Gather’s Annual Seafood Taste - A Behind the Scenes Look!
February 5, 2024
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The first Taste event of 2024 takes its place in Gather’s calendar, and like most Winter Taste events through Gather, this January 24th and 25th, 2024 featured an entirely Seafood menu that left attendees pining for the next one.
“There's nothing seasonal in Wisconsin in January,” Chef and Gather co-owner Jyll Everman sighed. “I love to work with local farms, but this time of year it's particularly difficult to find fresh ingredients, and I don't want to ship ingredients in from the south, by the time they get here they’re not fresh anymore. Plus, everyone is tired of eating heavily over the holidays, people want something lighter and fresher. There aren't tons of seafood options in Green Bay, so it's fun to have a whole seafood-themed dinner! There are a lot of seafood lovers in the area who don't get to indulge as much as they want, so this is a night of indulgent seafood dishes.”
There are five courses, six counting the amuse-bouche, but five full courses for goers to enjoy, and each dish makes one feel as if the ocean is a mere few feet out the door, rather than over a thousand miles.
“There's nothing more fun to me than sharing food and flavors with people,” Jyll exclaimed. “I'm not the person who goes to a restaurant and orders an entree, I always order five or six appetizers and share them and talk about them. That's my favorite thing to do on this planet. If I try something and come to find that I love it, I immediately want everyone to try it. People always say they can see my excitement when I come out to present a dish, and that’s because I'm not about to present something that I don't love. I'll always be equally excited to watch you try a dish as you are to eat it.”
An extravagant evening
While Gather’s Taste events have quickly become admired and anticipated in Green Bay and the surrounding areas, Jyll still finds time to inform the public and her followers in bold and photogenic new promotions, always going above and beyond in a way that will have people talking until she can talk about it herself.
“Everyone thinks these promotional posters and advertisements of me holding a giant King crab on a boat in the middle of a storm are completely photoshopped,” Jyll started, “but Steven Aprill, our social media and brand manager, and I actually purchased a fishing outfit from Cabela’s, and then found this boat on a farm outside the city of Green Bay where I posed for a few pictures. Steven then photoshopped the rain and giant crab in, so there are only two aspects of those posters that are fake, and that's usually the case for all of our promotional photo shoots – we prefer to go on location and truly have fun with these shoots. It takes us hours to come up with these ads and to then shoot them, so we always want to find a way to have fun, I genuinely feel people can see that in the photos.”
Last year, Chef Jyll wowed her event-goers with octopus, as well as an assortment of mussels, king crab, halibut, and black bass with a bright tropical feel filling the venue. This year, the king crab made a return, but Chef Jyll felt like bringing the elegance up a couple of levels.
“I knew there had to be a crab on the posters for this year’s Seafood Taste event because I knew I had to have king crab as a highlight on the menu,” Jyll said. “The king crab as a crab cake, betwixt two beautifully buttery Ritz crackers, inspired by old-school Maryland crab cakes, is one of the most deliciously thick seafood bombs I’ve ever created, and it is the second dish of the evening. It has flavors of Asian pear and crispy celery root, and I picked out a gorgeously crisp wine to pair with it, I do feel like this second course was a standout.”
Last year, attendees walked in and felt the vibrant energy not only from the decor and music of the Golden Girls-inspired evening, but also from the sheer excitement bubbling off of Jyll. This year, Jyll wanted to reflect on the fact that the last few Taste events have now sold out before tickets could be advertised to the public; this year’s decor meant business and elegant professionalism.
“Last year's Seafood Taste event was Golden Girls inspired -- there were big green palm leaves and wicker and gold decor, it was very 80s and fun,” Jyll reminisced. “This year I wanted to do a complete 180: a nautical theme, but without feeling like a typical Florida condo. It's a lot of Navy and silver, candles and big white flowers, with some ocean elements worked in there. The seating was a King's table, so everyone was able to sit much closer together amongst the silver and gold candlelight. Last year was fun, this year was elegant and beautiful.”
