By Marisa Marsey
What will they think of next? Crab cakes brightened with a surprise burst of Savannah Smiles. Torchon of foie gras in a buttery tuile fashioned from Trefoils. Baked Alaska where Thin Mint ice cream is just the tip of the iceberg. Such previous entries prove bighearted chefs in our local dining scene aren’t just sweet – but also savory – geniuses when they vie for a first place badge at the Samoa Soiree. The annual fundraiser for the Girl Scouts of the Colonial Coast challenges them to incorporate iconic Girl Scout Cookies into desserts and appetizers. This year’s gala – the eleventh – takes place Saturday, March 16 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Sheraton Norfolk Waterside.
“The uniqueness of this event is what attracts me to it,” says Kyle Fowlkes, Executive Chef of the Embassy Suites by Hilton Hampton Roads Hotel, Spa & Convention Center. “Seeing how creative culinarians can be using Girl Scout Cookies is flat out cool. You really have to dig deep to come up with something over-the-top and original.”
He’s done just that, earning many trophies over the years including “Best Presentation” by the panel of culinary judges and “People’s Choice for Best Savory” last year for sous vide veal with Toffee-tastic and Do-Si-Dos cookies. Sometimes the creations have influenced his menu at Cyprus Grille, the restaurant inside the Embassy Suites in Hampton.
Fowlkes is fired up to return this year. “I love the opportunity to give back to the community and to an organization that is so near and dear to my heart,” the former Boy Scout says. “It’s also great professional development. I love getting to meet new people in the industry and building potential new partnerships.”
Other competitors this year include The Butcher’s Son, Anchor Allie’s, Sysco Hampton Roads, The Dirty Buffalo, Sheraton Norfolk Waterside, Hilton Norfolk The Main, The Ten Top, and Cogans Pizza. They’ll be judged in categories including “Favorite Sweet,” “Favorite Savory,” “Best Use of Girl Scout Cookie,” “Best Presentation,” and the all-encompassing “Best in Show.” New this year, Patrick Evans-Hylton of Virginia Eats + Drinks will present a “Golden Spatula Award.”
In other cities where this fundraiser is held, chefs draw to determine which cookie they’ll use as an ingredient. But in Hampton Roads, our culinarians chart their own course, getting to pick for themselves. You just never know how the cookies will crumble. Some might employ the caramely-coconut flair of Samoas or a peanut butter punch from Tagalongs or the citric tang of Savannah Smiles, the lemon-wedge cookies sprinkled in powdered sugar introduced in 2012 to help celebrate the centennial of the international organization’s founding in Savannah by Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Lowe.
That freedom unleashes stunning creativity. Some ramp it up to triple axel degree of difficulty by choosing multiple cookies as Fowlkes did with his veal dish. They glean ideas from a variety of cultures, cuisines, and regions. Inspired by chocolate-hinted mole sauces, Travis King, executive chef of the Chesapeake location of The Butcher’s Son, is planning to present Thin Mints braised beef short ribs this year. “We’ll balance the mint with other herbs so it won’t be too mint-y,” says the Great Bridge native who returned a year ago after 13 years cooking in the Southwest.
Despite the childhood nostalgia evoked by every crunch of a Girl Scout cookie, Samoa Soiree is a grown-up affair (adults only). There’s no specific uniform; you’ll see everything from comfy-casual to sequins, but folks tend to come dressy. It’s the perfect time to dust off your little black dress if you so desire. You’ll be pairing your dishes with wine and beer (although designated drivers and others who choose not to imbibe may purchase a less expensive Safe Samoa ticket).
And if that’s not enough to make you a happy camper, munch on the fact that you’ll be helping the Girl Scouts to empower girls in grades K-12 by developing their character and skills, and building their leadership potential with strong values, social conscience, and confidence in their self-worth. The non-profit’s innovative programs span the exploration of science, technology, and the environment as well as education in healthy living, anti-bullying, and financial literacy. Girl Scouts of the Colonial Coast, part of the worldwide organization of 10 million girls and adults in 145 countries, serves more than 11,000 girls throughout Southeastern Virginia and Northeastern North Carolina.
On top of enjoying delectable out-of-the-box fare, you can groove to live music by No iD, an award-winning R&B, pop, classic rock, and soul hybrid cover band, and troop through a silent auction featuring travel opportunities and tickets to local performances. You’ll love it. Scout’s honor.
Early bird tickets: $50, after March 1: $65. Early bird “Safe Samoa” tickets which include food and non-alcoholic beverages: $35, after March 1: $45. To purchase, go to gsccc.org/en/events/samoa-soiree