September 12, 2012 1:54:20 PM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
When a special Tennessee Williams Tribute luncheon called for Southern elegance with a New Orleans twist, Chef Marty Wages of Columbus was ready with ideas.
Against the graceful and grand backdrop of Errolton, the 1848 antebellum home of Keith and Gaines Gaskin, patrons enjoyed a seated repast Sept. 7, prepared by Wages and his staff from Table of Plenty.
The menu's Crescent City influence was a tip of the chef's toque to Dr. Kenneth Holditch, the event's honored guest. Holditch -- a professor emeritus at the University of New Orleans, author, lecturer and Mississippi native -- was presented the Tribute's first annual Tennessee Williams Scholars' Medal during the luncheon. The personalized keepsake medal was designed and cast by Angela Jones, of the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science faculty.
"It was fitting that Errolton is where this ceremony took place as it was formerly the home of Gaines' parents, the late Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Bateman, who hosted Tennessee Williams and his grandfather when they would visit Columbus," said Brenda Caradine, founder and chair of the annual Tribute, now in its 11th year.
On the menu
"To tie in the New Orleans theme to our Southern menu we did a dish I call Shrimp Rita that's always a hit," said Wages, referring to a recipe first given to him by a friend, Rita West of Columbus.
The lightly Cajun-flavored dish gets its flavorful zing from a marinade made with Dijon mustard, white wine vinegar and crushed red peppers.
Marinated vegetables, savory tomato biscuits and pastry cups filled with the chef's signature "Bulldog" pimento cheese (which gets its mild bite from a smoky chipotle homemade mayo) rounded out the menu. Dessert plates at each setting held a homemade praline, lemon square, strawberry and a cowboy cookie, a name Wages gave this sweet with "everything in them -- brown sugar, white chocolate, pecans, macadamia ... "
He credits Patricia Blair's recipe in the Grand Heritage cookbook (one of his favorite cookbooks) for inspiring his marinated vegetables.
"It's a beautiful dish when you want color on your plate," he noted.
While it may be true, as Wages modestly said, that "anyone can make a tomato biscuit," seldom are they as tasty as his, flavored with basil, course pepper and butter.
For any hostess daunted by the idea of preparing appetizers, the chef suggested keeping mini Phyllo pastry cups on hand to fill with chicken salad, tuna salad, a marinated shrimp or, as Wages did, pimento cheese.
"Some people get scared when they hear the word appetizer, but you can put almost anything in the pastry cups to make a great appetizer, even at the last minute," he stated.
A common misstep in the kitchen, Wages asserted, is cooking shrimp too long.
"The secret to fabulous shrimp is to not overcook them," he said. "Once they hit that bright pink, they're ready to go into a prepared ice bath to stop the cooking." (Anything you take out of boiling water continues to cook for about 15 minutes, he cautioned.)
Another tip: Drain shrimp well. Residual water dilutes the marinade.
Once your appropriately-cooked, well-drained and deliciously-marinated Shrimp Rita are ready, they can be served in a lettuce cup, or on skewers, or on chopped lettuce, with added chopped tomatoes and croutons on top.
"If I'm going to make them to be served as a salad over chopped lettuce as an entrée, I make one and one-half times the marinade, which is actually a good vinaigrette," the chef said.
The entire mid-day event Friday at Errolton, complete with a Suzuki Strings ensemble, was labeled a success all-around.
"It was a beautiful, elegant home to have this in and both host and hostess were outstanding to work with," remarked Wages, who achieved the culinary connection to Tennessee Williams' and Holditch's adopted spiritual home of New Orleans.
The link went even deeper.
"We were honored to host this for the Tennessee Williams Tribute," said homeowner Keith Gaskin. "There's even a photo of Gaines' father, Douglas, interviewing Tennessee Williams when he was in Columbus in Dr. Holditch's book. And Dr. Holditch had been a friend of Gaines' mother, Chebie. He said he could feel her presence."
2 pounds of cooked, peeled, and deveined shrimp
For the marinade:
1/4 cup finely minced celery
1/4 cup finely minced green onions
1/4 cup finely minced chopped parsley (fresh, not dried)
1/2 cup Dijon mustard (or Creole spicy, if you like really hot)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon crushed red peppers
1 teaspoon salt
n Mix the marinade in a bowl and whisk until completely incorporated. Pour over completely cooled, well-drained shrimp.
n Put in refrigerator a minimum of four hours, turning shrimp every couple of hours. It's best to let shrimp marinade overnight, up to 24 hours.
n Serve as an appetizer on skewers, in lettuce cups, or as an entrée salad over chopped lettuce, adding chopped tomatoes and croutons.
(Source: Marty Wages, Table of Plenty)
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.