“Steven created these beautiful menu cards that have the navy and silver color scheme, with a dark blue king crab on them that will then match the centerpieces, which will then match the email guests receive afterward the event -- it's all in the details. It’s not only about the food, it has to be about the entire experience,” Jyll explained passionately. “I take notes of random aspects and moments in life that inspire me. If I'm eating at a restaurant and there's a dish I love I take notes on it, if I see a napkin fold I love, I take a picture of it! I love to get inspired by the day-to-day things around me.”
One of the most important things for everyone on the staff of Gather is for each event to feel uniquely it's own. It might be conceptually an event that has already happened, but Gather will always put its own twist on it.
“The decor of each Taste event is always drastically different aesthetically, and I always try to come up with a surprise element to wow guests right at the beginning of the night,” Jyll explained. “I go through playlists to match the theme of each year, this year it was an elegant evening on the sea; I might have the Little Mermaid soundtrack piped through the speakers, maybe just some ocean waves, or maybe even some classic yacht rock – let’s get weird with it! Something to keep us all light and enjoying the evening.”
A sea-foodie’s dream
In the past, Jyll would happily release the menu weeks before the event, but in the aftermath of COVID-19, there are shortages of ingredients and materials in every career. Last year’s summer Taste was supposed to feature certain fish that can no longer be found with any provider, and this wasn’t discovered until a mere week before the event, so an entirely different fish had to replace it. Now, by waiting to announce the menu closer to the event date, Jyll also gives herself and her staff some wiggle room with the menu in case the same problem of insufficient ingredients, the inability to obtain certain ingredients, or even the failure of a dish occurs.
“We noticed people were buying tickets whether the menu was posted or not,” Jyll smiled, “they didn't care about the menu they just wanted to come! No one's asking for it, so we’re waiting until much later to announce the menu. We’ve done Taste events in the past where we haven’t announced the menu until guests arrive, and everyone's pleasantly surprised! A year or so ago, we put out a poll asking if guests wanted to know the menu ahead of time and it was a 50/50 response of yes and no. Some people thoroughly enjoy the spontaneity of the night, which creates a little bit of pressure on me because they're putting their full trust in me, but it's very flattering that people don't necessarily need to see the menu before we sell out!”
Aside from the second course buttery Ritz cracker king crabcakes, Jyll aligned an evening of bold and beautiful flavors that would make any sea-foodie swoon.
“The first course is a wild-caught salmon tostada that reminds me of a culinary trip to Austin I went on with Tommy, my husband, last year. We had this smoked salmon Tostada, and it was so delicious that I knew I had to recreate something similar at one of my Taste events. My homemade, wild-caught salmon tostada is bold and outstanding, and no one knows exactly how to eat it, which is the best part,” Jyll giggled. “I wanted to set the tone for the night of just getting in there and eating delicious food. I don't care if it's not the most beautifully composed plate, and you’re not eating it in the most beautifully composed way; these flavors are here to get you excited for the rest of the meal.”
“The lobster Panzanella is the third course, following the crabcake, and I just know it left people confused but wanting more. A Panzanella is a beautiful Italian bread salad, consisting basically of bread, cheese, and tomatoes, but this one has lobster, fried avocado, and buttery brioche that have all been griddled up, making a melt-in-your-mouth rich and deliciously buttery stop before the main course.”
The final entree of the evening is a Sea Bass course, fulfilling every savory craving you might have had in the past month, and then some.
“There is no sweetness on this dish, there is no lightness to this dish -- it is a heavy, savory dish paired with a very nice chianti, the only red in the evening,” Jyll revealed. “I had to really think out these flavor profiles to make sure nothing was too overwhelming. The dish was filled with umami, mushrooms, tomatoes, roasted onions, and fennel because I wanted to make room in the menu for a red wine, but all other wines of the evening lean white or bubbly.”
Gather sends out a survey after each public event, requesting event goers provide feedback about what they found special, where we might improve, and other questions relating to specific events, leading Jyll and Tommy to the recent discovery that many Taste event attendees prefer to try red wines over white. However, just because red wines have been requested more than whites, Chef Jyll won’t sacrifice a good pairing for what’s been requested more.
