Camp Catalina: a new spin on s’mores

Few things say camping more than a pitched tent and tasty s’mores around a campfire.  

Few things say camping more than a pitched tent and tasty s’mores around a campfire.  

However, Chef Paul Hancock has taken the concept to a “more elevated level of cuisine” with his menu design for Camp Catalina, the 2013 Catalina Island Conservancy Ball.

The corporate executive chef of the Santa Catalina Island Company was presented with the challenge of plating a sumptuous three-course dinner in elegant surroundings for a theme more suited to the tradition of fire-roasted outdoor feasting.  

The venue for the Conservancy’s largest fundraiser of the year is Avalon Casino Ballroom, a focal point of Santa Catalina Island entertainment and culture since it opened more than eighty years ago.

“Thousands of families and young people have enjoyed Catalina’s camps and coves over the years,” said Ann Muscat, president and CEO of the Conservancy. “It is a treat to see Chef Paul create a delightful menu that interprets our theme in such a fun and elegant way.”  

The Catalina Island Conservancy Ball is the single largest black-tie fundraiser for the non-profit organization. Proceeds from the event support the Conservancy’s programs in  conservation, education and recreation.

For the first course, Hancock emphasizes his “farm to table” philosophy of sourcing local and seasonal products from sustainable producers.  

On a bed of crisp butter lettuce with frills of Lolla Rossa, the salad features Santa Barbara extra virgin olive oil-poached tomatoes, Cypress Grove truffled goat cheese, housemade garlicky croutons, and buttery Castlevetrano olives drizzled with a Meyer lemon vinaigrette. “We are working with products that will all be in abundance in April,” he pointed out. “And the produce will be as organic as is available.”

Hancock said he is especially fond of the truffled goat cheese from the storied Cypress Grove Chevre in California’s rural Humboldt County. “They incorporate magnificent black truffle that infuses the cheese with an earthy flavor.”  

The entrée is where Camp Catalina’s gourmet-dining-meets-campfire-cuisine begins.

Guests will feast on a pairing of fillet mignon and brook trout that is both visually stunning and delightfully balanced.  

The filet is served grilled in a classic Bordelaise sauce and the trout roulade comes lightly battered and stuffed with a delicate spinach mousse and sweet onion chutney in lemon beurre blanc. The duet is complemented by potato purée and asparagus in beurre monté.

An alternate vegetarian entree will highlight the crunchy, earthy, and protein-rich seed quinoa – tossed with seasonal spring vegetables and grilled asparagus and sweet red pepper, and studded with a decadent English pea and Thai basil fondue.

“My parameters were campfire and camping,” Hancock said. “You think campfire, and you think s’mores!” And, for dessert, s’mores it is – S’mores Napoleon that is. Hancock’s take on the sweet camping staple features layers of graham cracker, bittersweet dark chocolate, and melted marshmallow, with a delicate genoise sponge cake. “I present it in a colorful coulis of tangerine and Tahitian vanilla bean to contrast with the sweetness of the marshmallow,” the chef said.  

A garnish of organic cocoa nibs and tangerine zest complete the dessert.

Before coming to Catalina, Hancock owned his own catering company in Los Angeles, creating dining experiences at events for such companies as Charles Schwab, Smashbox Studios, and Rockstar Energy Drink.  

Hancock also served as personal chef to Howard Lester, the CEO of Williams Sonoma, Inc., and his wife Mary; he worked on several yachts cooking for owners and their guests while cruising to destinations around the world; and he served as Executive Sous Chef (including five months as acting executive chef) for The Diplomat Country Club, now the Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa, in Hallandale, Florida.  

The restaurant received AAA Four Diamond/Four Star status for the three consecutive years he was there.

Chef Hancock is used to big crowds and big appetites. “During the 2000 NHL Draft, I had three days to prepare dinner for 18,000 people,” recalled Hancock, whose start was at the Beaufort House Restaurant in North Carolina. “The challenge of such a large event makes you really think about every step of the process.”