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Lobster B&W

It all starts with Lobster

Don’t be fooled by imitations, there is only one Chef Jack Lee. Call him what you want, he answers to Captain Jack or even Kangaroo Jack. His name aside, one thing remains the same; Taste, consistency and innovation in the kitchen. We spent the day with Chef Jack where we experienced a taste of the finer things in life; traditional dishes with an Escoffier twist as interpreted thru the eyes of Mad Jack.

Chef Jack – steady as she goes.

We entered the inner sanctum of a beautiful Beverly Hills estate that is also the private art gallery called the DeVorzon Gallery. The walls were filled with beautiful works of art. As we went through the art filled rooms and corridors we finally set foot into the center of this home of creativity. There it was the hub, the hearth known as the kitchen. It was fitting that the Culinary artist Chef Jack Lee was in his art studio creating excerpts from some of his different culinary portfolios. Unlike many chefs, Jack Lee creates food as an artist creates a portfolio or body of work. He gets his inspiration from the world around him and then begins the process of creating a body of work around a specific theme much like many well known artists before him. The inspiration that created Monet’s Garden series or Picasso’s portraits of women. Weegee’s Naked City and Warhol’s Series of Marilyn Monroe and then there’s Jack Lee’s Portfolio of food inspired by life events. He calls his portfolios “Tasting Collections”.

Chef Jack Lee used food to tell a story, to represent how his clients feel and to personify who they are through his experience of

$100 egg roll in all it’s glory

them. He takes these experiences and translates them onto the plate. A few years ago he went through jaw surgery where he lost his sense of taste. It took him a year and a half to recover his sense of taste and retrain his palate. During his recovery he came up with the idea of his 6th tasting collection called “My True Colors” where he used food and colors to describe his thoughts and feelings through his toughest period after his surgery and his journey back to the culinary world.

A plate full of $100 eggrolls now that’s eating.

It was just such an inspiration that let him to create the $100 eggroll.  He was inspired by the opulence and abundance that surrounded him. It was an homage to the relaunch of his new concept after his jaw surgery. He debuted it at a celebrity fundraiser in Brentwood.

He wanted to add some “bling bling to this modern delicacy that is a staple at Chinese restaurants throughout America.” By using the most expensive seasonal ingredients available to he successfully made the ultimate eggroll. He sourced Maine lobster, seasonal French truffles, the best caviar and gold leaf. He uses taro root instead of napa cabbage to keep the roll fresh and crisp. He makes a raspberry sauce using lobster stock and then pairs it with a glass of Dom Perignon.

We were also lucky to have the opportunity to sample some of the creations from other Taste Collections such as –
Lobster martini that Jack calls it “happy juice”
Lobster broth, lemongrass, vodka with a  salmon scallop lollipop

Lobster Martini

Prime Rib Bahn Mi
Not your average Bahn Mi – prime rib, Huson Valley Foie Gras instead of aoli and a soy foie gras dipping sauce.

Prime Rib Bánh mì

Escargot
with a garlic pesto

Escargot with Pesto

and a Special surprise

Chilean Sea bass (signature dish)
-infused w sake, scallions and ginger – served w green tea soba noodles, scallions soy sauce and garnished with salmon roe.

Chilean Sea Bass with Soba Noodles

So it was a feast for the eyes, palate and all the other senses combined. Chef Jack Lee is a true artist who is among the ranks of the finest chefs around. He is one to watch in the coming years as he will certainly climb to ultimate notoriety.

Cheers, Amelia, Chef Jack and Adam

Chef Jack

We are looking forward to his upcoming Taste Collections inspired by Sake, Tequilla and his travels around the world. Cheers to Chef Jack Lee for taking the time out of his busy Chinoise Catering schedule to show us all a “Taste of the Good-Life.”

Article co-written by Adam Rubenstein & Rico Mandel for The Culinary Image and  VivaLAfoodies.com
Photography provided by Rico Mandel for Mizenplace & The Culinary Image
Video produced, edited and provided by Amelia Yokel

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Kaz, Pastry Chef Sequestered in the corner

I set my GPS with the address of the Test Kitchen and away I went. I came upon an old building with no name on it bathed in a red paint with black trim standing regally on Pico Bl. I parked in back and came through the back door and followed the signs downstairs into the kitchen. I walked in to see the crew from the  restaurant all lined up doing prep. The crew had been there since 10am busily getting ready for the evenings performance.  You see Test Kitchen brings in chefs from all over to test out new recipes and concepts for their restaurants or new establishments to be opened up. The prep was in the final stages when I got there. As always my first thing is to ask what else needs to be done.There were a few last minute things such as slicing some more cibatta.  I also had to use the slicer to cut buffalo tenderloin for Carpaccio. The Tenderloin had to be frozen to make cutting to the right thickness easy. The one thing that I don’t understand is why restaurant slicers are usually in less than optimal condition. Noisy seemingly on their last legs yet they do the job.

