: Having visited California extensively, he created the Florida Wine Club to bring top, hard-to-find California wines to Floridians. "It’s very costly to have a great selection of wines from all over the world. [The club offers] high quality in a more focused grouping." Tasting 101: "Trust your palate. If you like a wine, it’s good." Don’t forget to take notes. Pet peeve: "People thinking wine is some kind of pompous exercise." Good timing: Wine that’s spent too long in the bottle tastes oxidized-"no electricity, no verve." Immature wine tastes tannic and astringent. Err on the side of opening a bottle too soon; just airing it out "will have the same effect as letting it sit in your cellar for 10 years." Pairings: "I wouldn’t drink a $200, 1982 first-growth Bordeaux at the family barbecue; I’d drink that young zinfandel that’s a fraction of the price but just as good. You need to match the wine to the setting, to the meal, to the company, to the mood that you’re in." Best corkscrew: The "fool-proof" Rabbit. Most controversial trend: The screw top. "People need to get over the idea that it’s inferior." Someday he’ll sip: The Domaine De La Romanee Conti Romanee Conti. "It’s my golden fleece. If someone wanted $3,000 for it, I’d have to break the piggy bank."

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