Story by Eddy Hoyle + Photography by Kim Smith Photo
Food just tastes better outside. Maybe it’s because of some deep, ancestral memory deep in our DNA of cooking on an open fire. Is it the fresh air? Or is it the scent and the sound of meat sizzling on the grill that makes our mouths water? Whatever the reason, food that’s cooked and eaten outdoors always seems to taste better. There is joy eating in the open air — simple summer pleasures that deserve to be enjoyed more often. Fabian Grey is the executive sous chef for Palmetto Dunes and is an expert on cooking outdoors. Of all the eateries associated with Palmetto Dunes, working at the Dunes House is his favorite venue … and why not? It’s a casual, open-air venue with an island vibe situated just feet from the ocean with a spectacular vista. In the summer, 600-700 meals a day are served from the 400-square-foot cooking area.
Bring folks together
Grey said when he cooks outside, he gets to interact with the customers and talk with the guests. “It’s not an uptight kitchen inside where you don’t actually see the customers. It’s awesome, like a big family house party. A lot of customers come back year after year and some even give you hugs. It makes me love my job because I like to see the smiles on their faces.”
When cooking outside, preparing dinner is part of the fun instead of a chore that keeps you holed up in the kitchen alone. Family and friends can hang out and chat with whomever is stationed at the grill. You spend quality time with family and friends, have fun, and create a memorable experience. Outdoor cooking is an activity in itself.
Change it up
Jamaican by birth, Grey was inspired by his mother’s cooking. “She is very health conscious and I am, too,” he said. “Grilling is a healthier way to cook because the fat drips away, and everything she cooks is gluten free because she substitutes Wondra for flour. It’s an easy way to eliminate wheat flour.” Grey is also inspired by the Jamaican, Indian and Chinese influences of his birthplace. A popular item on the menu is a Caribbean jerk chicken sandwich. He suggests trying different spices, but don’t get nervous about it. “Add a little at a time; then wait a few minutes and taste what you’re cooking. You can add a little bit more at a time until you think it’s right,” Grey explained. “You can always add more, but you can’t take it out,” he said.
Grey said to take some time to plan your meals and decide how you want to prepare them. Outdoor cooking involves a bit of skill and innovation, but with a little practice and creativity you too can become an “outdoor chef.” Grey suggests trying more creative and healthy recipes and to go lighter in your menu. Try salmon, grouper, or any other fish. The specialty dish at Dunes House is its fish taco. Grey said last year they sold 14,000 of them, so they must be good! Another secret Grey recommends is marinating veggies in balsamic vinaigrette before grilling them.
Upgrade your grill
The cooking magic that happens in the small cooking area on the deck at the Dunes House is done on both a charbroil grill and a flat top grill. Grey said that a charbroil grill allows the fats to drip away on items like hamburgers and other meats. But a flat top grill is better for retaining juices and spices and is used for foods like shrimp, vegetables and fish. Grey recommends commercial grade grills for home use. We’re all familiar with replacing grills within a few years or changing out the burners. Commercial grade grills simply last longer and are better made. Sure, they’re more expensive, but they last longer. They are available at restaurant supply stores where you might even be able to purchase used equipment.
“No problem! I can make that happen!”
Remember, outdoor cooking is fun. Relax in a comfortable environment, crank up the music, and enjoy not only the food but the process of preparing it. We live in a climate where we can serve up seasonally inspired cuisine, locally caught seafood and locally sourced ingredients. The last tip is to adopt Grey’s mantra: “No problem! I can make that happen.”
The Dunes House: Caribbean Chicken Sandwich
1 boneless skinless chicken breast, halved
1/2 tablespoon jerk rub
1 garlic clove, minced
1 red or green bell pepper, diced
1/2 pineapple, diced
1 hamburger bun
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
Chipotle pepper, to taste
Directions  Apply the jerk rub to the chicken and let marinate for about 5 to 8 minutes.  Combine the minced garlic, mayonnaise and chipotle pepper.  Spray your chargrill with nonstick cooking spray. When it reaches medium heat, cook chicken for about 5 minutes then flip to the other side until cooked through (about another 5 minutes).  Toast your hamburger bun then spread the mixture (from step 2) over the base of the bun. Place the chicken on the bun then add the pineapple salsa on top.
The Dunes House: Fish Tacos
Ingredients (blackening spice)
1 tablespoon cumin
2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon Old Bay
1 tablespoon dark chili
Salt and pepper to taste
4 fillets (4-6 ounces each) of Mahi Mahi, in half, 1/2 per taco
1 cup shredded lettuce
1/2 cup black beans
1 cup pico de gallo
Ingredients (southwest aioli)
1 teaspoon chipotle pepper
1/3 cup ranch
1 cup mayonnaise
Directions  Season fillets of Mahi Mahi with blackening spice and grill until cooked through.  Mix all ingredients for southwest aioli.  Take two tortillas, spread aioli along the middle of each tortilla. Layer shredded lettuce, black beans and pico de gallo. Top with 1 piece of Mahi Mahi fillet in each taco.  Serve with tortilla chips and salsa.
Throw a House Party
The Dunes House is located within the gates of Palmetto Dunes and is open for resort guests with passes and Palmetto Dunes Resort property owners only. It is also a spectacular oceanfront venue to host a variety of special occasion events such as weddings, rehearsal dinners, family reunions, business receptions or dinners, cocktail parties or holiday gatherings. A vehicle gate pass is required to access Dunes House parking.