Christopher Barrigan getting ready for service.

Chef Adam Horton of Saddle Peak Lodge made sure that he had plenty of help in the kitchen, to keep things running smoothly making everything looking effortless. They put Kaz, the pastry chef, in the back corner of the kitchen like a sequestered mad scientist experimenting with all he could find.

I saw crisp chicken skin on his station and I was wondering what that was for. I soon found out, chicken skin nougatine. The  wonderful combination of flavors sweet  from the caramel, salty from the chicken skin and salt and and a bit of heat from green curry to finish it.

Chef Adam Horton getting ready for Service

Another item I saw on his station were apple slices that had been infused with hibiscus using the cryovac. The flavor combination of the hibiscus with the apple was addictive. This was part of their cheese course which included Parmegiano reggiano with white chocolate namelaka black olive nougatine and aviation cocktail sauce (gin, lemon juice sugar water Creme de violet) micro celery and a thin curved crostini. It is a very creative and tasty way to do a cheese course and tastes absolutely divine. The apple hibiscus combination is so refreshing and pairs perfectly with the intense flavor and saltiness of the  Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Chef Adam Horton, having servers taste the menu and answering quesitons

At this point the kitchen is shifting it’s energies to setting up for service. Meanwhile the front of house staff is busily readying the dining room for another big night. The next item on the list is to make on of each course for the wait staff to see and taste so they can accurately describe it to their customers. The chef gives the order to fire and the plates begin to materialize. One  by one they get put up on the pass and taken to the staff table so that Adam can

The open kitchen, a few hours before service

describe each and answer any questions that might come up. Wild Boar spread with grilled toast, Heirloom tomato buffalo and it’s cheese, Escolar with summac, edamame, horseradish uni, flavors of pho and puffed rice, Pork belly with vadouvan apple yogurt and cucumber, Elk with almond bacon brandied cherries and squash, Parmigiano Nero with apple hibiscus, white chocolate and olives, Dessert Thai green curry with chicken lemongrass cilantro and lime.

first 3 courses

First 3 courses - Wild Boar, Heirloom Tomato Buffalo, Escolar

The menu is heavenly and of course I had to taste each dish, for safety’s sake of course. They all passed with flying colors.

Last 4 courses

Pork Belly, Elk with squash scramble, Parmigiano Nero, Thai green curry

One of the new experiences for the Saddle Peak staff was the open kitchen which keeps everyone on their best behavior.

Joshua Pressman, checking tickets and plates as they go out

The Test Kitchen staff was very accommodating and everyone seemed to be working very well together. Service begins and there is a slow ramp up as the dishes are easily put together. One by one, Joshua Pressman, the expediter for the Test Kitchen, calls out the orders to the kitchen as Chef de Cuisine Chris Kufek confirms them and keeps the kitchen staff humming. The dining room begins to fill as sommelier and master mixologist

Christopher Barragan, working the drinks

Christopher Barragan is manning the bar pouring 5 drinks that he created just for the evening.  They are Tang’ent, My Darling Clementine, Q-Cumber, Pearl Jasmine, En Fleur, Testing Cocktail and Testing Mocktail, so ask for these when you see Chris at the Saddle Peak.


En Fleur - Gin, St Germaine, Sauvignon Blanc, fresh thyme and lime

Meanwhile Joshua Buckner, GM of the Saddle Peak  bridges the gap between kitchen and front of the house to make sure all is going well and of course it is.

Some of Adams friends and even current and former wait staff from the saddle peak come by to congratulate him and say hi.  The plates are going out at a steady pace one of the nice things about having only one set menu is it makes it easier for the kitchen staff while making the dining experience even more of a pleasure.


The board is filled with tickets

Service is at full swing now. The board is full with orders, “Carpaccio out, 53 four out, 4 elk grazing on judges table 44 out, a boat here for 31, 44 walking” are the call outs from Joshua to the kitchen as he inspects each plate for drips etc… before releasing them to the servers throughout all stages of service.

The focus and concentration of the expediter as he continuously scans the tickets is intense . Keeping the proper timing going is job “ad 2 more desserts, 5 all day” then he pulls the tickets down for those tables.

Ramon on Grill and Sean on squash scramble

The elk with beef sauce is so tender and sweet. The mesquite wood grill ads just the right amount of oakyness to the flavor captured with the sous vide process. The wild boar has a full flavor to it mixed with the reduced braising liquid with sherry wine. The flavor has that sweet fresh sense of the woods. The way it is raised,  there is a buttery quality to the meat that is not often found in boar.

The quenelle of lemongrass comes through beautifully. It’s like tasting lemon with the additional flavor of slight bitterness. It’s layered with candied carrot slices etc… A wonderful refreshing alternative dessert.


