Among the variety of events held at the St. Croix Food & Wine Experience, there is a pair of very exclusive, high-roller affairs. Called Cork & Fork, these are $1,000 per person opportunities to experience stellar food and wine pairings in spectacular private estates. This year, one took place in the Great House at Catherine’s Hope, notable for being the home occupied by Martha Stewart when she vacationed here. The other, which I was invited to attend, was at the historic Cohen Estate in Frederiksted. The meal was prepared by Facebook executive chef Tony Castellucci and a team of young student chefs, with wines chosen by sommelier Tony Gatti.
Sparkling wine in hand, 12 of us were given a tour of the stunning property. Built in the mid-eighteenth century and extensively restored by designer Twila Wilson, the place is a spectacular and idyllic setting to enjoy the gourmet six-course menu, composed entirely of local ingredients. Our appetizer was a sashimi of yellowtail on green mango salad with local citrus dressing, followed by quick-fried local prawn on a puree of ginger-scented black rice with green coconut curry sauce. These palate stimulators were paired with an exotic and slightly smoky Tuscan Vermentino, with obvious notes of grapefruit.
Pigeon pea bisque arrived next with créme fraîche and a plantain crisp. The Three Sticks Chardonnay from Sonoma was buttery enough to stand up to the soup’s richness, yet still acidic enough to cut through it. A superb salad course brought together local greens with avocado, peppers, roasted calabaza pumpkin, and toasted cashews, dressed with a lovely bittersweet soursop vinaigrette. The juicy, intense fruit of the Trisaetum Riesling from Oregon’s Willamette Valley could not have been a better partner. It is a gorgeous grape.
Seared mahi was served atop soba noodles in an enticing shiitake dashi, pickled ginger and cilantro on top. With it, we quaffed a Radio-Coteau Sonoma Pinot Noir, soft and redolent of berry. Braised local short ribs in lemongrass, ginger, and chiles rested on a mashed mix of sweet and savory plantains with creamy coconut sauce. The 2005 Bodegas Rioja was decanted with two copper pennies to intensify the brightness of the tempranillo fruit, revealing a powerful, plummy elegance.
We cleaned our dessert plates by demolishing a carambola upside-down cake with local jackfruit and chocolate compote, capped by whipped minted sour cream. That was accompanied by a fragrant 2009 Chateau Manos Cuvee Traditionelle from the aptly named Cadillac region of France.
Both Tonys, Castellucci and Gatti, deserve major praise. The chef has made a genuine commitment to giving back by training young culinary talent in St. Croix. And the expert sommelier returned to his hometown for this special evening, aligning as wonderful a selection of wines for one meal as I can recall having.
Obviously it takes an awful lot of money to afford something like this. The dinner also relied upon generous contributions, both from the Cohens for their home and from St. Croix’s local farmers, fishermen, and abattoirs, who provided all the local foods. Thankfully, the funds raised provide important financial support to the St. Croix Foundation.