Right Up His Galley

Yacht Club Chef Rodney Smith prepares meals fit for a commodore

Chef Rodney Smith is a self-professed foodie who loves working in the kitchen. Photo by Kim Bottalico
Chef Rodney Smith is a self-professed foodie who loves working in the kitchen. Photo by Kim Bottalico

In the Commodore’s Room at the Vero Beach Yacht Club, a suitably nautical atmosphere prevails, with a ship’s wheel on the wall and windows overlooking the marina. It is a fitting environment in which to sit down for a chat with the club’s head chef, Rodney Smith.

A Florida native, Smith grew up in Fort Lauderdale, and he eventually went on to work as a chef in Key Largo. In between, however, he had a job far from the sea, at a Wyoming resort nestled in the Grand Tetons. The alpine experience was instrumental because while he was there, he worked hard and began to advance in the restaurant profession. After he returned to his home state, he attended the Florida Culinary Institute in West Palm Beach.

Why does Smith love his work? “Number one—I love the food,” he says enthusiastically. “I’m a foodie at heart.” Even when he is on vacation, finding interesting restaurants to visit is at the top of his list.

Smith even enjoys the infamously demanding pace of the profession. “I love being busy, and I love the camaraderie in the kitchen,” he says. “You help people with their problems, and when you have problems, they help you. It’s like a big family.” Not surprisingly, then, he is quick to credit the rest of the kitchen staff for the success of meals at the Yacht Club. “I don’t do any of this by myself; they need to know they’re part of it all.”

The Yacht Club’s main menu changes every six weeks, and there is also a bar menu that changes every month. This diversity poses some distinctive challenges for a chef, but Smith strives for ongoing variety. “I try not to repeat things, though sometimes it’s unavoidable.”

How does he develop the menus? “I guess I just start with what I like to eat. There are a lot of crazy flavor combinations out there,” he says with a wry smile, “but I keep it clean and simple.” His style is exemplified in his Oxtail Bourguignon dish, which takes a rustic cut of meat and pairs it with a classic French sauce, combining variety and tradition.

Smith’s cuisine seems fitting indeed for the classic yet adventurous spirit of the Yacht Club; no wonder he has found an anchorage there.

Chef's Chicken and Waffles. Photo by Kim Bottalico
Chef’s Chicken and Waffles. Photo by Kim Bottalico

Appetizer: Chef’s Chicken and Waffles

This is a gourmet version of an old Southern favorite.

Serves 6

Chicken Liver Mousse

  • 8 oz. chicken liver
  • 2 tbsp. canola oil
  • 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. pink salt
  • 1/2 cup minced shallots
  • 1/8 cup minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup sherry or port
  • Ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 8 oz. butter, cubed

Season chicken livers with salt and black pepper. Sear livers on both sides in the canola oil, until medium. Remove from pan and put directly into blender. Add Dijon, nutmeg, and pink salt to blender.

Sauté the shallots and garlic until softened. Deglaze with wine, reduce by half, and add the cream. Cook until thickened, remove from heat, and add the butter, beurre blanc style, whisking until butter is fully incorporated and warm to the touch.

Add to ingredients already in the blender, spin until smooth, and pass through a strainer.

Cool completely and transfer to a piping bag with tip. Refrigerate.

Rosemary Waffle

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup dry buttermilk powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tbsp. minced rosemary
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 1/4 cups unflavored seltzer water

Combine dry ingredients in a bowl. In another bowl, whisk sour cream, eggs, vanilla, oil, and seltzer. Fold gently and reserve.

Candied Bacon

  • 8 oz. slab bacon, 1/2 inch thick and cut into 1/2 inch matchsticks
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • 2 cups sugar

Cook bacon until crispy golden brown.

In a saucepan, boil maple syrup; add bacon and simmer until thickened. Strain and toss with sugar to coat.

Pull piping bag with mousse out of refrigerator and allow to soften about 10 minutes.

Make 6 waffles according to your machine’s instructions and cut desired shapes.

Pipe mousse into waffle divots and garnish with candied bacon and chives. *Shown with optional pickled apple ball garnish.

Braised Oxtail Bourguignon. Photo by Kim Bottalico
Braised Oxtail Bourguignon. Photo by Kim Bottalico

Entrée: Braised Oxtail Bourguignon

This recipe pairs a great rustic dish with a French gourmet sauce—and exemplifies Smith’s traditional yet creative style.

Serves 4

  • 4 lbs. oxtails
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 5 stalks celery
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 4 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 3 cups red wine
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
  • 2 quarts veal stock
  • Salt to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Season oxtails generously with salt and pepper.

In a 12-inch braising pan, sear oxtails in oil on all sides until crusty golden brown.

Remove oxtails and add onions, carrots, celery, and garlic to the pan and sauté until starting to caramelize.

Strain excess oil and put vegetable mixture back into pan with tomato paste. When the paste begins to brown, add wine and reduce by half.

Add thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, and veal stock. Return oxtails to the pan. Bring to a boil and cover with lid or aluminum foil.

Place in 300-degree-Fahrenheit oven and roast 2–3 hours or until fork tender.

Pull oxtails from liquid and keep warm.

Strain the juice into a clean saucepan. Reduce liquid until desired braising jus consistency and reserve.

  • 12 baby carrots, peeled and blanched
  • 12 cherry tomatoes, peeled
  • 12 morel mushrooms
  • 12 fingerling potatoes, blanched in salt water
  • 7 tbsp. butter
  • Reserved braising jus
  • 1 tbsp. fresh thyme
  • 4 foie gras pieces (2 oz. each), pan seared until medium rare

In a large pan, sauté the carrots, tomatoes, mushrooms, and fingerlings in 3 tbsp. butter until warmed through.

Deglaze with 1/2 cup braising jus and simmer until almost dry. Swirl in butter and fresh thyme.

Serve oxtails in your favorite bowl and garnish with the vegetables and foie gras.

Tempura Pecan Pie. Photo by Kim Bottalico
Tempura Pecan Pie. Photo by Kim Bottalico

Dessert: Tempura Pecan Pie

This innovative dessert is a favorite at the Yacht Club.

Serves 2

  • 2 slices pecan pie, each slice cut into 3 bite-size pieces (can be premade or store-bought)
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup potato starch
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup vodka
  • 3/4 cup plain carbonated water
  • 2 cups Rice Krispies
  • Maple brown butter gelato or your favorite ice cream
  • Powdered sugar as needed
  • Bourbon Caramel Sauce (see below)

Combine flour and starch in a mixing bowl.

Combine egg, vodka, and carbonated water in another bowl.

Fold wet and dry together. Dredge pie pieces in flour, dip them into the batter, then dredge them in the Rice Krispies.

Fry at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until batter is golden brown and crispy.

Remove from oil and drain on a clean paper towel. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Place in a bowl, top with gelato or ice cream, and drizzle with warm caramel sauce.

Bourbon Caramel Sauce

  • 4 oz. butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup bourbon
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Melt butter and sugar together and whisk until simmering and homogeneous. Deglaze with bourbon; be careful, as it will bubble vigorously. Bring back to a simmer. Add vanilla and salt. Serve warm.

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