Wednesday, October 28, 2009

COM: Thanks Melissa & John!

Gourmet dinner for a cause
, , Published October 28, 2009

Rails — a Cafe at the Depot’s fundraiser for Hill Country Youth Ranch may seem inviting when someone hears it will be limited to 50 guests, accompanied by local classical guitarist Kevin McCormick and held in the restaurant’s hall, a recently renovated 1889 lumberyard with oak floors.

Add the chef-prepared meal of four courses, each paired with a different wine.

“Delicious, delightful, delectable,” said Melissa Southern, who together with her husband, John Hagerla, own Rails. “We always try to find fun, different things.”

The event will begin at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 5, at Rails, 615 Schreiner St. Tickets are $75.

Southern still hasn’t decided what will be served as the first and last course. The first could be a salad, but the colder weather may inspire a soup, she said.

“I’m still torn on that one,” Southern said.

Dessert most likely will involve chocolate.

The two courses she has pinned down are the second course — a crab cake with grilled shrimp — and the third course — beef tenderloin wrapped in phyllo dough and stuffed with goat cheese and red bell pepper.

Southern said the crab cakes mostly are made of crab meat and the restaurant’s trademark Creole seasoning and only a slight amount of stuffing. The cake will be circled by grilled shrimp and served with a zesty lime peppadew sauce. The peppadew is a South African fruit and the last one discovered after the kiwi, she said.

“It’s almost like a small red pepper, but it’s not super spicy. It just has a nice piquant flavor,” Southern said. “It’s a customer favorite.”

The third course she picked for a couple of reasons — the weather and the quality of the cuts.

“We have a wonderful beef supplier, so I know I’ll have nice beef tenders,” Southern said about the natural, hormone-free meat. “It’s just the season for beef and mashed potatoes and things like that, as it starts getting cooler.”

The beef dish will be served with horseradish, red-skinned potatoes.

“All the recipes we do at the restaurant, we get from our experience,” said Southern, who has traveled and lived in as far away places as Belize, Guatemala and Sudan. “I try to put pieces together of things I think people enjoy.”

Southern, 42, earned a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Trinity University and worked overseas with refugees, until she returned to school to study nutrition. She then earned master’s and doctorate degrees from the Graduate Institute Geneva in Switzerland. She completed her dietetic internship at the Houston Medical Center and is a licensed and registered dietitian.

“There’s always that dietitian influence in the back of my mind,” Southern said, noting the Rails’ menu includes a variety of salads and the restaurant doesn’t use a fryer. “Sometimes, I think people think something healthy isn’t going to taste good. I like to prove you can do both.”

Hagerla, 47, has worked more than 25 years in food marketing. This includes seven years as assistant vice president of the National Pork Board, where Hagerla developed the “other white meat” pork campaign.

Peter Beeman, who has traveled extensively through wine-producing areas and has owned The Main liquor store, will pair a wine with each of the courses.

Southern said they chose HCYR for the charity dinner because of the commitment of those involved with the foster center for youth.

“I just think they’re doing so much for the children in a caring, loving way,” Southern said. “They’re really making a difference in the lives of children.”

Dining guests at the HCYR fundraiser also will get special treats — homemade sorbets — to cleanse their palettes between courses, said Southern, who noted the first and last course details most likely will come to her at a random moment.

“The menus are always dancing around in my head,” Southern said. “Suddenly, it all comes together.”

What: HCYR fundraiser at Rails
When: Thursday, Nov. 5, at 7 p.m.
Where: Events hall at Rails — a Cafe at the Depot, 615 Schreiner St.
Cost: $75, limit 50 guests
Contact: 257-3877

Guitarist and composer Kevin McCormick earned a diploma in guitar performance from Indiana University School of Music and has studied under classical guitar greats, such as Ernesto Bitetti and Sergio Notaro, according to his biography.

McCormick has performed with the Symphony of the Hills, Schreiner University choirs, San Antonio Master Singers, the Children’s Chorus and many other groups. He has received awards from the Guitar Foundation of America and served as a guest lecturer at the Hillsdale College and University of Texas at Austin.

He currently teaches guitar at Schreiner University and private lessons through his studio, Mirabilis.

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