Posts Tagged ‘wine pairings’

Approaching Riverbench

View approaching the vineyard

As you wind your way down Foxen Canyon road aka the Foxen Trail, you can’t help to think about the wonderful scenery that the road bisects. On either side ancient oak trees grow in pastures, some with grazing cattle others now planted with wonderful vines producing a host of fruit from Chardonnay to Pinot Noir and the noblest of grapes Cabernet Sauvignon. The nice thing is that you can choose to sample a handful of wines or less on your way to Riverbench or better yet hold off, show some restraint, have patience and wait till you arrive at the oasis nestled amongst the vines on the flat plain just past

Entering Riverbench

Coming into the winery

Rancho Sisquoc in the Santa Maria valley. The vines surround their beautiful tasting room, a converted craftsman style home, with a wonderful outdoor seating area perfect for a relaxing tasting and picnic.

Upon exiting the car we were struck by the quiet stillness of the area so peaceful, the perfect environment for wine tasting. Upon entering the tasting room you’re greeted by a warm comfortable room complete with fire place, lots of windows, a gift area and a long robust wooden bar for tasting with the days offerings written on the chalk board.

View of Vineyard

Having been to Riverbench several times at all different times of the year I have found the experience to encompass the seasons, a roaring fire during the colder months or enjoying a tasting out on the back patio during the warmer summer months. The winery has been around since 1973 growing pinot noir and chardonnay grapes and producing wines as well as selling their grapes to other wine makers.  In 2004 it was purchased by a group of families in the area and is making some of very fine chardonnay and pinot noir that are amongst some of the finest in the region. A few of my favorites are the One Palm Pinot Noir that makes the trek worth it on it’s own it’s deep rich cranberry color with notes of cherry and strawberry and an earthiness to it clearly reflecting the region that it comes from. From the first sip of this wine I was hooked, small case production which doesn’t take long to sell out every year. On another recent tasting I had the pleasure of tasting their Bedrock Chardonnay and Pinot Noir Rosé two other fantastic selections.

Budding Grapes

The Chardonnay is a crisp Chablis style wine that is completely fermented in stainless steel tanks that keep the flavors of the grapefruit and pineapple with a richness that lingers on the palate making it a pleasure to drink. And last but not least is their Pinot Noir Rosé, a delightful wine that is refreshing, a perfect summer wine that gives you the best of pinot noir flavor in a lighter wine that has notes,

Riverbench, Chardonnay, Rosé & Pinot Noir

believe it or not of jolly ranchers and watermelon with a dry finish that lingers to reveal a host of citrus flavors that make for a perfect ending. This Rosé reminds me of the Rosés from Provence that I tasted recently at an event. These are but 3 from their collection of wonderful wines that I have sampled. Each time I am in the tasting room there is a different flight of wines to taste. Laura the general manager is always very helpful and is always ready to answer your questions as it the rest of the very knowledgeable and friendly staff who are always ready to pour and engage in some good conversation time permitting. This is one vineyard in the Santa Ynez/Santa Maria region that is well worth a visit. For more information check out their website – www.riverbench.com


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Having 2 daughters one who is a pesco vegetarian and the other being vegan I have become sensitive to the needs of the non-carnivore for quite some. A trained chef myself it pained me to watch as my younger daughter go from eating everything to cutting out pork then beef then chicken and finally lamb and all other land creatures. I breathed a sigh of relief when she stopped there and I was able to at least cook a plethora of seafood for her. My older daughter had played with becoming a vegetarian off an on for the past 4 years and now has gone over to the other side and become a vegan. It pains my heart but if it makes her feel better, then that’s all that matters to me. So that’s the background. Now to the meat (pun intended) of the matter, don’t despair there are not only interesting BBQ options for the grill but also good wine pairings to boot.

