The City Magazine Since 1975

Dining In

Dining In
August 2008
At home, chef Bob Carter serves up an interactive menu to entertain adults and kids alike

As executive chef of the popular Peninsula Grill, Bob Carter entertains people almost every night—lots of people. “I cook for hundreds of Peninsula guests a week,” he says, so when he and his wife, Allyson, who is usually busy teaching spinning classes at local athletic clubs, take a break to entertain at home, they want to involve their children. “It’s not just adult time and kid time, it’s family time,” explains Bob.

When the couple built their new Marsh Harbor home, they had two goals, both centering on their two boys: more space inside and out for Benjamin, age five, and Harrison, age three. The Carters already knew that they liked the laid-back lifestyle of the neighborhood; their previous house was a mere stone’s throw across the street. To that purpose, they designed a grand island to anchor the kitchen and adjoining living room, opening both to a deep back porch, which Bob created to facilitate casual dining. “It makes the perfect place for our kind of easy entertaining,” says Allyson.

The group that gathers at the Carters’ on this sunny summer Sunday has come together for just the type of evening that Bob and Allyson enjoy: a leisurely get-together, where camaraderie and, of course, good food are the order of the day. Allyson’s brother, Geoffrey, is visiting from Indiana, and friends Allison Smith and Jan Buckaloo have come by with Jan’s two girls. “Allyson just calls and says ‘We’re cooking tonight,’” says Jan. “That’s all it takes.”

The hosts like to start with something cool on the front porch, which overlooks the neighborhood lagoon. Allyson has set up a tropically themed, self-serve bar. While the adults sip Arnold Palmers spiked with Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka, the children gulp down homemade orangeade, a favorite beverage from Bob’s own childhood. His mom made orange juice every morning—in those days from concentrate—then added water, lemon juice, sugar, and Maraschino cherry juice to whatever was left for an afternoon treat. Bob has modernized this version with Splenda and freshly squeezed OJ.

For the kids, there are bikes to ride, balls to throw, and cane poles in case anyone wants to try their luck fishing in the lagoon. Harrison tootles on his trike while Benjamin plays fetch with the Carters’ golden retriever, Halsey, who has decided to take a dip in the pond. The Buckaloo girls, Alison, age nine, and Clayton, age 12, come down with a Play & Freeze Ice Cream Maker, a lightweight plastic ball filled with ice and rock salt on the bottom and ice-cream ingredients on the top. The kids roll and pass it back and forth, over and under, until the vanilla bean ice cream is formed for tonight’s dessert.

Reluctant to leave the rocking chairs and cool breeze, everyone lingers on the front porch while Bob carries out appetizers. Succulent shrimp lollipops and sweet onion shooters assuage the twinges of hunger for a while, but eventually everyone’s ready for the main event.

Bob sets the island up with all the ingredients for the kabobs. “Benjamin is such a foodie,” laughs Bob. “He critiques everything: ‘This needs a little more salt on it’ or ‘I can really taste the onion in this, Dad.’ Allyson cooks for the boys every day, since I work at night. I do cook on my days off, usually with the kids helping out on dishes like the ones we’re serving today. We chose this menu because kabobs are one of our family’s favorites.”

When the children cluster round the kitchen island to make their own kabobs, Bob explains that they can put either swordfish or steak on their skewers, alternating the fish or meat with vegetables. But the young ones’ natural artistic instincts kick in, and they design their skewers more by color than cooking instruction. Wine corks, with ends colored by markers, are put on the skewers to designate which kabob belongs to which chef. After doing their part, the kids head up to the third-floor playroom while the adults put the finishing touches to the feast. Geoffrey starts the adults in assembling their kabobs while Bob puts on the garlic-green onion rice pilaf.

Leaving Harrison and Alison to play games upstairs, Clayton and Benjamin join Bob at his expansive Electrolux grill. Clayton often assists him at these Sunday suppers, says her mother, who notes that Bob has taught the budding foodie a lot about cooking. “Here’s how to turn the skewers,” Bob shows her. “Grab them in the middle with the tongs, pick them up straight, and give them a quarter turn so you get them cooked all the way around.”

Finally, it’s time to eat. Harrison leads the line, looking for the blue cork marking his kabob, then pulling the skewer out of his meat and vegetables with the help of his mom. From the dining table on the back porch, the view of the Intracoastal Waterway is sensational, as are the cooling winds coming from the ocean just a few blocks away. Allyson pours a Steele chardonnay, a wine the couple is especially fond of.

“Today is my take on a childhood memory,” reminisces Bob. “This is the way my family did it when I was growing up, without a lot of fuss and cost—easy entertaining. And it suits us just fine.”

At last comes the moment Harrison has been waiting for: ice cream and cake. For the children, there are M&Ms, sprinkles, chocolate sauce, and vanilla bean marshmallow cream arranged on a make-your-own sundae bar. For the adults: fresh peach upside-down cake with rum raisin whipped cream—a sophisticated twist to an old-fashioned Southern dessert. Though simple things, these are just the sort of tricks of the trade you’d expect from a chef entertaining at home with his kids.