If you go
Summer Chef series
July 25: Sea Salt Executive Chef Fabrizzio Aielli with M Waterfront Grille Executive Chef Brian Roland; ingredient — sable fish.
Aug. 29: Campiello and Cafe Lurcat executive chefs Vincenzo Betulia and Mike Mueller with Roland — petrossian caviar.
Sept. 19: I.M. Tapas Executive Chefs Isabel P. Polo and Mary Shipman with Roland — foie gras
Oct. 17: Stoney’s Steakhouse Executive Chef Eric Delano with Roland — quail eggs
Where: M Waterfront Grille, 4300 Gulf Shore Blvd. N., Naples
Cost: The five-course dinners, each with a featured ingredient, are $95 per person, $45 additional for wine pairings.
Information/reservations: (239) 263-4421
M Waterfront Grille Executive Chef Brian Roland walks into the giant walk in refrigerator at the back of his kitchen.
“Hey, Tony, do you have any of that micro basil?” he calls, rooting around in the fridge.
Tony is Handsome Harry’s Third Street Bistro executive chef, Tony Biagetti.
“Oh, I see how it is,” said Biagetti, smiling. “You are trying to steal my micro basil.”
Grabbing a package from the cooler and walking out, Roland smiles and points to the package.
“Oh, look, here, it says M Waterfront Grille,” he said, laughing.
What’s a little friendly competition between two chefs? That seems to be the concept behind the Summer Chef Series, which is being held one Monday each month through October at M Waterfront Grille.
The Summer Chefs Series is Roland’s brainchild. Roland said he initially wanted to come up with an idea to expand the restaurant’s wine dinner program, in which guests pay a set price for dinner and wine.
To show the community that there are “super-talented” chefs in Naples, Roland invited six chefs who are, as he said, “among the top chefs in town,” and allowed the visiting chefs to select the featured ingredient. Roland prepares two courses and the other chef provides two courses. The duo collaborate on dessert.
“I wanted it to involve a featured ingredient. The general public knows and loves ‘Iron Chef’ and ‘Top Chef.’ I didn’t want it to be a competition, but a collaboration,” Roland said. “Although there are bragging rights involved.”
Not only are cooking competition shows popular, but so are movements such as farm to table and, more recently, head to tail. That, Roland said, allows the chefs to get creative.
“I think we did a good job involving the whole animal on this one,” he said. “We are using cheeks, belly, pig’s feet.”
On a Monday night in June, Roland and Biagetti cook with Kurobuta pork as their featured ingredient. Perhaps best described as the “Kobe beef of pork,” Kurobuta pork is the Japanese version of the Berkshire hog, which is considered to be the pig that produces the world’s best pork.
“It’s a fun one,” said Biagetti of the ingredient.
“I am making a cheek tortelloni,” he said. “People might not want to eat pork cheek, but they like pasta, so they try it. And then they say, ‘Wow, I’ve had pork cheek now.’ ”
“We want them to leave the room with a having a completely enjoyable dining experience,” Roland said.
“They are going to see two totally different styles of cooking,” Biagetti said. “I have 15 years on Brian and I would say my cooking is more classic Italian while his is more nouveau.”
Roland refers to his style as a “foundation of French with an innovative approach.”
It’s also a way to draw people to the restaurant in the slow summer months. Quinn said M Waterfront Grille does 65 percent of its business in 10 weeks.
For the diners, the food is really the star of the show. From Roland, they get a crispy Kurobuta pork consomme served with a salad with a sous vide egg, which is cooked at 65 degrees in a water bath until the egg is cooked to perfection — the “perfectly poached” egg yolk tasting like pudding.
Biagetti offers up pork belly that literally melts in the diners’ mouths with an onion confit, served alongside the braised pork cheek tortelloni.
For the entree course, Roland served a vanilla-spice rubbed Kurobuta pork tenderloin with sweet corn and white truffle polenta. Biagetti served a pistachio and pancetta-wrapped rack of Kurobuta pork with garlicky escarole.
“Do you serve any of this in your restaurant?” one of the diners asked Biagetti.
He thought for just a moment.
“No,” he said, laughing.
The dessert collaboration was a Vermont maple semifreddo, which is like ice cream, with crispy, sweet-cured bacon, a bourbon pecan tuile and smoked fleur de sel on top.
“I am not sure we will be able to combine the featured ingredient in all of the courses in all of the other dinners. I am not sure what a dessert with sable fish would look like,” Roland said, laughing.
That doesn’t deter Naples resident Lauri Burkhardt, who said she will be at every Summer Chef Series dinner.
“It’s amazing. It’s so good, I can’t even put it into words,” she said of the meal. “I think this will enable Brian to catapult into the stratosphere.”
Naples resident Angela O’Donnell agreed.
“I think this is fabulous,” said O’Donnell, who is a restaurant manager in town. “A lot of restaurants have these grand tasting menus, but to have this once a month with featured ingredients — it elevates the concept of cuisine and being unique.”
Biagetti said he hopes the diners walk away with an appreciation for the talent that is in Naples.
“This is our craft, our art,” he said. “You can find amazing food not only in New York or Miami, but right here in Naples.”
Connect with Katherine Albers at naplesnews.com/staff/katherine-albers