Soooooo its definitely been a while since we have caught up and boy do I have a lot to share.
So where to begin, outside of the fact that we are still in the middle of a ponderosa- I mean a pandemic. But there are glimmers of hope happening all around, as vaccinations are being administered and mandates are remaining in place for the most part in most places *cough cough* umm hello USA are you listening?
Nonetheless- as the year 2021 began, many of us were optimistic that a change was on the horizon and that our lives could begin to return to some assemblance of “normal”- whatever “normal” is right? And so instead of focusing on all the things that I could classify as wrong- I decided to fuel that energy into the things I could control. You know- the things going right and that is when opportunity came knocking on more door or more like calling my phone in the coolest of ways in the form of “Amateur Chef”.
So before I get into how this happened- you’re probably asking what is Amateur Chef? When did you start cooking? Heck can you even cook? And what CAN’T you do? I know. I know I am pretty awesome right!
The best way to explain Amateur Chef is that it’s an initiative created by the people of the uber luxury private island resort known as Zaya Nurai, located off the island of Abu Dhabi. I mean this is where all the celebrities stay when they visit the Emirates- that’s how luxe we are talking.
While I have visited the island once before for my birthday a few years ago as a treat from the husband, the beauty of this place never ceases to amaze me.
Nonetheless- Amateur Chef is an opportunity held in March during their Annual Women’s Week and in honor of Women’s History Month to highlight local women entrepreneurs in different industries by giving them a chance to connect with the community over an evening of incredible food and a menu curated by the featured amateur culinary star aka YOURS TRULY.
You have a chance to meet with integral members of the staff such as their incredible PR Manager- Yuliya and Executive Chef extraordinaire– Chef Marc Abed to create a menu inspired by what fuels you. You then get a chance to implement the menu into an unforgettable evening on the water and under the stars. And the most important qualification besides being able to host an awesome dinner party is “CAN YOU COOK?” that was the very first question Yuliya asked. So the best way to describe it is to say imagine Chopped but in real life, but you’re the only contestant.
Funfact: I am a lover of cooking competition shows and I could watch them all day. Right now I am watching Duff’s Dessert Games and the Spring Baking Competition and Carlos can attest to this. I will literally stay up all night binge watching what it takes to make the perfect pate a choux and poached pear.
Back to Amateur Chef. So I arrived for what I would like to call the audition process and Chef Marc who gives you dreamy John Travolta but with a hella cool accent vibes as well as his entire kitchen staff were waiting. You then sit down and discuss your vision and he offers his extensive expertise while Yuliya aka Queen Supreme kept us in line. I mean it’s Women’s Month after all so I expected nothing less. Chef Marc then gathered any and every item you could possibly need from what I would call his “Willy Wonka Kitchen of Wonders”. I mean there wasn’t anything that I asked for to prepare my meal that he didn’t have or couldn’t get, down to the cajun blend seasoning. Which brings me to my meal.
So being from the South and being married to a strong Carribean man, I wanted to fuse together comfort food, soul food, island flavors and French style without over complicating the dish too much to where the guests couldn’t enjoy it. The week leading up to my “audition” I went over in my mind again and again about what is my signature dish? What can I create that is dynamite and packed full of flavor? What do I make well and what does Carlos absolutely enjoy that I cook?
And then it immediately clicked- my famous Southern Shrimp and Grits aka “polenta” for my people with a bourgeousie palate. I knew without a doubt that this dish would be a hit because there was never a time when I have cooked it in the past that we had even a corner of a plate for leftovers. And don’t worry I will definitely include the recipe- just keep reading.
So when I arrived at my audition- I had this authentic Southern entree ready and in my arsenal. The team gathered around and provided me with all the ingredients and said in so many words “okay show us what you got”. To say I was nervous would be an understatement, but here I was ready to prove that I am more than just a pretty face (insert evil laugh). I can get in a kitchen and throw down and that I did.
The team of sous chefs were so kind as well as attentive to all my needs as I prepped the main course and we returned to the table to discuss our starter while they finalized the dish. After discussions about lobster and crab rolls to oyster bruschetta, we all agreed that because the main dish would be a bit savory as well as hearty, that we would begin the meal with a gorgeous superfood green salad.
And just so we are clear, this was not just any basic green salad made from a bed of lettuce- oh not coming from Chef Marc’s kitchen. This was an appetizer packed with flavor and stacked with beautiful colors, notes of toasted sunflowers, sweet goji berries atop of a bed of fresh zucchini noodles aka zoodles and roasted mushrooms and a gorgeous green vinegarette. I mean it was the absolute perfect way to start the meal.
We then went on to discuss my favorite part of the meal which is dessert. I knew I wanted to create something that was warm and comforting, you know reminscent of love on a plate while also being true to my love for French and creole flavors and so I immediately thought why not bread pudding.
But not just any bread pudding. It had to be decadent and delicious and so I wanted to make it a Bananas Foster bread pudding with toffee caramel and luscuious vanilla cream. But as if that wasn’t enough- Chef Marc took it to another level by adding this awesome hazelnut crumble on top that I could eat by the handful all by itself. The recipe to follow.
So that was it- we had created and tested what we felt would be the best representation of my passion and skill and now it was time to taste. I was nervous but excited and also confident and they loved every bit. Yuliya and my great friend Dawn who joined me for moral support couldn’t get enough- so when they asked for seconds I was surprised to learn that the kitchen staff has finished off the left overs. That’s when I knew we had a surefire hit and let’s face it as a woman there is nothing more satisfying then a big group of grown men who are professional chefs devouring your dish. No other seal of approval was needed.
