AMERICUS ─ Southwest Georgia is famous for its diverse farm production. The “Bounty of Autumn,” the first in the fourth series of the Albany Museum of Art’s “Fine Art of Dining” culinary series, will celebrate the region’s farm-to-table diversity in a unique setting — Thirteenth Colony Distilleries in Americus. The Saturday event begins at 6 p.m.
Chefs for the dinner will be Lee Harris, a New England Culinary School graduate who was the original roastmaster for Café Campesino, which recently observed its 20th anniversary in Americus, and David Gwynn, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and co-owner, with his wife, of Cypress Restaurant, which is in its 18th year in Tallahassee, Fla., and a recipient of Florida Trend magazine’s Golden Spoon Hall of Fame award.
“We’ve got two premier chefs from our region, and we’re celebrating the bounty of south Georgia,” Kirk Rouse, chair of the Albany Museum of Art Supper Series Committee, said. “We’re excited to have Chef Harris of Café Campesino and a longtime chef friend of his (Gwynn), who are joining together for this important fundraiser for the museum.”
Harris’ made-from-scratch breads, baked goods and other delectable cuisine are an institution in Americus. He returned to his hometown after working at Elizabeth’s in Savannah; Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, Ala., and Cypress Restaurant in Tallahassee, where he was a part-owner with Gwynn. His Sweet Georgia Baking Co. in Americus merged with his brother Bill’s Café Campesino in 2017.
Gwynn and his wife, Elizabeth, also own Vertigo, a higher-end burger and fries restaurant, and Grove Market Café, a breakfast and lunch spot, both in Tallahassee. He grew up in the culinary world, filling the gaps wherever needed in his mother’s restaurant and catering business. Gwynn worked through the ranks of nationally recognized Chef Dean Fearing’s kitchen at the Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas.
“We’re also excited about the location — Thirteenth Colony in Americus — which produces handcrafted, small-batch spirits,” Rouse noted. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to take part in an unforgettable farm-to-table experience.”
The intimate dinner for 30-40 guests features a menu designed by Harris and Gwynn and wines paired by a sommelier. The evening begins with cocktails, followed by courses of fabulous dishes.
With the event set for Americus, the AMA is offering transportation from the museum for a nominal fee. Those who attend also can make a weekend out of it by booking a room at the nearby Windsor Hotel at a special discount.
Harris said he and Gwynn want to use local products and keep the menu within the “realm of what we’ve both done for most of our career, sort of Southern regional ingredients and keeping it seasonal.”
“It’s just a rich agricultural area and a lot of things to choose from,” Gwynn said. “It’s really cool because we’re using so many of the ingredients of Thirteenth Colony — some of their gin — and then some of the other connections in terms of cheese from Sweetgrass Dairy, Stripling’s Sausage, Sunnyland pecans.”
On a personal level, Gwynn said, “It’s a chance for Lee and me to rekindle our cooking past, bring it back together and show some creativity with what we both can do and create some really great food for a great event.”
The chefs are cousins by marriage who often visited each other while growing up. Gwynn said he grew up in the restaurant business but didn’t immediately pursue a culinary career. He and his wife were in Colorado when Harris, already a chef, also was in that state.
“When we would hang out, we would talk food, and I realized I might be interested in this,” Gwynn said. “Lee showed me it was OK to have a creative side and try to make a living out of it because he had been to culinary school already. He helped inspire me to choose that path as well.”
Harris, who helped the Gwynns during the early days of Cypress Restaurant, said working on the supper series menu with his friend brought back memories. The last time they had a chance to collaborate was a couple of years ago at an event in Americus called “Tour de Farm.”
“We hadn’t done that in a while as far as the collaboration, so it was kind of ‘getting the band back together’ and seeing if we could still do it,” Harris said.
Gwynn said it was interesting that, with their travels, they both ended up in the communities in which they were born.
“I don’t think either of us set out when we going to culinary school to end up back in Tallahassee or Americus, but for various reasons that has happened,” Gwynn said.
Tickets for the dinner and for the four-dinner series are still available. Season tickets to the four dinners are $680, or $595 for Albany Museum of Art members at the patron or higher level. That is a 15 percent discount from individual dinner ticket purchases. Single dinner tickets are $200, or $175 for AMA members at the patron or higher level.
Season and individual tickets may be purchased online by clicking on the purchase button at albanymuseum.com/supper-series.html. Tickets also may be purchased at the AMA, 311 Meadowlark Drive, or by calling (229) 439-8400.
Upcoming dinners in the series, all beginning at 6 p.m., are:
— Dec. 29: “Felice Anno Nuovo” with Chef Laura Bernardi Piovesana at the Albany Museum of Art. Celebrate the coming new year a little early with fabulous authentic Italian fare at a home we all love.
April 13: “Spring Fête” at the Albany home of Craig and Jessica Castle. This dinner is unique in the series in that we soon will reveal the identity of the mystery chef. The fun suspense will be well worth it.
July 18: “Midsummer Night’s Supper” with Chefs Terry Koval, Hudson Rouse and Todd White. They will team up to create a memorable conclusion to the series at the Albany homes of Alex and Staci Willson, and Joe and Annabelle Stubbs.