Souped up after Irma

Not to rant but … if I ever hear the phrase “hunker down” again, I might rip a throat out. And if anyone actually needed a reason to throw the TV out the window, the constant, repetitive, information-free newscasts about the hurricane clearly convinced them to do so. The newsfolks even had the gall to interrupt the most incredible Jags game in years with more doomsday drivel.

Irma quickly turned from impending disaster to overwhelming boredom. Hurricane parties get old once you tire of party supplies or run out of interesting food. And with no grocery stores or restaurants open, the variety of edibles rapidly evaporated.

I absolutely love food and all things about eating. I spend my days consumed with thoughts of food and different products, unique ways to mix and match common items, as well as the many ways to prepare these foodstuffs. So when forced to choose from my freezer or the few fresh items left in the fridge, I struggled for inspiration.

I had no choice but to make do with what I had. To make it more challenging, I had a houseful of picky eaters and people with dietary restrictions. This could have made cooking a chore; fortunately, I had a private Cheffed Up stash of quail and duck confit.

Yeah, baby, sometimes it pays to be me! As I happened to have some choice gluten-free condiments, I quartered the very attractive little quail, marinated them briefly with a couple of things and some cornstarch, lightly fried them in a little sesame oil then stir-fried some fresh vegetables and voilà: pretty and delicious. As for the duck confit, well, I won’t say I ate it straight from the bag but …

Right now, I’m fantasizing about this delectable white gazpacho. Give it a try.


  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 large 3/4-inch-thick slice day-old 
  • country bread, crust removed
  • 3 cloves garlic, halved
  • 1 cup whole almonds, toasted and 
  • roughly chopped; plus more for garnish
  • 2 cups seedless green grapes; plus more, 
  • halved, for garnish
  • 1 cup peeled, seeded, chopped cucumber
  • 2 tsp. mustard seeds
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 cups cold water
  • Sherry vinegar to taste
  • 4 thin slices Serrano or Virginia ham



  1. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add bread; gently fry on one side until very crisp and golden, about 3 minutes. Add garlic to oil, flip bread; fry until both garlic and bread are golden and crisp, another 2 to 3 minutes
  2. Make gazpacho: Purée fried bread, garlic and almonds until smooth. Add grapes, cucumbers and a pinch of salt and purée until uniform. Add cold water and purée until smooth, adding more if soup is too thick. Season to taste with salt and vinegar. Set gazpacho aside.
  3. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-low. Once hot, add ham, working in batches if needed to avoid overcrowding. Fry until crispy, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer ham to a paper-towel-lined plate. Break crisped ham into bite-size pieces.
  4. Ladle gazpacho into chilled bowls and garnish with halved grapes, almonds and ham, if using.

Until we cook again,

Contact Chef Bill Thompson, owner of The Amelia Island Culinary Academy, at [email protected] to find inspiration and get you Cheffed Up!