Chattahoochee River Club executive chef Alex Sapp treats his culinary creations as edible works of art.
His plating is masterful but his reasoning is simple.
"If it doesn't look good they won't eat it," he said. "Unless it's grits, of course."
Don't get carried away on presentation, though. The food has to taste good, too.
"It's all about balance. Don't spend so much time making it pretty that you forget about taste," he said.
The 35-year-old chef was recently selected as "Chef of the Year" by his peers in the Chattahoochee Valley Chapter of the American Culinary Federation.
The award launched him into local celebrity status, and he's recently offered cooking demonstrations on TV.
"It's fun. I love keeping busy," he said.
He created this spring dinner party menu for Ledger-Enquirer readers. While elegant and sophisticated, his recipes are easy to follow.
The dishes that follow are ones he and his wife, Rachel, would make together for friends.
It's Rachel who most often cooks at home for Alex and their daughter, Maggie, who turns 5 in August. Although, Alex admits Corn Flakes often become dinner on hectic nights when he doesn't get home until 10:30 p.m.
On a typical day, Alex arrives at the River Club at 8 a.m. to set up for the lunch buffet. He spends his day checking food orders, preparing menus, solving problems and cooking until 9 or 10 p.m.
Meanwhile at home, Rachel homeschools Maggie.
"She has a harder job than me," Alex said.
Alex and Maggie bond over food. Both are adventurous eaters.
"She'll eat anything, even fish and avocado," he said.
He enjoys teaching kids about food and serves on the Culinary Council for Russell County, Central and Jordan high schools and works with Columbus High School students on senior projects.
He's recently started teaching a class at Open Door Community House.
"Education is important. I want there to be good food in Columbus. I want there to be good cooks. To be good cooks they need to have good training," he said.
He encourages teens who want to become chefs to start their culinary adventures early.
"Get a job at a restaurant, even if it's dishwashing," he said.
Six years ago, Alex was a line cook at the River Club.
"It gave me a lot of time for experimentation. I could spend two days learning to making consomme or perfecting mac and cheese. It really gives you time to focus on cooking," he said.
For more information on the River Club visit their website or call 706-596-1100.
Find out what food Alex doesn't like and what kitchen gadget he can't live without at Dawn's Dish blog.
Golden Beet Salad
Grilled Golden Beets and Baby Spinach Salad with Goat Cheese and Tarragon and Clover Honey Dressing
4 medium sized golden beets
8 cups baby spinach
1/2 pound goat cheese (crumbled)
1 1/4 cups Honey Tarragon dressing (recipe below)
Place beets unpeeled in a large pot and cover with water and poach for approximately one hour. Remove from heat and allow to cool in the refrigerator. When beets are chilled remove the skin, the beets should peel easily and this works best under running cold water. Next slice beets into ¼ inch thick rounds, place in bowl and cover with Honey Tarragon Dressing and marinate two to three hours.
Arrange marinated beets on a plate. Top with the spinach and crumbled goat cheese. Pour desired amount of dressing on salad and serve.
Honey Tarragon Dressing
4 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons fresh tarragon
1 cup sherry vinegar
2 cups salad oil
Salt, to taste
Combine honey, chopped tarragon, sherry vinegar, salad oil and salt, to taste. Refrigerate until needed.
Arugula and Figs
Baby Arugula with Black Mission Figs, Toasted Walnuts, Five Spice Croutons and Vanilla Balsamic Vinaigrette
8 cups baby arugula
1-1/2 cups Vanilla Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
8 figs, sliced
2 cups Candied Walnuts (recipe follows)
8 pieces Five Spice Croutons (recipe follows)
8 cherry tomatoes
Toss arugula with Vanilla Vinaigrette, arrange on desired plates. Garnish with sliced figs, croutons, walnuts and cherry tomatoes. Drizzle extra salad dressing around greens and serve.
2 cups walnuts
3 tablespoons molasses
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
Place walnuts in large bowl and drizzle with molasses, add brown sugar, white sugar, cayenne pepper, salt and toss to coat.
Place on baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 7 to 10 minutes until walnuts toast and sugar melts. Remove from oven and allow time to cool. Store in airtight container away from friends and family who will most definitely eat them if they are found.
Five Spice Croutons
4 slices frozen bread
1/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons Chinese five spice
1 teaspoon salt
Cut frozen bread into long three inch strips and brush with olive oil and dust with five spice and salt. Bake at 300 degrees for approximately fifteen minutes until bread is crisp and golden brown.
Keep in airtight container until needed.
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 cup balsamic vinegar
1-1/2 cups olive oil
Whisk vanilla, brown sugar and balsamic together. Drizzle in olive oil and whisk together to emulsify.
Refrigerate until needed and whisk again before serving.
Blue Crab Stuffed Artichokes with Parmesan Béchamel and Sautéed Swiss Chard
Parmesan Béchamel Sauce
5 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups milk
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups Parmesan cheese
In a medium pot, heat the butter over medium-low heat until melted. Add flour and stir until smooth to create a roux.
