When I got an email informing me that Bon Appetit magazine’s chef de cuisine, Mary Nolan, would be in Sarasota for a weekend of cooking demonstrations, my first thought was an unequivocal, “Sign me up!” The events, which included a meet-and-greet, cooking demonstration and champagne brunch and which were sponsored by the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, Viking Culinary Center, Polo Grill and Edible Sarasota, took place over the course of three-days in Lakewood Ranch. Here’s the recap of a seriously delicious weekend.
Above: The exterior of Lakewood Ranch's Viking Culinary Center; below: Chef Chris Covelli charms the crowd.
Friday: Despite ominous, low-hanging black clouds and sheets of rain, we headed to Viking Culinary Center in Lakewood Ranch. The Viking facility is beautiful; guests take classes in custom-built demonstration kitchens that feel like home but better.
Unfortunately, the bad weather prevented Nolan from getting from Chicago to Sarasota in time for the scheduled meet-and-greet that evening, but Viking’s executive chef, Chris Covelli, stepped in, and his warm and slightly irreverent personality soon had everyone relaxed and laughing. It was a great way to kick off the weekend.
Salad prep; hoisin-glazed scallops with baby bok choy; a refreshing dessert.
Saturday: We arrived at Polo Grill in Lakewood Ranch hungry and ready for Nolan’s cooking demonstration. As we settled into our seats and looked at the equipment in front of us, I started to feel a little apprehensive: What if I totally messed up and burned (or—yikes—undercooked) the meal? But Nolan quickly put me and the rest of the group at ease. Aside from her wealth of knowledge—thanks to her time at the Institute of Culinary Education, her restaurant experience and her stint hosting Food Network’s Chic & Easy—she has a friendly, helpful personality. “Adjust flavors based on what feels right to you,” she said, encouragingly, several times, and she didn’t flinch at any little mishaps that came up along the way (including, hilariously, our tablemates’ decision to accidentally dump their entire container of salt into their salad dressing. Oops!).
We began with a watermelon and watercress salad with a ginger-lime dressing, then moved on to hoisin-glazed scallops with steamed bok choy—both perfect for hot Florida summers. For dessert, there was a homemade ice cream sandwich, and Nolan answered audience questions and signed copies of Bon Appetit’s encyclopedic emerald-green cookbook, Fast, Easy, Fresh, which were given to each guest.
Bon Appetit magazine chef de cuisine Mary Nolan addresses our group at the Sunday champagne brunch at Polo Grill.
Sunday: Back to Polo Grill for a casual brunch of breakfast-food staples like smoked salmon, bagels, pastries, potatoes and scrambled eggs. The Polo Grill staff kept the coffee hot and the mimosas flowing, and the conversation was friendly and easy; the entire weekend had the atmosphere of a group of friends getting together to catch up. “I travel a lot doing these kinds of demos,” Nolan said, “and I really enjoy them.” I could see why.
Bon appétit, indeed.
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