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Busch Gardens Williamsburg, VA

This month I am the headline chef at the Busch Gardens Food and Wine Festival. I was there last weekend and I’ll be back June 15-16. If you are in the area or have friends in the region, please tell them to come check it out! I have 30-minute demonstrations throughout the afternoon in an amphitheater that are open to all park guests and one special dinner show called the Chef’s Guest in the evening. The entertainment team producing the shows are top notch! Everything runs like clockwork and everyone is kind, professional, and hospitable.

The Chef’s Guests demonstration includes wine, dinner, and is much more intimate. Here’s a quick snap of what’s for dinner with the Chef’s Guests – Sweet Tea Brined Pork Chop atop a bed of Parmigiano Reggiano Grits and a Tangle of Garlicky Collard Greens. I have become a Grits and Greens missionary, converting the unknowing to the joys and pleasures of both Southern staples. If I heard once last weekend, “I usually don’t like grits, but I love these” — I heard it a dozen times. I saw one lady sneak back for 3rds and 4ths on the grits!

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Food and Wine Around the World

I didn’t do it all by myself. Executive Chef Justin Watson is a graduate of the New England Culinary Institute and has a long history working for resorts including Woodstock Inn and Resort and Kingsmill Resort & Spa. His culinary team did an absolutely superb job with my recipes setting up the mise en place for the demonstrations as well as catering the Chef’s Guest Food and Wine Dinner Demonstrations.

For the Food and Wine Festival Chef Watson has created a collection of food and beverage selections representative of each European country at the park – England, Scotland, Ireland, Italy, Germany and France – as well as countries such as Spain, Canada and Greece that are not currently in the park. Each country has a kiosk and for a small fee, guests can sample dishes from that country. This is not turkey legs and funnel cakes, my friends. It’s really tasty. The scallop wrapped in Serrano ham from Spain was one of my favorites and I can guarantee I’ll be tweaking that recipe soon for my blog! The chef’s expertise and dedication to further improve the quality of the food in the park was evident. Everything I sampled was very nicely done.

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The festival also features culinary experts throughout the park, including sugar and chocolate work as well as incredible fruit and vegetable carving. Check out the watermelon carved by Chef James Parker of Veggy Art. You would not believe what this talented man can do! I was in awe of his knife work.

I had lots of requests for my demo recipes so I promised I would post them on my blog. I think they are superb for summer. The Lemonade Chicken is as easy as 1,2,3 and the Summer Succotash can be served hot, warm, room temperature – or even made ahead and served cold. Hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I do!

Lastly, I have fun posting pictures while I am out-and-about so click on each if you want to keep up with me on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.

Bon Appétit Y’all!


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Grilled Lemonade Chicken
Serves 4

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 cups lemonade
¼ cup freshly chopped mixed herbs such as basil, mint, and parsley
2 cloves garlic, mashed into a paste
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the chicken in a medium bowl. Add lemonade, herbs, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate to marinate for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare a charcoal fire using about 6 pounds of charcoal and burn until the coals are completely covered with a thin coating of light gray ash, 20 to 30 minutes. Spread the coals evenly over the grill bottom, position the grill rack above the coals, and heat until medium hot (when you can hold your hand 5 inches above the grill surface for no longer than 3 or 4 seconds). Or, for a gas grill, turn all burners to high, close the lid, and heat until very hot, 10 to 15 minutes.

Remove chicken from marinade; place on grill. Discard marinade. Cook, turning once or twice, until the meat is firm to the touch and the juices run clear when the chicken is pierced with the tip of a knife, about 10 minutes.

Summer Succotash
Serves 4 to 6

Succotash has many versions, but all contain corn and beans. If butterbeans are not available, I often substitute shelled edamame or black-eyed peas. Small farm stands, local and state farmer’s markets, and even the Whole Foods in my area usually carry shelled peas and butterbeans in the summer. They are both doubly precious—extremely delicious and fairly expensive, the result of the luxury of not having to shell your own.

1 1/2 cups shelled fresh butterbeans (about 1 1/2 pounds unshelled) or frozen butter beans
2 medium Yukon gold potatoes, diced
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 sweet onion, chopped
Scraped kernels from 4 ears fresh sweet corn (about 2 cups)
1 yellow squash, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
1 cup grape, cherry, or teardrop tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup freshly chopped mixed herbs such as basil, oregano, and parsley
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

To cook the beans, place them in a pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat and season the water with salt and pepper; decrease the heat to low. Simmer until tender, about 30 minutes for fresh beans, less for frozen. Drain well and set aside.

To cook the potatoes, place them in a second saucepan and cover by 1 inch with cold water; season with salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, then decrease the heat to low and simmer until the potatoes are just tender, about 10 minutes. Drain in a colander and set aside. (You can also microwave the potatoes whole, then dice them. They simply need to be parcooked before being added to the succotash.)

In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet, heat the oil and the butter over high heat until the foam subsides. Add the drained potatoes and season with salt and pepper. Cook the potatoes, stirring infrequently, until nicely crusted, 5 to 7 minutes.

Add the onion, corn, squash, and zucchini and cook, stirring, until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the reserved butter beans and cook, stirring, until heated through. Add the tomatoes and fresh basil, stirring to combine. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve hot, warm, or cold.

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, Thanks so much.

Copyright © 2013 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

Photo credits – Lisa Ekus & Virginia Willis

Disclosure: My appearances at the Busch Gardens Food and Wine Festival are sponsored by the Coca-Cola Company. This post is not a requirement of our agreement and I am not additionally compensated for this post or any social media efforts publicizing this post.