The line is filled and humming along

The call outs continue as the peak of the evening has passed. 9:04 and things are beginning to slow a bit. “27 pork is squeeling” as another order goes out. Ramon keeps the grill flowingChris Kufek works with Josh the expeditor to make sure that all flows smoothly. 9:09 a lull in the storm. Things are slowing. Then another wave comes in. There are 10 first courses being readied to go out. The dishwashers are humming along. Sean is busily making the butternut scramble for the elk as Ramon keeps the grill fired up and humming along with elk and the grilled cibatta slices to go with the boar. Pork bellies are frying and all cylinders are firing at the same time 9:19. Things can change at a moments notice during service. “25 & 54 elk grazing. 22 Abraham lincoln, Kufek you need boar for three Rick asks to get clarification, “pick up 3’pork 5 all day.” The board is full again and the orders are moving out.

Rick working the Wild boar

Josh comes back to tell us that the people are really happy with the food, “pick up 4 deserts goes the call as the plating continues.” Each facet of the meal is going out in perfect harmony with the next. The last table is in and now its just a matter  of working through each ticket and knocking them out one by one. One by one the dots go down on the plate then the cucumber balls and finally the pork belly, fried to crispy


Adam putting the finishing touches on Pork Belly

perfection with a soft center. One by one the tickets disappear and the last of each course gleaming. “33 fish are swimming” As the evening winds down the staff begins to clean up each station one by one as the last Wild boar Spread goes out, then the Buffalo carpaccio, then Escolar, the last of the pork belly and then Elk, and finally the Parmigianno Nero and last but not least the Thai green curry dessert.Meanwhile wellwishers come into the kitchen to congratulate Adam and staff on a spectacular meal. One person asks Adam how he would describe elk, “It’s like filet mignon on drugs”

It was a highly successful evening as Chef Adam Horton and the Saddle Peak team came together to do what they do best, create a great experience and make great food.

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RePosted from the Cork’d Blog

Finally, a Perfect Food and Wine Pairing System


Patrick (Kahuna) PetruccelloMy Website
· My Articles

Posted: May 16th, 2010

Years and years of drinking wine, and even more years of eating food, have allowed me to develop a precise system for matching the perfect wine with any food. A system so dramatic that it often inspires words like “Interesting”, “Amazing” and “Wow”. Now I share this secret with all of you. First you start by taking into account a wine’s traits; powerful, subtle, crisp, or sweet, and then you evaluate the food. Is the meal a robust meat, delicate fish or well sauced pasta? Easy enough. Well, my system uses none of the above criteria…

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Adam in 2004 working Garde Manger Station

I got to know, now Chef Adam Horton back in 2004 when I went to work on the line at the Saddle Peak Lodge.  He started there a few months before I did working for Chef Warren Schwartz who is now at the Westside Tavern.  Working under Warren, as he liked to be called, Adam learned a lot. He watched as Warren would bring cooks up in the kitchen and then help them find jobs elsewhere to learn new techniques.  Adam is a very personable guy and we found that we both had a passion for all things culinary.  He and I both graduated in 2004 from the California School of Culinary Arts in Pasadena.

Adam Just back from Europe

Adam feels that his real education came from the kitchens that he has worked in and I would agree. Although we worked different stations in the kitchen and he was always there to give me a hand if I needed it and I returned the favor whenever possible. The environment in the kitchen was like a family. The standards were always high and speed was something that just came from learning and repetitive motion day in and day out.

I remember many times where Adam and I would find ourselves out in the parking lot after service, talking about food and cooking until way after everyone had already left. The passion was there waiting to be given the opportunity.

Adam as Sous Chef 2007

As a young chef he was eager to go off and experience new kitchens and ways of doing things. He came to a point where he felt he wasn’t learning what he wanted to in the kitchen so it was time for him to move on.

I remember when he told me that he was planning his trip to Europe and lining up restaurants to try out in France and London.

He looked into Michelin 2 & 3 star restaurants in Europe to stretch the boundaries of what he knew. I was envious of his plan to go and explore the culinary world, pushing himself and his talents to see what was in store for him. He had nothing tying him down. His drive to experience what the world has to offer is something that he and I both share.

So off he went to Europe cooking in some of the finest restaurants there,  Restaurant Gordon Ramsay on Royal Hospital Road in London,

then moving on to France to  Le Moulin de Mougins, La Palme d’Or, Taillevent and Troisgros. What an experience he had. The work ethic was far different to what we have here in the US. Longer hours, a bit

Adam plating tartar

slower pace in the kitchen with an emphasis on quality and perfection rather than speed and turning tables. It was great to hear some of his stories of working at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay and in France. He had clearly learned a lot and came back a changed person.