Over medium heat, cook roux until it turns a light, golden brown, about 7 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the milk in a separate pan until just about to boil. Add the milk to the butter mixture 1 cup at a time, whisking continuously until very smooth. Bring to a boil. Cook 10 minutes stirring constantly. Remove from heat, season with salt, whisk in Parmesan cheese, and set aside until ready to use.
Parmesan Bread Crumbs
1 cup Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup chopped parsley
Melt butter. Combine all ingredients. Refrigerate until needed.
Sautéed Swiss Chard
3 bunches Swiss chard
2 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic (chopped)
1/4 cup white wine
Trim and thoroughly wash Swiss chard to remove any sand. Trim the larger stalks and discard and keep the leaves for sautéing.
Melt butter in medium pan. Add garlic and allow it to turn light brown. Add Swiss chard. Saute until wilted, add white wine to deglaze, remove from heat.
Crab Stuffed Artichokes
1 pound crab meat
1-1/2 cups Parmesan béchamel
Parmesan bread crumbs
To prep the artichokes: slice in half and poach in salted, boiling water until tender. Drain and remove the inner most leaves, leaving a cavity for filling.
To make the crab filling: Place crab meat in a bowl and fold in 1½ cup Parmesan béchamel. Fill artichokes then top with Parmesan bread crumbs.
Bake at 350 degrees until bread crumbs are golden brown and inside reaches 165 degrees.
Serve by putting sautéed Swiss chard in center of plate topped with artichoke and additional Béchamel sauce, if desired.
Zucchini Crusted Tilapia with Saffron Risotto and Oven Roasted Tomatoes.
4 6-ounce Tilapia filets
1 tablespoons salt
1/2 tablespoon pepper
1/2 tablespoon granulated garlic
1/2 cup Clarified Butter
To make the zucchini crust: Thinly slice 1 zucchini on a mandolin as thin as possible and season with salt, pepper, and granulated garlic. Allow the slices to marinate for ten minutes for the zucchini to soften. To crust the fish, arrange the slices starting at the tail of the filet in a scale pattern until the whole piece of fish is covered. Brush with butter and place in oven at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes until fish reaches 165 degrees.
Oven Roasted Tomatoes
Salt and Pepper
Toss tomatoes with chopped parsley, thyme, salt, pepper, garlic and olive oil and bake at 300 degrees for 15 minutes
1 teaspoon Saffron
1/2 cup white wine
2 tablespoons butter
3 shallots, diced
1-1/2 cups arborio rice
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
Start by combining the saffron with the wine and set aside. Melt butter in sauce pan and sauté the diced shallots. Add the Arborio rice and give it a quick sauté. Add the white wine saffron mixture and reduce by half. Add two cups of stock, stir rice with a whisk or wooden spoon until almost all moisture is absorbed. Add the rest of the stock repeating the process until the stock is absorbed. Finish with heavy cream and let rice stand for a few minutes.
Serve by placing risotto in center of plate, top with the zucchini fish and garnish with the oven roasted tomatoes.
Parma Pork Tenderloin
Prosciutto Wrapped Pork Tenderloin with Butternut Squash Hash and Maple Sage Bread Pudding
2 pork tenderloins
1 pound sliced Prosciutto de Parma
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
1 tablespoon pepper
Start by laying flat pieces of prosciutto on cutting board so that the slices overlap. Next, place pork tenderloin on the prosciutto and sprinkle with thyme and pepper. Roll around the tenderloin and wrap with plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour. To bake, remove plastic from tenderloin, place in roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil and bake at 325 degrees until internal temp reaches 145 to 150 degrees. Allow the pork to rest before slicing.
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons sage
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups milk
6 cups bread
In medium sized bowl whisk together sugar, eggs, maple syrup, sage and vanilla.
Add milk and bread and let sit for one hour to soak. Place in individual ramekins and bake at 300 degrees for 30 minutes until custard sets and bread pudding is golden brown.
Butternut squash hash
2-1/2 slices of apple wood bacon
1 tablespoon sage
1 butternut squash (small dice)
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup parsley
Dice bacon. Place in sauté pan to render out fat. Add sage and butternut squash and add water to allow squash to steam. Add the maple syrup, brown sugar and salt to taste. Top hash with chopped parsley and serve.
Orange Creamsicle Strawberries
1 pouch Jell-O Instant Vanilla Pudding
1 cup orange juice
2 teaspoon orange extract
1 cup mascarpone cheese
½ pint heavy cream
16 large strawberries
Cinnamon Puff Pastry (recipe follows)
For the orange mousse: Place vanilla pudding powder in bowl and add orange juice, orange extract, and mascarpone cheese. Whisk until smooth.
In a separate bowl, whip the heavy cream. Fold whipped cream into orange mixture and refrigerate for one hour to allow to set. Place in piping bag with star tip.
For the strawberries: Remove the tops and hollow out the inside with a melon baller. Pipe the orange mousse inside the strawberries and garnish with cinnamon puff pastry.
Cinnamon Puff Pastry
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 sheet puff pastry
Whip egg in bowl to make egg wash. Cut puff pastry into thin strips and brush with egg wash and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.
Place strips on baking pan and bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes until puff pastry is golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool, store in air tight container until needed.