For the pesco-vegetarians of the world there are always the 2 standbys grilled salmon and shrimp. For the salmon, get salmon with the skin on, it keeps it together and makes for easier grilling.  I like just some olive oil salt and pepper on mine and then put it on a nice hot clean grill, hot and clean being the operative words to prevent sticking, skin side up and let it cook for a bit. Look at the sides of the fish to see how far up it has cooked, try about 1/3 of the way up before flipping over. I like to use tongs for this so I don’t damage the fish.  Then finish the cooking on the skin side. Serve with lemon or a dill yogurt sauce. Grilled shrimp is great just marinated in olive oil, chili flakes, salt, pepper and some garlic for about an hour. Pull them out and squeeze on some fresh lemon, lime or for a twist orange and mix until it is all blended. Put the shrimp on skewers, if using wooden soak in water for about 30 minutes before using, then put on the grill using the same rules as with the salmon. With shrimp once they are reddish/pink on both sides then they are done. Don’t over cook them or they will turn to rubber.

For the Vegans out there you can make grilled tofu which tastes great. Use firm or extra firm tofu and cut in 1/2 inch slices. Marinate slices in a mixture of soy sauce, brown sugar, chili flakes and garlic for about 30 mins to an hour or you can use your favorite marinade from the store. The key is to let the marinade soak into the tofu. Once ready to grill, get the grill hot and clean and brush tofu with olive oil on each side and place on hot grill and let it do its thing. It won’t take long for it to warm through and create grill marks, flip over with spatula and apply your favorite BBQ sauce to the top then eat it like a burger or on top of a bed of mixed greens with a citrus dressing. You could also add some grilled spring onions to it for a bit of a kick.

Then there are always the standard Garden or Boca burgers. I prefer the Boca’s since they grill best. Trader Joes also has some great vegetarian/vegan sausages that are good such as the Italian blend and andouille both vegetarian and tasty.

Now what to serve with these delicacies well I asked Jon Troutman from the Cork’d blog to help me out and he recommended either a “Sauvignon Blanc or a Chenin Blanc and as he puts it two grapes that are food friendly with high acid levels and clean flavors that play well with vegetables, salads and cheeses.” I would also say that you might be able to go to a light Pinot Noir if you are grilling using BBQ sauces.

So there you have it my homage to the vegetarians out there. If you want more info please drop me a line at chefphotographervip@fineculinaryexperience.com and I’ll be happy to answer your food questions.

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Jon Troutman

My Website
· My Articles

Posted: April 27th, 2010

Spring is very much here. April showers are almost totally behind us and May flowers are blooming. Guys, you know what that means…besides the fact that you have to change all the window screens.

We’re firing up the grill!
With barbecue ribs, kabobs, sunshine and teeny-weeny bikinis, comes the opportunity for some fun, synergistic food and wine pairings that will knock your guest’s socks off…and maybe even their tops. No longer will Budweiser and Wine Coolers satiate your company’s thirst. Your friends deserve better than cheap domestic brew and foofy-foofy, sugarfied malt beverages. We’ve got just the wine prescription to solve…

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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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This week was an amazing week. On Wednesday I worked at the Saddle Peak Lodge deboning rabbits, making stuffing and helping to make the roulades. I’ll be doing a post on that in more detail. On Thursday I held a cooking class for some of the people from my mastermind group. It was a great success. We made a variety of things that included Escargot, Salade Bergere, my take on Moroccan cornish hens with roasted pears, greens and sunchokes, handmade pappardelle pasta with wild mushrooms, chillies, capers, tomatoes garlic and basil and then for dessert we made Alton Brown’s cocoa brownies and I added the raspberry sauce, ice cream and cocoa nibs what a great feast we had. If you want a copy of the recipes then go to Click here http://bit.ly/85uHMC

One of the students made a video of the class here’s the link http://bit.ly/6EtrLP

It was a lot of fun cooking all that wonderful stuff.

In addition this week I was interviewed on LifeStyle Buzz and internet radio program hosted by Orlando Burgos. In it he interviews people from all walks of live who are doing unique and interesting things. I was on his show on Saturday January 23, 2010. We had a great time talking about photography, cooking and travel. To hear the show Click Here http://bit.ly/8CvP5F

More posts to come. I hope you have a fabulous week.

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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”


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 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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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
Chef Deanie Hickox-Fox – Ubuntu
Yoon Ha – La Toque
Geoff Kruth The Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant
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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