Monday, November 5, 2012
Under the Big Top at the Grand Public Tasting
My article about the Grand Public Tasting at the Big Sur Food & Wine Festival hit the Edible Monterey Bay blog today - 5 November 2012. Click to read it on the website.
Story and Photos by Camilla M. Mann
With events ranging from elegant winemaker dinners to insightful panels that focus on a single wine appellation and from Magical Mystery Tours – part garden party and part moveable feast – to Hiking with Stemware©, the Big Sur Food & Wine Festival is a multi-day panoply of culinary talent and creativity in one of the most picturesque spots on the planet.
Founded in 2009 by Toby Rowland-Jones, the Big Sur Food & Wine Festival blends fine food and wine with a little bohemian Big Sur character. Though the festival is certainly epicurean in focus, it’s not just about the enjoyment of good food. Roland-Jones and his committee of like-minded friends infuse the event with this philosophy, articulated by Greek philosopher Epicurus: “Of all the means to ensure happiness throughout the whole life, by far the most important is the acquisition of friends.”
I was thrilled to have tickets to one of the Saturday events. When I was searching for my +1, among my foodie friends, I simply emailed out these seven words: “50 wineries! 15 chefs! Post Ranch Inn.” Within a few moments of sending the message, my extra ticket had been claimed. So, Jenn and I headed down the coast to the gorgeous Post Ranch Inn for the Big Sur Food & Wine Festival’s Grand Public Tasting; unsure of what to expect, we were armed with rumbling bellies and a sense of adventure.
The Grand Public Tasting at the Big Sur Food & Wine Festival is like a carnival for foodies and oenophiles. There’s simply no better way to describe it. It’s exhilarating. It’s a riotous mix of colors, textures, and flavors. It’s even housed in a Big Top tent!
With only three hours to explore, you would expect the pace to be frantic. Instead people lingered. They chatted with the chefs, sipped with the winemakers, and shared tables with strangers.
We started off talking to Chef Michael Jones of Carmel Valley’s A Moveable Feast who was hosting the table with his son Chef Brendan Jones of Carmel Valley’s Lokal. “This is the last of the wild-caught salmon for the season,” Jones announced as he deftly sliced the bright orange flesh and placed it on a piece of crusty bread. So thin that you could almost see through it, the salmon was unadorned and exquisite.
Chef Brian Overhauser of Chef’s Kitchen at the Hahn Estates in Soledad was also offering salmon: a duet of plump salmon roe with a dollop of crème fraîche and a sprinkling of fresh herbs and salmon tartare garnished with a baby beet leaf. Overhauser’s was craft-raised Skuna Bay salmon from Vancouver Island. Skuna Bay salmon are reared, by hand, in its natural ocean environment with glacier-fed waters, perfect salinity and strong tidal currents. Overhauser’s salmon tartare was austere, delicate, and silky.
In contrast to the simplicity of these salmon presentations, several chefs dazzled with innovative flavor combinations. A couple with whom we chatted – had traveled from Oregon to rendezvous with friends from all over the country at the festival – marveled at Chef Jerry Regester’s dish. Imagine a cube of tender pork shank terrine over Umbrian lentils folded into a goat cheese vinaigrette. Top that with a creamy lump of Dungeness crab. Then add a splash of emerald-hued pumpkin seed oil and toss on some confetti-like herbs. “Who thinks of putting things together like this?!?” mused the wife. Regester, the Executive Chef at The C restaurant + bar inside Cannery Row’s The Clement, layered flavors and textures to create one of my favorite dishes of the day.
Chef Jon Cox of Post Ranch’s Sierra Mar, along with his team, flexed his culinary muscles with four different dishes, including a Big Sur chanterelle mushroom risotto topped with parmesan pesto and a black truffle coin and a grissini wrapped in a slice of Wagyu beef. But it was his sweet creation that astonished me. An understated butterscotch cremeux topped with unsweetened cream and dots of heirloom apples transformed into a sublime dessert with some spiced, buttery crumbles and fresh thyme.
Other edible notables: Santa Cruz-based Tabitha Stroup of Friend in Cheeses Jam Company was serving her Lavender-Plum Jelly with gorgonzola, Rosie’s Hip Jelly on a spoonful of peppercorn chevre, and her Pinot Cherries on a slice of chorizo.
Todd Champagne of Happy Girl Kitchen in Pacific Grove had glass barrels full of pickled goodness to share – green beans, sliced turnips, thick cucumber coins, and enough delicious garlic cloves to keep an entire army of vampires at bay.
The Marin County-based Rustic Bakery offered a savory – their Olive Oil and Sel Gris Sourdough Flatbread with a smear of Cowgirl Creamery cheese – and a sweet – their Hazelnut and Sultana Pan Forte Crostini topped with cheese and a zesty orange marmalade.
Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company displayed an edible tower of their Original Blue alongside nothing but EcoTaster Mini spoons.
And that was just the food. Remember the numbers I mentioned? 15 chefs and 50 wineries. Jenn and I tried to be strategic – tasting new-to-us wines, not old favorites, and sharing glasses – in order to sample as many of the offerings as we could. Still we ended up hitting only about a quarter of the vintners. But now we have some new favorites and it means that we’ll have to keep the list accessible and our eyes open for other chances to taste these wines.
We tried Fiddlehead Cellars’s “Seven Twenty Eight” 2008 Fiddlestix Pinot Noir. Supple stone fruit flavors with subtle spice at the end. This was a graceful, full-bodied red that I will definitely try again. Then we, die-hard Star Wars movie fans that we are, sauntered over to the Skywalker Ranch table and tasted their 2010 Pinot Noir. Yes, I know it’s a little like buying a wine for the label, but the wine was surprisingly good. Dark, complex, and serious. Like Darth Vader, except good, really good.
We were, unwittingly, on a Pinot Noir kick. There were plenty of other varietals, but as I look through the tick-marks and notes scribbled on my wine list, we sipped Ghost Writer’s 2010 Bell Farms Pinot Noir from Santa Cruz, Flying Goat Cellars’s Rio Vista Vineyard Dijon 2008 Pinot Noir from , and Martinelli’s 2010 Zio Tony Ranch Pinot Noir.
We broke our pinot streak – and our self-imposed rule of trying new-to-us wines – with Calcerous Vineyards’s 2009 York Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. That’s been a favorite since we toured the winery in Paso Robles a few years back. Then I had to try Scarpetta’s 2010 Barbera del Monferatto for the name. ‘Scarpetta’ in Italian is, literally, little shoe, but it is also a colloquial expression for using a piece of bread to sop up the sauce left on your plate. Italians are divided into two groups: those who fare la scarpetta (do the shoe) and those who don’t. The population of the latter is much smaller than the former. Most brazen food lovers, me included, dig in – with our scarpette – with no regrets. So, when I saw the sign for Scarpetta, I had to try it.
My favorite wine of the afternoon was actually the first in our Pinot Noir parade: Copain’s 2009 Les Voisins Pinot Noir. Meaning “neighbors” in French, Copain’s Pinot Noir has light florals, deep red fruits, and an energetic, bright acidity. And as it was the perfect wine to end our afternoon, we went back for one last pour before we hit the road.
The Grand Public Tasting at the Big Sur Food & Wine Festival was an afternoon of culinary magic, an oenophilic paradise, and a place where food lovers converged and conversed with friends old and new…under the big top.