A Newport celebration of outdoor cooking
On a sunny terrace, overlooking a wide expanse of green that sweeps down to the ocean, East Coast food writers were recently served luncheon here in the California style, cooked on outdoor grills on the lawn of the Astor mansion, Beechwood.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
An impressive place, Beechwood was once the summer palace of Mrs. William Astor, the leader of New York's ''400,'' and later that of her son, Col. John Jacob Astor.
It is a splendid spot for outdoor cooking or grilling, and Chef Jeremiah Tower and his assistants gave a colorful demonstration of the way his grilling differs from the outdoor cooking synonomous with California for many years.
But there are other things than grilling that make the Tower touch different and rather magical. Some could be called typical of a new California or American cuisine, but mainly they're just great ideas and techniques that work - that result in food that tastes good and has a wonderful flavor.
Mr. Tower talked with the press as he sliced a coiled sausage hot from the grill and offered it with toothpicks, along with a relish made of green tomatilloes, the small husk tomato often used in Mexican salsa.
He emphasizes fresh, local ingredients, unusual flavor combinations, and carefully timed cooking. He likes and uses many marinades, but his food never relies on sauces.
''One reason French restaurants are so good is that small farms supply them with the very best quality of everything,'' he said.
''Here, we have often sacrificed quality for shipping ability, but now we're finding farms that raise goats just for milk for the cheese and small farms that will raise geese and other poultry.
''We've always been lacking in that kind of grower, but not now. In fact, we may surpass many of the European countries where interest in the old, time-consuming professions is dying out.
''That's what this new American cooking is all about - quality and freshness, ''he said.
The luncheon he produced at Beechwood was a ''tasting'' lunch extravaganza, using native foods mixed with seasonings and flavors from many ethnic cuisines. He was assisted by Oksana Czuczman and Steven Vranian.
On each table, as centerpiece, a large white platter was piled high with grilled vegetables - giant-size red peppers, deep-purple eggplant, and huge white onions cooked with the long green stem attached.
First we were served mussels, clams, shrimp and crayfish that had been quickly grilled after bunches of herbs had been tossed on the coals.
Then came Grilled Fennel Root and Sweet Red Bell Peppers that had been marinated in olive oil and fresh herbs along with Grilled Pork Loin With Santa Fe Chili Marinade and Grilled Mussels and Oysters.
As we were eating, wonderful aromas of herbs and spicy, smoky food would waft over the tables from the grills.
The next course included Scallops With Orange and Ginger en Brochette, Sturgeon With Garlic Butter, Trout With Fresh Tomato Salsa, Pacific Snapper With Spicy Peanut Butter Sauce, and Snow Peas and Red Peppers.
Just reading through a Tower menu can make your own cooking seem pretty routine, but it also can give you some new ideas .
Here's a listing of the third course at this luncheon: Grilled Chicken Breast Paillard With Cumin, Lime, and Cilantro Butter Grilled Duck Leg With a Curly Endive and Walnut Salad Grilled Smoked Duck Leg With Lemon-Pepper Butter Grilled Truffled Squab With Fresh Watercress Grilled Veal Chop With Roasted Garlic Cloves Grilled Pork Chop With Fresh Pear-Cranberry Chutney.
Next came Grilled California Goat Cheese Wrapped in Grape Leaves, followed by a Warm Tropical Fruit Compote With Ice Cream.