Chef Adam Horton

After he got back he spent several months working at Mélisse in Santa Monica before returning in 2006 to the Saddle Peak Lodge. His passion ingredients and his learning abroad and in LA had transformed him into a fine chef.  Shortly after his return he was made Sous Chef working for Chef Steve Rojas. Adam says that working with very talented and passionate chefs gave him an understanding of what it took to be working in a world-class restaurant. In 2008, at the young age of 25 he was made chef at Saddle Peak Lodge. His passion for fish and game and his willingness to explore many sides of cooking make him a perfect fit for the Saddle Peak. Local, seasonal ingredients are what get him excited. For Adam it is about the quality of what he is putting on the plate. He takes pride in finding sources for the best local and artisanal product he can get. He is always trying new things and puts together, in my opinion, some of the finest food that I have eaten.

Chef Adam Horton and Me working

It is always a pleasure to work with him and a joy to eat his food.

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I am in the process of wrapping up my business day getting ready to head over to the Saddle Peak Lodge for the Foxen wine dinner when my phone rings, it’s Chris the Sous Chef, “Hey can you stop on your way in and pick up 10 cucumbers?”, “not a problem”, I say, thus dispelling any doubt I had that they might not know that I was coming in. I stop by Vons and pick up the cucumbers and am on my way.  On my drive over there I was thinking about what the menu was going to be and what I would be doing.

I arrived and said hi to everyone in the kitchen.  They were working on the crab louie appetizer which was a beautifully executed.  Made from peekie toe crab and then covered with a thin layer of cocktail sauce gelee made from consommé. It was served in a Chinese soup spoon.  I asked Chef Adam Horton what he needed me to do, “Cut up the watermelons put the chunks in the blender and puree. Here try one of these as he gave me one of the crab louie appetizers. It was wonderful. As the gelee melted in my mouth I could taste the flavors of the cocktail sauce developing in my mouth and blending with the crab for a truly divine experience.  I pureed the watermelon and added it to the blend of heirloom tomato, blanched bell peppers, garlic and cilantro that Manny was blending as he added sherry vinegar salt and pepper to balance out the flavors.   The braised short rib Wellington’s were wonderful small bites. Braised short rib meat  cut into small pieces wrapped in puff pastry dough and baked till it was golden. Dipped in the foie gras sauce and it was heavenly.  Not necessarily heart healthy but a wonder on the palate.

Watermelon Gazpacho, Short Rib Wellingtons with Foie Gras Sauce and Crab Louie

Watermelon Gazpacho, Short Rib Wellingtons with Foie Gras Sauce and Crab Louie

These were served with the 2007 Block UU Bien Nacido Chardonnay. It is a very drinkable wine.  I don’t mean this in a demeaning way on the contrary it has a pleasant flavor that goes well with a variety of foods.

First Course

2007 Old vines Ernesto Wickenden vineyard Chenin Blanc
Compressed melon, Japanese Yellowtail “prosciutto”, arugula, lemon and Terre Bormaine Riviera Ligure Olive Oil

So I see “goose” slicing up what looked like cured yellowtail and he told me it was  prosciutto.

Plating the Yellowtail Prosciuto

Plating the Yellowtail Prosciutto

The yellowtail fillets were cured in a mixture of salt and sugar for one day and hung to dry in the walk-in for 2 days.  The result a fish with the concentrated flavors of yellowtail,

Compressed melon, Japanese Yellowtail “prosciutto”, arugula, lemon and Terre Bormaine Riviera Ligure Olive Oil

Compressed melon, Japanese Yellowtail “prosciutto”, arugula, lemon and Terre Bormaine Riviera Ligure Olive Oil

a bit of sweetness and a silken texture that melts in your mouth. Another component was the compressed melon which is made by slicing melon and then putting it into a cryovac and using it to compress the melon by putting it under pressure in the bag.

It concentrates the flavor of the melon and gives it a more translucent appearance.  These elements were combined with arugula, lemon and a wonderful Ligurian olive oil and it was a dish that tasted as wonderfully as it looked on the plate.

The chenin blanc was a perfect pairing with the yellowtail.  It had a crisp refreshing taste, light and citrusy which was a perfect balance to the yellowtail prosciutto. The  harmony of flavors that were extraordinary.

Second Course

2007 Pinot Noir
Duck “Poche-Roti” with daikon, bing cherries and couscous

Daikon radish is one of those vegetables that can be used in a multitude of ways.

Chef Adam Horton making dots on the plate with Bethani and Goose helping out on the plating

Chef Adam Horton making dots on the plate with Bethani and Goose helping out on the plating

It has a clean slightly piquant taste with a soft crunchy texture.  It is a great compliment to sweet flavors. Chef Adam Horton used them as a container to hold couscous.

