NAPLES — "Get ready," said Ritz-Carlton Executive Chef George Fistrovich. "The trend in creative cuisine has just begun and we think maybe it's time to truly break the mold of what’s expected from Naples restaurants."
Fistrovich is talking about the new Lemonía at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples and its new chef de cuisine, Erik Autry. While Lemonía used to be an Italian restaurant with a Tuscan focus, it now features regional American cuisine and diverse menu. That Autry applies an inventive spin on classic preparations is putting it mildly. An appetizer of white asparagus with poached egg, lava salt-and-brioche croutons and entrée of house-made Gruyere gnocchi with chanterelle and royal trumpet mushrooms served with a parsley brown butter with pickled onions and ricotta.
Autry’s soups also feature the same flair for the dramatic that he gives his entrees and starters. His sunchoke (also known as a Jerusalem artichoke) soup is prepared like edible art with colorful micro greens and mixed local shellfish harnessed within a circle of roasted red onion and accented with wafer-thin pickled beets.
“I’ve already experimented with a series of items not readily found on most menus in Naples, including sautéed frogs legs, appropriately paired with a parsley risotto,” said Autry, who has been known to come out to diners’ tables to explain dishes and share his enthusiasm for interesting ingredients. “It’s exciting to test out new, edgy dishes with our Naples crowd to see what they like, what they don’t like, and what they may like but have never tried — more to come on that!”
Before Autry came to Naples, he had his choice of kitchens. Having worked in two Michelin-starred restaurants, DO & CO International Gmbh in Munich, Germany, and Acquarello, as chef de partie, he also worked as chef de partie at Munich’s Atelier in the luxury Hotel Bayerischer Hof.
Throughout his time in Europe, Autry traveled extensively to learn new recipes and techniques. He accepted high-profile jobs that would allow him to expand his repertoire, including catering the Formula 1 Racing Circuit and opening a new restaurant in BMW World in 2008.
Prior to his years cooking across Europe, Autry was a saucier in New Orleans and honed the classics at brasseries and cafes in Seattle and Charlotte. Autry came full circle and returned home to Southwest Florida, where he was welcomed into the Ritz-Carlton culinary family to take Lemonía in an entirely new direction.
“I grew up here in Southwest Florida, in Fort Myers to be exact, but I moved away from home when I was 19 to travel the world,” said Autry, who fell victim to homesickness while he was in Europe. “I returned from Europe to be closer to my family, and when The Ritz-Carlton welcomed me and my ideas about a new, more modern menu at the golf resort, I was truly honored.”
Autry says he appreciated the resort culinary staff’s open mind to his style of food and cooking, particularly that of the Ritz-Carlton Executive Chef Fistrovich. About Autry’s hip factor cuisine, which is rarely seen in Naples and at resorts, in general, Fistrovich is enthusiastic.
“Erik’s training sure helps make Lemonía’s menu more edgy than what we’re used to seeing out there and being in Europe for several years gave him that edge, which is not typically found in Naples’ kitchens,” he said. “His training in Europe also gave him confidence to take risks with the dishes he prepares and presents — always with excitement and pride and it helped that Erik’s food was by far the most progressive and relevant among most dishes we’ve tasted in a while.”
Autry’s zeal for creating dishes comes from the diverse background he experienced in his travels. “It’s important to me to keep the integrity of what a meat, vegetable or any ingredient is supposed to taste like,” he says. “I want to put even more locally grown, sourced products on the menu because the farm dictates most of my menu and what is fresh, at its peak.
Autry also tries to stay as seasonal as possible and says he looks forward to changing up a few dishes on the menu with each new season.
Turning over a restaurant makeover to a new chef, however experienced and well-traveled is a huge risk for an executive chef. What struck Fistrovich about Autry that made him the perfect choice for Lemonía was the need to give Lemonía its own identity and separate it from the other six restaurant experiences between the two Ritz-Carlton Resorts of Naples. “Erik’s fresh, creative approach to food and extensive background in kitchens around the world make him an all-around great fit for what we’re going for with Lemonía,” said Fistrovich. “He’s a young, new talent and that’s what we were looking for at the golf resort.” Lemonía also has a new pastry chef in Megan A. Mueller. Mueller creates the sweet finales to Autry’s savory menu. Mueller relishes the challenge of creating innovative desserts to complement the complex flavor profiles concocted by Autry.
Chef Autry says while he does relish pushing the envelope, most of his dishes are classic renditions done in a modern way.
Autry’s dishes are hearty. Although the menu is subject to change, a few of his favorites include his American cassoulet of lamb stew with white beans and garlic pork sausage. In the middle of the stew, Autry prepares a house made duck confit that cooks in duck fat for 12 hours after curing in a puree of salt, thyme, parsley and bay leaf for 24 hours.
The mahi-mahi on the new Lemonía menu is served with a potato terrine and vegetable ratatouille, roasted red pepper sauce with arugula oil and lava salt. Autry’s salmon is poached in olive oil sous vide resting on atop succotash and then topped with oysters, mussels, clams and purple Peruvian chips for texture. Then finally, tableside a roasted garlic chive cream sauce is poured over the entire dish.
The leg of lamb entrée is prepared sous vide and pan roasted with yogurt and quinoa spiced with cardamom, coriander, nutmeg, cinnamon and anise and garnished with red and yellow beets and crispy onion. The restaurant also features weekly specials and seasonal dishes added to the regular menu.
For reservations, call 239-598-6644.