Dinner At The Cokes'

Thursday, November 29, 2018

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On the fourth Thursday in November, while many scrolled through social media to see what American relatives prepared for Thanksgiving dinner, the Cokes kicked off the Christmas party season here on The Rock with an intimate dinner party. SPACES creative director Janelle Pantry-Coke and her husband Dylan Coke, attorney-at-law and VP of Capital Markets, Scotia Investments, had 10 close friends over to their home for a fantastic three-course meal. The evening's chef was Pantry-Coke's Atlanta-based cousin Briana Riddock whose quiet demeanour belies the fact that she is a force in the kitchen.

Before moving back to Atlanta, Riddock recently completed a culinary sojourn in Alabama. She has an MA in Food Studies from NYU, is a recipe developer and writer for a number of US magazines and keeps a tantalising Instagram presence. Riddock approaches food in an intellectual way, but not so much that it's unapproachable. With each bite of her food the synapses are electrified, taste buds are delighted and bodies are made happy.

You have to watch Riddock cook. Not that it's a visual spectacle, but rather that she works with the quietness and focus of a research scientist. If it weren't for the enticing aromas emanating from the kitchen, guests would have no clue that there was a chef in there. Dinner at the Cokes began with a trio of hors d'oeuvres — poached blueberry crostini, crab and artichoke dip and baked brie with maple pumpkin sauce. The blueberries were cooked with orange and rum until jammy and spooned on baguette slices schmeared with goat's cheese. Divine! Fresh crab was combined with spices, marinated artichoke hearts and herbs bought that morning from Coronation Market. The result was a moreish dip that had an appealing flavour and texture. A wheel of brie was enrobed in puff pastry before being baked and smothered in maple pumpkin sauce to create a sweet and savoury appetiser that was highly addictive.

After hors d'oeuvres on the airy verandah guests found their places around the dining table and moments later Riddock appeared to introduce the first course — shrimp corn chowder. Fresh corn was puréed with herbs and stock and topped with perfectly-poached herbed shrimp and piquant corn salsa. If they didn't realise it before, with the arrival of the soup guests definitely knew the skills Riddock possesses. The second course was definitely what the holidays are about — decadence. Steamed lobster tails were basted and served with Cajun butter alongside a flawless saffron risotto. There was also a lovely side salad for those who needed that sort of thing. A note about risotto. Like a soufflé, it's a temperamental dish that if not executed by a skilled person can easily be ruined and poof, there goes the meal. However, Riddock cooked both the risotto and lobster tails exquisitely and both items came to the table hot despite needing different cooking times.

For dessert, there was straight-from-the-oven caramel apple pie with vanilla ice cream. Clearly, time in Alabama was well spent as the pie's crust was exactly what Southerners would describe as “slap yo mama” good. Flaky, crispy and chewy with deliciously spiced apples, home-made caramel sauce and top-quality vanilla ice cream. It takes a confident chef to present a simple apple pie for dessert. But when you realise that there are pies and then there are pies, your life would have been fixed!

The Cokes clearly know the formula for creating the perfect dinner party. Besides outstanding food, the guests were, in a word, distinguished. The conversation that continued past midnight was exhilarating. Seeing this group of global cognoscenti around a table being their natural, educated and accomplished selves is the future our ancestors prayed for. Dinner party alchemy is tricky but the Cokes wielded their sorcery to kick off the holiday season magically.

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