The daikon was peeled and cut into 1.5″ thick slices.  Then, using 2 round cutters they were cut in the center with a 1″ round cutter then followed with a 1.5″ cutter for the outside dimension. Next the daikon was blanched in saltwater and quickly cooled.

duck with stuff

Duck “Poche-Roti” with daikon, bing cherries and couscous

The Duck was cooked sous vide, a process of cooking food in a vacuum sealed pouch which contains all the ingredients.  This process allows the flavors to infuse the product better and creates a very tender result from the slow cooking.  Typically proteins can be cooked this way and are later seared for final service. After the duck was poached sous vide without the skin to a perfect medium rare.  The skin was rendered till crispy put in a food processor to make into small bits and used as a garnish too add crunch to the dish. Was plated first with the cherry sauce and some bing cherries on the plate. The daikon was stuffed with the couscous and topped with a bing cherry sauce. The pinot noir went well with the cherry flavors bringing out the berry notes in the wine.

Third Course

2005 Range 30 West
Wagyu beef New York steak with onion brulee, creamed corn and sauce bordelaise 

Wagyu Beef with a creamed corn

Wagyu beef New York steak with onion brulee, creamed corn and sauce bordelaise

Heaven on a plate is the easiest way to describe this course. I love Wagyu beef. It has a buttery texture and the flavor of what I always imagine beef tasting like on the commercials or in the movies. The marbeling in the meat is extraordinary and it is very tender by nature. It has a very high percentage of unsaturated fat and is also higher in omega-3 and omega-6 than regular beef.

The Wagyu beef was first cooked sous vide to rare and then placed on a mesquite grill to add the smokey flavor and bring it to a perfect medium rare that just melts in your mouth. Creamed corn was made from fresh ears of corn. Kernels cut off the cob and then sauteed with butter, shallots, cream salt & pepper. The bordelaise was made from demi-glace, red wine, bone marrow and shallots. The sweetness of the creamed corn and the onions melded very well together and the slight acidity of the bordelaise helped to round out the flavors. It was paired with a Bordeaux style Meritage, Foxen 2005 Range 30 West. It had a complex fruit forward flavor transitioning to a bit of a pepper with hint of smokiness in the finish. A perfect pairing for this dish.

Fourth Course

2007 Late Harvest Chenin Blanc
“Peaches and Cream”

SPL-0457-14

Peaches and Cream

Earlier in the evening I had to slice one side of the panna cotta’s so they would roll around on the plate.  Taste them I was told. So being the obedient sort I decided to oblige them. The taste and texture was wonderful.

Bethani readying dessert while Chevo looks on.

Bethani readying dessert while Chevo looks on.

Panna cotta is an Italian dessert made from cream, milk and sugar and mixing it with gelatin.  The beauty of panna cotta is that you can flavor it with just about anything. It is also great for making savory items as well. For savory applications leave out the sugar.  In this case the panna cotta was made with the addition of meyer lemon zest to give it the lemon flavor without adding additional liquid to the mixture.  The cream, mik, sugar mixture was strained through a chinois to remove the zest before adding the gelatin and placing it into ring molds lined with acetate strips for easy removal. When it came time for the plating Chef Adam Horton showed Bethani how he wanted it and she was off to the races putting down the caramel followed by the peach puree, panna cottas and fresh peach slices. The chenin Blanc was sweet and creamy tasting a perfect balance with the lemon panna cotta and peaches on the plate. The taste was divine. It was light and lemony, like a great home made lemonade, not too sweet, everything done to bring out as much lemon flavor as possible. combined with the peaches, caramel and peach puree it had the taste of summer in every bite. The Late Harvest Chenin Blanc, had a wonderful acidic sweetness that paired well with it.

Another successful evening in the kitchen of Saddle Peak Lodge.

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We left Zazu restaurant around 4:30 with Chef Duskie Estes, co-owner of Bovolo and Zazu Restaurants, at the wheel. As we drove through a back country road to get to the Charles Krug Winery in St. Helena we talked about a variety of things such as her leaving the following morning for the Food & Wine weekend in Aspen and what it was like to coordinate the prep and supplies for all the chef’s demonstrations. “For the next few days, while I’m in Aspen I’ll get very little sleep,” said Duskie. She went on to explain that the coordination of all the prep and purveyors and changes in the chef’s menus made for a never ending job.