“During the wine tasting for this past Seafood Taste, I decided to not include many reds because they don’t traditionally pair with seafood, instead, I chose all whites except for one lighter red with the sea bass course. I know people want to see reds, but if they don't work with my dishes I won’t force it, I'll give you what I know tastes best,” she explained. “The fume blanc from Napa Valley I paired with the second-course crabcake was my favorite of all the wines, and I don’t even typically like fume blancs!”
Last but not least, a show-stopping course at every Taste event, is the highly anticipated dessert, created and perfected by Gather’s catering manager and head pastry chef, Maddy Meyer.
“Maddy is becoming quite known for her desserts lately and it’s been especially fun to see her blossom into this full-fledged pastry chef while working with us,” Jyll smiled. “She planned and executed an exquisite dessert for this Taste event: a white chocolate and lime dessert with a peanut crumble and basil element. The white chocolate cooks low and slow in a water bath making it into this beautiful butterscotch caramel color. These are flavors not everybody's used to, white chocolate, basil, lime, and peanuts – but all the flavors meld so beautifully together.”
“Maddy’s creativity with these desserts is awe-inspiring to watch come to fruition, I'm at the point now with her and her skill that all I have to do is say, ‘your inspiration is a banana split,’ and then I walk away and she’ll have created an entirely new version of a banana split. She can do whatever she wants with the flavors I request. For this dessert, I asked for some citrus and white chocolate, and she came up with these amazing ideas. I give her parameters, or flavor profiles, for a dish and then she takes them into a much better place than I ever would have. It's a perfect partnership because she feels that I'm not stifling her creativity but I'm still giving her a teeny bit of direction.”
To have such a cohesive partnership with an employee or co-worker, to the extent that Jyll and Maddy have with each other, allows for one or the other to be away from the kitchen without random anxieties clouding their thoughts while they’re away.
“I'm very lucky,” Jyll started, “Maddy understands how I like to cook since we've been working together for seven years. She gets my flavor profiles, she gets the things that I gravitate towards, I'll never cook something because it's trendy, I cook what I like to eat, period. And when I'm not in the kitchen, she'll take something and know if I’d approve of a dish or situation or not. It gives me a lot of confidence when I'm not around.”
An anticipated event by all(most)
Not only do regular Gather event-goers and Green Bay community members look forward to Gather’s Taste events, specifically the Seafood Taste, but so do the staff! Bartenders, wait staff, crew…employees from all different roles within Gather line up and reach out to their managers, requesting to be put on for the event.
“The Taste events are the kitchen staff's favorite nights of the year to work, they all beg for these shifts. We even have one or two employees who don't work for us anymore come back and work this shift,” Jyll laughed. “It's very different than a wedding or a corporate event, it's trying new foods! Last year I had an octopus dish on the menu, and we got to watch the whole kitchen staff try octopus for the first time and learn how to cook it; everyone is always so excited for this shift. If you look at any of the photos that Steven takes of us in the kitchen, they aren't posed photos of us smiling, we're all legitimately having so much fun back there!”
There are always the spare few who don’t like seafood, the individuals who usually sit the winter Taste events out, however, Gather co-owner and Chef Jyll Everman’s husband, Tommy Everman can’t quite sit these out. So for him, a creative solution is made each year.
“Tommy hates seafood,” Jyll giggled devilishly. “Last year we brought him a piece of pizza, I once brought him a Kwik Trip sandwich another year, we had one of the guys go out and buy him one for his third course because there was no way he would eat what I was bringing out.”
Though Tommy might want to avoid one of the Taste events, the general public would have to disagree with him. Tickets were never able to go out to the public for this Seafood Taste event, similar to the Breakfast with Santa event before it, the Drag Show before that, and the Fall Taste event before that! If you’re thinking of purchasing tickets to any one of Gather’s events to the public, make sure to join our mailing list to receive notifications for all of our events.
“This is another event that we sold out before we could go public, and we have over 60 people on the waiting list right now,” Jyll smiled, surprised. “The fact that we used to have to beg people to come to our Taste events, I will never take it for granted that not only do we sell out of one but two dates -- it is humbling every time.”
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