By Jordan Hicks
If you happen to pop in to The Black Pearl on a particularly sunny day, the gulf waters sparkle emerald and turquoise, and sunlight casts the beach sands in white glitter. From your table watch the Pier anglers reel up exotic fish, or the Boardwalk fireworks over the water. And while you can find fresh seafood up and down the Gulf Coast at any number of restaurants, the plating and combination of ingredients distinguish The Black Pearl.
Chef Kevin Wynn is the mastermind behind the stand-out menu at The Black Pearl on Okaloosa Island. Most days off you can find Kevin Wynn hitting the golf course or setting out on a scuba diving trip. Once in the kitchen, it’s a whole new world.
The Turning Point for Kevin Wynn
Chef Wynn described the turning point in his life as working in restaurants while putting himself through school to be a marine biology teacher. “Working with unfocused kids wasn’t for me,” said Wynn, so the would-be teacher turned in his textbooks on sea life to attend culinary school at Culinard in Birmingham, Alabama. Culinard taught him the basics, but Wynn says he’s learned more from a hands on approach while working in the field. Wynn struggled to find work as a chef upon graduating from culinary school. After 3 months doing nothing more than peeling carrots and veggies, he finally achieved the title of Sous Chef at the Birmingham private hot-spot, The Club.
From delicious dining to fantastic fishing, There is so much to do at the Okaloosa Island Boardwalk!
Grouper Cheeks Anyone?
Chef Wynn describes his style as “Southern meets French,” (heavy on the ‘southern’) with collard greens and black-eyed peas kissing up against grouper with spicy aioli. Nothing goes on the plate without a reason to be there, and his secret is simple— shop local. One of his signature plates features grouper cheek, a part of the fish not usually served in fine dining. Firmer and meatier than the filet, the piece makes it a fisherman’s favorite, and is found on The Black Pearl’s menu as a starter.
Throughout the four seasons, follow Wynn’s menu as it transforms from summer seafood with fresh corn and zucchini, to heartier items in the the cooler months. A winter dish typically features slow cooked pork or lamb, braised, with a thick sauce or served up in a soup, often paired with filling root veggies such as carrots or rhubarb. His favorite dish to prepare is anything involving seared scallops. “There’s a right way and there’s a wrong way. Either you can do or you can’t,” Wynn says. He remembers being scorned by a superior in no pleasant terms when he was first learning the skill. “He called me out on those scallops until I got it right.”
For aquatic adventures including exotic exhibits and sea lion shows, stop by the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park located walking distance from The Black Pearl!
Food is Love
What’s his current motivation? “I like making food that makes people smile,“ he says. “You know right away when they take a bite whether or not they like it.” Seems he loves the instant gratification of a job well done, too. This deep love of cooking comes from his mom. Her signature dish? Salmon balls rolled in Ritz crackers, creating a crispy crust and a warm center, served with water, or soft boiled, potatoes. This dish makes him laugh now, and he recalls phoning his mom from culinary school to tell her the recipe she’d been using her whole life was actually for a French croquette.
The Black Pearl Island Grill
The Black Pearl Island Grill features locally sourced seafood, premium angus beef, and organic produce with the flavor of the islands! Complement each taste with a wide variety of Caribbean infused cocktails, selected wines, or cold beer. This casual yet cozy eatery opens daily at 4pm. For more info head to BlackPearlGrill.com.
One thought on “Meet Chef Kevin Wynn: Okaloosa Island’s Hidden ‘Black Pearl’”
Samantha Kaye says:
Such a well-written article that it makes my glands water to taste Chef’s dining experience! Looking forward to this local cuisine!