As we came out of the trek through the road into the valley I saw the majestic mountains that surround St Helena. It is truly a beautiful place, the quintessential Provence-like wine country scenery. The main road is dotted with farm houses, vineyards, and quaint old small towns, and the occasional Chateaux structures along the way.
We arrived at the winery around 5:30 and unloaded the SUV. bldgzazu-0916-29 John Stewart, Duskie’s husband, was already there with his crew setting up. The two-story building where the event would take place had the facade of an old mission style winery, yet the interior had a cold concrete lower floor. Climbing the concrete stairs to the second floor I was pleasantly surprised to find a wonderful spacious room with high beamed ceilings, wooden floor, and large windows on each of the 4 sides. Duskie and John were already upstairs with the other chefs for a photo op as I looked on. group After the photos I went back downstairs to see if Duskie and John needed some help. John was in the process of putting the final touches on his salumi arrangement. He made a paté from duck liver and some of the nasty bits of the duck. He handed me a piece and it was like a melange of duck slowly melting around in my mouth.

antipasti

Antipasti and Duck Liver Paté

The liver was predominent followed by a mix of herbs with a finish similar to the essence of duck confit. It was magnificent.

The hand-crafted salami slices were arranged on a large piece of wood together with an assortment of antipasti: pickled grapes, white bean salad, dry cured olives and marinated eggplant.

goat

Chef John Stewart admires the grilled goat with one of Richard Haake's cooks

outside

Jazz band and guests mingling before the event opens

“Hey, they’re grilling a goat” I heard someone say, so I sauntered outside to witness a chef presiding over a wood-burning grill slowly roasting goat legs and heads. The meat slowly cooking and caramelizing as the sous chef gently brushes it with yet another application of olive oil using a brush made from rosemary. It was a divine sight. The aroma of grilling meat and smoke was wafting about the outdoor setting as a jazz combo was playing in the early evening sun. Appetizers were being passed and champagne and wine were being poured courtesy of our friends at Charles Krug.

After socializing a bit, I decided to go inside to see what was going on before the crowds started assembling. I made my way upstairs and start looking around the large cavernous room, panodevoid of guests, whose only occupants were the chefs and their crews preparing for the onslaught of people who would soon crowd around each table to taste the fine morsels the chefs had prepared to amuse the palate. In addition, at the ready stood the sommeliers and representatives from the wineries, glasses glistening on the tables ready to pour the appropriate pairing for each culinary creation.

bellini

Ana & Jada prepping Bella Ruffina

As my eyes scanned the room I found myself attracted to a table full of champagne flutes with what looked like cherries in the bottom. The glasses made an interesting pattern. The table was staffed by two culinary students, Ana and Jada, with Scott Beattie overseeing at the rear. Ana offered me a drink. “Would you care for a Westside Bellini or a Bella Ruffina?” Having been drawn to the Bella Ruffina glasses, I opted for one of them. It was a wonderful drink composed of Braquetto d’Aqui, Carpano Antica Vermouth, and orange bitters, and garnished with Amarena cherries. The flavor had a nice blend of fruity sweetness with a hint of bitterness on the finish. It was a wonderful way to start the palate flowing for the evening.

I made my way back downstairs, where a stream of guests now populated the lower floor as the chefs busily served their tastings. I went over to see what Chefs Duskie Estes and John Stewart were up to. The energy in the room was building. Black Pig Salumi Antipasti were being served as the chefs talked to the guests, describing their salumi selections and the duck paté. In addition, house-made raspberry gelato with its creamy texture was satisfying the sweeter palates including those of Duskie and John’s children.

chrishaake

Chef Richard Haake Serves goat two ways

I look over to see Chef Richard Haake’s table buzzing with people waiting to get a taste of the goat that he’d been grilling over a wood fire for most of the afternoon. The Long Ranch goat was served 2 ways, grilled and braised with Rancho Gordo Beans. The grilled goat legs were being served sliced. The meat was tender and had a slightly sweet taste with a hint of rosemary, leaving me wanting more. The rest of the goat had been braised and mixed with the Rancho Gordo white beans and salsa verde, giving it a bit of spice.

Across from the goat table was Master Sommellier Geoff Kruth from the Farmhouse Inn, seemingly awaiting for someone to take note of his presence.

Groff Kruth talks with a guest.

Geoff Kruth talks with a guest.

I sauntered over to him, plate in hand, and asked “So as a master sommellier you can tell the vintage, region, terroir, and maker of the wine just by tasting it?” “Well ,not exactly,” said Kruth, “ but close. We can usually give you the region and the varietal, sometimes the maker or chateau, the vintages that are notable and sometimes the terroir.” A master sommellier is the highest rank of sommellier you can achieve. There are only about 150 of them worldwide. On his table were several bottles of wine. “So what would you pair with the goat”? He took a look at his selections and chose a Sheldon syrah that he thought would go well with it. Taking a bite of the goat and sipping the syrah next created a perfect pairing. It’s the blend of the two, food and wine, when properly paired, that create a proper balance on the tongue. Each one complementing the other in a synergysim of flavors that create a complete experience for the senses.

Earlier in the evening I saw chef Christopher Kostow from The Restaurant at Meadowood, hawking his appetizers to eagerly awaiting guests who mingled before the opening of the event. His gregarious personality charmed them.