But of course it wasn’t enough to just bring great food- oh no because if you know me we had to go a little bit extra and collide the food with fashion. So after sitting down with Yuliya as well as my dear friend Kim who is also an incredible event planner by trade, we decided to make this a full celebration of women. We wanted the attendees to truly enjoy themselves and receive the spirit of the celebration of Women’s month by the highlighting my muses who are strong and inspirational women. Provide them with special treats like giveaways, roses and a special event only preview of my latest collection- “Tres Jolie”.
I later returned to the island to shoot the marketing which was an adventure all in itself. Many moons and many pounds ago I did commercial and runway modeling and let’s just say, I’m not that same girl, but at least be a good sport. All in all we got some great shots, shared in some great laughs and were ready to move forward with what we were confident would be a great event.
In honor of Women’s Month- I want to give a special thanks to Dawn for calming my audition nerves and offering up her time to help me streamline ideas, Yuliya for being patient with all of my extra ideas and suggestions and Kim for encouraging my madness but also helping me know how and when to scale back and for being my left and right hand. They were the epitome of women helping women and what this month and event were ultimately all about.
But you’re also probably wondering how and why did they select me? Well that includes a very special thanks to Svetia D. She is a woman of many hats from mom to wife to financial planner to motivational speaker to professional bodybuilder- no but seriously she is all of things and more importantly an encourager of women. We met during a WEADS (Women Entrepreneurs of Abu Dhabi) PRE-COVID meetup and I was just taken aback by not only her beauty but her confidence. So much so that because we didn’t actually get to meet at the event- I stalked her down and sent her a Facebook message just to tell her how much I admired her style and the connection grew from there. Which I also must thank our leader of WEADS- Mrs. Gina Dillon who was also in attendance for the evening for her work in moving women forward.
She was the previous Amateur Chef and when they informed her that they wanted to bring back the event and asked her to recommend someone from the community she thought of me and I could not thank her enough. And I mean I trust the opinion of any woman who is even considering allowing me to create them a custom Devereaux tuxedo ala Fred Astaire style with the tails and all. Anyone that creative is my kind of woman.
Now it was D-DAY- as in Devereaux Day- Thursday, March 11th and time to bring our vision to life and I was more than excited than ever to share my creativity with everyone.
Take a look at some behind the scenes business with a special thanks to Kimberly Dillard and the extra hands of entire Frangipani staff of Zaya Nurai for their attention to details, patience, hard work and unprecedented hospitality.
Kimberly paid extra attention to every little detail down to the rose gold leopard print linens because you know I love my leopard and of course our house motto #itsallinthedetails
As our guests arrived via chartered boat to this tropical paradise where they have a chance to partake of the Veuve Clicquot lobby before departure.
They were greeted with a cool balloon feature inspired by Women’s Month
Ansdthen seated and the courses began to roll with the first starting with our Superfood salad
Followed by my famous (I’m calling them famous now) Southern Creole Shrimp and Grits.
And ending with our Ultimate Bananas Foster Bread Pudding
The menu also included free flow of selected mocktails and cocktails. Which by the way should you ever visit the island and mocktails make your day then the Peachy Apple is island perfection. However if cocktails are the ones that call your name- then you must enjoy a glass of the magnificient Magnolia Punch.
I also highly recommend the 2018 Domaine Des Nouelles Rose Anjou as it was hands down the best rose wine I have ever had, so much so that Carlos purchased me a bottle that evening.
Guests were presented with a rose including a quote from a powerful international woman and a chance to be one of two winners of our styling session giveaway.
A big congratulations to @mariwa_st and @jade_1986 for their Instagram submission and participation and a thank you for attending the event.
I returned to the kitchen midway to work side by side with Chef Marc on the final preparations of the dishes and the “pickup” process, which is when you call the runners aka waiters to deliver the dishes to their patrons and boy was I excited but also hot.
This process is hard work and often times I feel those in food service aren’t thanked enough for not only their attention to tiny details but also their determination to ensure that we are fed and they do so in a timely manner while donning these very insulated chef’s coats.
Speaking of chef’s coat, it wouldn’t be a Devereaux event without a custom designed one with special thanks to Amazon.com for the actual coat and local shop for the custom embroidery.
After working with Chef Marc I returned to address the guests and give those unfamiliar with myself and my brand a bit of insight into who I am and what I am all about because again what’s a Devereaux event if I’m not running my big Texas mouth.
Each and every guest was so warm and kind but more importantly- THEY. LOVED. THE. FOOD and that’s what I wanted. Learning that my day job was a designer was definitely the icing on the cake or in this case the butter on the bread pudding because it showcased that I am a woman of many talents and left many of them wanting to learn and know more about my brand and I.
A special thanks to Fay Johnson for showing up in her custom “Lady La Creme” blazer.
And Kimberly in her full on custom green “Dominique” suit.
And without further adieu enjoy a small preview of the third and latest Devereaux collection- “Tres Jolie” set to hopefully be released by Summer 2021.
Underneath my chef’s coat-I donned the all new “Dynasty” blouse in black. It is a lightweight mesh blouse with black velvet dots and trimmed with black silk organza at the cuff, button panel and pussy bow with our hopes to release her in 3 different colors.
The “Mystere” is our tribute to the beautiful Muslim women of the UAE. It is a pure black crepe trimmed with our signature leopard print silk at the cuffs, buttons and pockets detail as well as at the edge of the shela and can be worn as a traditional abaya style or as a full length duster/maxi for our clients who prefer a more Western style sihouette.
Then there is the “Oiseau” which is French for “bird” and this showstopper is our deep emerald green pantsuit- too made of raw silk and with feathered detail down the arms and a coordinating emerald cigarette pant and pocket detail.
For my second wardrobe change because let’s be honest, I have to have a wardrobe change, I opted to wear the “Soleil” suit.