Southwest Florida Chefs Host Dinner at the Acclaimed James Beard House

Southwest Florida’s culinary treasures – both the foods grown here and the chefs who prepare them – will play starring roles at a dinner at the prestigious James Beard House this fall.

Norman Love, the acclaimed chocolatier, pastry chef and founder of Norman Love Confections, has put together an all-star team of local chefs who will present the six-course dinner in New York on Friday, Oct. 2.

Joining him will be Fabrizio Aielli, chef/owner of Sea Salt in Naples and St. Petersburg; Harold Balink, chef/owner of Cru in Fort Myers; George Fistrovich, executive chef of The Ritz-Carlton Resorts of Naples; and Todd Johnson, chef/owner of Rumrunners in Cape Coral. Ryan Love, an up-and-coming pastry chef at Norman Love Confections, will join his father to create the desserts.

“The menu will feature ingredients that are indigenous to Southwest Florida,” said Norman Love. “The other team members are longtime friends and accomplished chefs. Everyone is really excited about working together on this project.”

Also playing a starring role in the meal will be the produce and meats of Rosy Tomorrows Heritage Farm, run by Rose O’Dell King of North Fort Myers. Her chicken, red wattle pork, Everglades tomatoes and mint marigold will be among the ingredients the chefs use to craft their hors d’oeuvres and six courses.


Todd Johnson: chef/owner of Rumrunners in Cape Coral

Chef Todd Johnson, who helms the third course, has a clear vision of what he’ll be making. “I’ll do a succulent miso belly as the first element,” Johnson said, “a second of mint marigold saltimbocca tenderloin and a third of pig shoulder confit with butternut squash. All will be on one plate.” It will be paired with a 2011 Evenstad Reserve Domaine Serene Pinot Noir.

For his pre-dinner canapé, he plans a savory sesame cone topped with red wattle pork rillettes and mascarpone mousse.

“I’m really excited to work with this group of chefs,” Johnson said. “It’s a true veteran chefs’ crew.”


Harold Balink: chef/owner of Cru in Fort Myers

Balink’s starter will be Rosy Tomorrows chicken pate and port gelee. He has the honor of the first main plated course, which is pan-seared black grouper, Rosy Tomorrows Everglades tomatoes, crispy oyster and conch-orange butter. It will be paired with a 2013 Mauritson Sauvignon Blanc.


Fabrizio Aielli: chef/owner of Sea Salt in Naples and St. Petersburg

Aielli will serve a savory Murray River Salt macaroon with Florida spiny lobster and foie gras as his hors d’oeuvre. His plated second course will consist of Pine Island octopus ink ravioli stuffed with free ranged chicken, white truffle, homemade ricotta, Venus clam ragu and liquid egg yolk. It will be paired with a 2012 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay.


George Fistrovich: executive chef of The Ritz-Carlton Resorts of Naples

Florida red shrimp spaghetti with red lettuce puree and Sarasota Mote sturgeon caviar is Fistrovich’s contribution to the hors d’oeuvres. He will handle the fourth course of Jackman Ranch beef cheeks, barbecued hearts of palm, charred corn cloud in the flavors of esquite (a Northern Mexican dish), boniato and preserved chop box cabbage leaves, paired with a 2011 Cal White Toro Tempranillo.

The Loves will create a pre-dessert of chilled Florida strawberry consommé, crème fraiche panna cotta and lemon basil macaron glace, paying homage to the fruits of Florida while keeping it “light and refreshing,” Love said. “Then it will be all about chocolate for dessert.”

The final course is something intriguing and mysterious called the Bittersweet Chocolate and Tropical Experience, which Norman and Ryan Love will team up to create. They will serve it with a Ornellaia Le Serre Nuove 2012 Bolgheri.

The not-for-profit James Beard Foundation maintains the Greenwich Village property that was home to the famed cookbook author and educator. Today, the house hosts culinary events showcasing chefs from around the world vying to create a meal for 80 people in this challenging performance space. The foundation’s mission is to “celebrate, nurture and honor America’s culinary heritage.”

With a limit of 80 diners, most people won’t be able to attend the dinner in New York, but the chefs are considering re-creating the meal locally afterward, most likely as a fundraiser for a local charity. They will be able to show video of the New York dinner at the event for an added taste of the real thing.

Tickets for the Beard dinner are expected to go on sale Aug. 1. Details and reservations are available at