Poussin and Kostow

Poached Poussin with Summer Vegetables and Christopher Kostow on the run

I recognized him from outside and sauntered over to his table to see what he was serving. There were few coming over so in his inimitable style he picked up the thin 4 foot long wooden tray lined with his poached poussin with summer vegetables and declared ‘If the customers won’t come to us, then we’ll take it to them.” He picked up the tray and began passing his creation to passersby. In the meantime his team was busily cutting and preparing more of the bouchées to be presented to the next round of guests. The sweet tender flavor of the poussin combined with the vegetables and delicate crunch of the poussin skin was an exquisite morsel to be savored.

Preparing fish is always a challenge. Overcook it and it gets tough and dry. If the skin isn’t dry then you get mushy chewy skin. So when I came across Chef John Toulze’s table and saw the Sautéed Maryland Wild Striped Bass, Ragout of Salsify, Black Trumpet Mushrooms, Bloomsdale Spinach and Vin Blanc I had to try some.

Sea Bass

Sautéed Maryland Wild Striped Bass, Ragout of Salsify, Black Trumpet Mushrooms, Bloomsdale Spinach and Vin Blanc

The plating made my mouth water. I love mushrooms especially anything from the chantrelle family as are black trumpet mushrooms. They have a deep rich woody flavor that compliments the sweet butterieness of the salsify. The striped bass was cooked perfectly with the skin being nice and crunchy a perfect compliment to the spinach vin blanc which didn’t overpower the bass and allowed all the flavors of the dish to resonate on my palate.

Gnocchi are one of those foods that, when made properly, can be a heavenly experience. I was drawn in by 2 large pots of boiling water topped with gnocchi and had to check out the experience that might be waiting for me. Chef Nick Ritchie from Bottega has the magic touch. His Ricotta Gnocchi with salsa di pomodoro della Nonna and Pecorino tasted divine. Usually “light” and “gnocchi” are an oxymoron, but in this case they are synonomous.

Gnocchi

Ricotta gnocchi with salsa di pomodoro della Nonna and Pecorino

The ovoid-shaped pillows took on the flavor of the salsa pomodoro beautifully with the ricotta and pecorino cheese lingering on the palate in the end.

Since things were a bit crowded downstairs it was time to mosey back to the upper level. Looking around I spied the sign with two of my favorite things –

fried sweetbreads

The crew cooking and plating the Chicken Fried Sweetbreads with wild mushroom and green bean casserole

chicken fried and sweet breads. I couldn’t believe my eyes! Chef Matt Spector from Jole Restaurant had combined them to make Chicken Fried Sweetbreads with wild mushroom and green bean casserole. Naturally, I had to try it. Imagine eating sweetbreads with the taste of fried chicken and a beet purée that had truffle essence in it. That’s what I call heaven on a plate. This in combination with the mushrooms green beans was mind-numbingly good. It’s that simple.

At the opposite end of the room I was wondering what Chef Phillip Tessier from Bouchon was up to. I had seen them earlier setting up their station, laying out elegant deep square bowls and forks in a manner befitting Thomas Keller.

warm mushroom salad

Sous Chef Plating, Warm Mushroom Salad with Pickled Sunchokes, Marcona Almonds, Upland Cress, and Sunchoke Glaçage

A circulator on the back table indicated something a bit out of the ordinary. And the rest of the team were busily working on putting together the Warm Mushroom Salad with Pickled Sunchokes, Marcona Almonds, Upland Cress, and Sunchoke Glaçage on each plate. I watched the team assemble each element of the dish with care and precision, as is to be expected. Now it was time to taste the delicacy. It was a wonderful blend of flavors and temperatures between the light earthy flavor of the warm mushrooms and the earthy tang of the pickled sunchokes, complemented with the upland cress and the added crunch and butteriness of Marcona almonds, finishing the dish to perfection.

You’ve tasted bottled water, and for the most part it’s all the same… wrong. “Nordaq Fresh water is a pure and fresh water which enhances the taste sensation and is considerate of the environment.” says their literature. So I pony up to the water bar to see what it’s all about.

Nordaq Fresh bottles and dispenser

Nordaq Fresh bottles and dispenser

The gentleman explains that it is a unique water purification system that is completely green, Instead of using bottled water you use their purification system, which has 2 taps one for still and the other for sparkling. He told me that it actually enhances the taste of food and wine. He proceeded to demonstrate. He presented me with a glass of “Fresh” water, which had a very clean taste, as close to neutral or air as I have ever tasted. I didn’t know it was possible to taste “neutral,” but I have been proven wrong. Next he presented me with a glass of cabernet sauvignon, which tasted pretty good. Then I was given an unopened bottle of some brand-name water and I practically had to spit it out, it was so bad. So now back to the Cab that I had tasted earlier and the cab I enjoyed before now tasted awful. I was amazed that the water could make such a difference. It reminds me of the Reidle glass taste test I did a couple of years ago where the shape of the glass made a huge difference in the taste of the wine. Had you told me before I would never have believed it. Once again I have been amazed at the sensitivity of the palate to external supossedly neutral flavors.

