Gerry Klaskala and I locked down the dates of his first visit to the Southern Chefs Series last fall. As his March date approached, the chef/owner of Aria, Canoe and the consulting chef for Atlas at the St. Regis peppered me with questions, excited to nail down the details and get prepped for his class.
A few days before, Gerry called to say that one of his most loyal diners at Aria—a woman who was almost 90 years old—had died and her funeral was scheduled for Monday, the second part of his class. He apologized profusely, said he would still do the Sunday night dinner, but his chef de cuisine, Brandon, would take over the next day. “But if you tell me I absolutely need to be there,” he said. “I’ll be there.”
That’s Gerry in a nutshell, and it says a lot about who he is as a chef, a restaurateur and a person. He’s not into the Next Hot Thing; he’s into the Next Right Thing. In the fickle world of food, he’s loyal to those who’ve been loyal to him.
He was incredibly gracious with the guests, who immediately picked up on his enthusiasm and desire to be part of the circle, instead of center stage. He brought beautiful oysters and served them with cucumber champagne mignonette as a snack and plied the guests with homemade limoncello and one of his favorite brandies.
Together they made grilled lamb and asparagus with roasted fingerlings and carrots and Florida strawberries with mint and lemon curd in a crisped puff pastry, but my favorite was the creamless celery root soup—one of his signature dishes at Aria. Simple and exquisite, it was a delicious demonstration of how quality ingredients aren’t a luxury, they’re a necessity.
Creamless Celery Root Soup with Black Truffles and Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 3 ounces butter, unsalted
- 2 each large celery root, peeled and diced
- 1 leek, white part only, diced and washed
- 1 quart light chicken stock
- ¼ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated
- 1 ounce black truffles, microplane grated
- Kosher salt
Place a heavy bottom soup pot over low heat and add 2 ounces of the butter. When the butter begins to foam, add celery root and a little salt. Cook slowly for 4 minutes, add leeks and continue to cook slowly for another 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Do not allow the celery root or the leeks to brown.
Add chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook slowly for 40 minutes.
Carefully puree the soup in a blender until very smooth. Add the remaining 1 ounce of cold butter, all the parmesan and continue to puree until very smooth. Season to taste.
Return soup to a clean pot and heat. Add truffles and serve into warmed soup bowls.
Next up: Nathalie Dupree returns to the Southern Chefs Series May 17-18. To register, call the Inn at Serenbe at 770.463.2610.