The room was bustling with people as I tasted some good wines from Buena Vista, Charles Krug, Geyser Peak, and Nicholas Feuillatte. The Limited release X Clones 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon was the most memorable wine of the evening for me. It had a wonderful balance with wild berry notes and a slight peppery finish. A great drinking wine with or without food.

I went back downstairs to see what was going on with Duskie and John. We were talking about the event and Duskie said, “You gotta try the fish tacos”. It just happened that Duncan Gott’s table was right next to the Duskie and John’s. Duncan Gott and his brother Joel own Taylor’s Automatic Refresher, in St. Helena, CA, a burger joint using locally sourced fresh ingredients to make their offerings. So, I went over there to get one of their Mahi Mahi Fish tacos with mexican slaw and jalapeño-cilantro sour cream.

Making Fish Tacos

Making Fish Tacos

What a generous portion and full of flavor. The fish was light and moist, the slaw added the crunch and the jalapeño-cilantro sour cream added the spice without burning out my mouth. Add the Leffe blonde ale that was paired with it and it was a wonderful combination.

I tried to sample everything but unfortunately I missed out on a few. That being said all the chefs put together great looking food which enchanted the guests.

With that it was time for the awards. Everyone assembled upstairs to bear witness to the awards that were to be handed out by Antoinette Bruno, the master of ceremonies. The awards were as follows:

Rising Star Chefs –
Jeremy Fox Ubuntu
Eric Korsh and Ginevra IversonRestaurant Eloise
Christopher KostowThe Restaurant at Meadowood
Nick RitchieBottega
Matt SpectorJole
Phillip Tessier Bouchon
Hotel Chef –
Jesse MallgrenMadrona Manor
Restauranteur –
John ToulzeThe Girl & The Fig, Fig Café, Estate
Sustainability –
Chefs John Stewart and Duskie EstesBovolo and Zazu Restaurant and Farm
Restaurant Concept –
Duncan Gott Taylor’s Automatic Refresher
Pastry
Chef Deanie Hickox-Fox – Ubuntu
Sommelier
Yoon Ha – La Toque
Geoff Kruth The Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant
Mixologist
Scott Beattie – Author Artisanal cocktails
Host Chef –
Richard HaakeWinery Chefs

Once the awards had been given, it was time to pack up and go to the after party. The after party was held at Bottega in Yountville, CA. It was a nice outdoor event where drinks were served and conversation was abundant. The highlight of the evening was an impromptu speech given by chef Michael Chiarello. afterpartyHe talked about the industry and the state it is in today. He thanked all the participants and chefs and talked about the passion and the uniqueness of the industry. To paraphrase, it is the only industry that will welcome you with open arms regardless of your background. If you have problems or even when you get out of jail you can still get a job. It’s about hard work and commitment on the job, which will bring you the rewards that you seek.

It made me think about my experiences in the business. For me the business fine food is where you will find many colorful characters– some merely passing through, some happy to be getting a regular paycheck, and others who are passionate about what they do and are always looking for the next challenge to their skills.

It was a wonderful speech, which was a great way to end the evening.

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Cabernet & semi sweet chocolate cake with raspberry sherbet

Cabernet sauvignon and semi sweet chocolate cake with raspberry glaze and sherbet

The dessert course is a Cabernet sauvignon and semi sweet chocolate cake with raspberry glaze and sherbet.  At the Saddle Peak all their ice creams, sherbets and sorbets are house made.  I have gone in there from time to time to taste such frozen products as guiness or chipolte ice cream in addition to mango sorbet or a rich creamy chocolate ice cream.  The nice thing is that with the Paco Jet they can make a plethora of frozen concoctions to delight their guests and satisfy their demanding palates.  Elio who works on many of the desserts, (he has since left the Saddle Peak) made the cakes earlier in the day.  Sometime after I had arrived he was cutting out the chocolate discs that set on top of the cake.

Elio & intern Finishing dessert with quenelle of raspberry sherbet

Elio & intern Finishing dessert with quenelle of raspberry sherbet

The plates went down and Elio began plating each of the desserts along with the help of

one of the interns.  Sauce down, followed by the cake and then the choloclate disc with 3 raspberries on top. The last thing with balancing the quenelle of raspberry sherbet on top of the raspberries.  It was a bit trickey, if the raspberries weren’t spaced out properly then the quenelle didn’t stay on top.  In the end we worked against the clock to put the sherbet on before it started melting to get it out to the eagerly awaiting customers.  It was served with a 2006 Pritchard Hill Estate Vinyard Cabernet Sauvignon

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