Photography by Yuri Krasov
Worlds of Flavor, Napa Valley
California Wine Country is booming with wine and food events year-round, but none comes close to the grandiose Culinary Institute of America’s (CIA) Worlds of Flavor International Conference and Festival. This year, the 18th annual WOF was titled On Fire, and presented “Culture. Passion. Invention” from Europe and the Americas.
With the profound insights, creative achievements, and personal journeys shared by the most influential chefs of the world, the conference attendees’ imagination was ignited by the incredible intersection of traditions and innovations of the global food cultures unfolding in a fiery fashion in front of their eyes.
I had a chance to visit only on the last day of the three-day event, but the amount of culinary wonders packed in just a few hours would’ve been enough for a monography on the CIA’s tireless pursuit of educational and experience-sharing perfection.
Early morning upon my arrival at the CIA Greystone Campus, I joined the Kitchen Workshop on Savory and Sweet Eclairs: New Techniques and Flavors, From French Traditions to American Palates.
The workshop moderator/presenter, Professor of baking and pastry arts at the CIA, and a 1998 James Beard Awardee for Best Pastry Chef, Stephen Durfee, surrounded by his students, shared with the audience a “breakfast éclair” made with corn meal pâte à choux and filled with eggs and microgreens in mayonnaise.
Presenter Steve Jilleba, Corporate Executive Chef for Unilever Food Solutions, a CIA alumnus ’77, CMC, CCE, AAC, was concocting one after another an array of festively-looking savory éclairs, filled with smoked pork belly and chanterelles, tomatoes and blue cheese, figs and apple slices, and all imaginable canape toppings.
Then Angela Pinkerton, Executive Chef at Che Fico (coming to San Francisco in the fall 2016), a 2011 James Beard Awardee for Outstanding Pastry Chef, and one of the 2012 Dessert/Professionals’ Top Ten Best Pastry Chefs in America wowed the public with her Malted Pretzel and Peanut Éclair that tasted approximately a 1000 times better than its name implied.
At the same time as I was reveling in the world of éclairs, other conference participants were attending various other workshops and seminars – each one more intriguing and exciting than the next.
After the seminars and workshops, a general session titled, Crafting Restaurants, Nourishing Communities: A Tale of Five Cities (New York, Charleston, Boston, Louisville, Chicago) and moderated by James Oseland, a New York author and contributing editor to Rodale’s “Organic Life” opened its doors to the attendees, presenting five distinguished chefs.
New Yorker Jody Williams, Chef-owner of Buvette and Via Carota, introduced her cold and hot smoked salmon “preserve” in a Mason jar, with crème fraiche, horseradish, white pepper, and clarified butter on top as a delicious grab-and-go lunch snack.
Mike Lata from Charleston, South Carolina, chef-partner of Fig and The Ordinary restaurants, showed how to prepare roasted oysters (steamed in clusters until open) with celery, lemon, olive oil, shallots, chives, and crème fraiche, garnished with saltine crackers brushed with butter, baked, and served with Fresno pepper sauce.
Tony Maws from Boston, Massachusetts, chef-owner of Craigie on Main and The Kirkland Tap & Trotter with a degree in psychology, quipped that his Jewish grandmother was probably turning in her grave at the sound of his delicious creation – pork belly Reuben with kimchi and Russian dressing over butter between Pain Pauline slices with thinly sliced Swiss, grilled in butter on both sides!
Annie Pettry from Louisville, Kentucky, chef-owner of Decca, presented a vegetarian delight suitable for carnivores and omnivores everywhere. Her carrot dish contained grilled, steamed, pureed, and pickled carrots with herbs, spices, condiments, and buttermilk ricotta, which elevated the humble root vegetable to the level of a gourmet feast.
Chicagoan Chris Pandel, chef-owner of Balena and The Bristol, being partly of Polish descend, came up with an interesting twist on Eastern European “halushki,” made of pumpernickel bread, pouched in hot water and fried with bacon, onion and cabbage to caramelization, then topped with crème fraiche, dill and parsley.
The Closing Keynote Staying on Fire: Helping Tomorrow’s Chefs Think of Heritage as Opportunity for Innovation was introduced by Maricel Presilla, PhD, from Hoboken, New Jersey, chef-owner of Cucharamama, Zafra, and Ultramarinos, and presented by Rick Bayless from Chicago, chef-owner of the famous Topolobampo, Frontera Grill, and XOCO; James Beard Awardee for Chef of the Year, Humanitarian of the Year, Outstanding Restaurant; author of 12 cookbooks, and a recipient of Mexican Order of the Aztec Eagle.
At lunchtime, everyone headed to the centerpiece of the event, the World Marketplace (tasting and lunch). Set in the 15,000 sq. ft. Vintners Hall of Fame Historic Barrel Room with its thick stone walls and enormous oak casks, unchanged since 1889, the international culinary exhibition was filled with the aromas, sights and sounds of a bustling colorful market.
Whimsical food samples were offered at every stall by the star chefs, paired with cocktails and wines, while the music and dance performances were entertaining the guests.
Passport to Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County
One of the biggest and boldest events in Sonoma County, the annual Passport to Dry Creek Valley was celebrated for the 26th time this year, but its creativity, high spirits, and energy levels soared like never before.
Founded by the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley Association in 1990, the Passport weekend at the end of April coincides with the lush, green, growing time for the manicured vineyards and wildflowers alike, adding to the festive atmosphere in each participating winery where staffers go out of their way to treat their guests to exquisite wine tasting, delicious food pairings, live music, and themed entertainment.
The Association comprises more than 60 wineries and 150 growers, the majority of which are small, family-owned operations dedicated to enhancement and preservation of Dry Creek Valley appellation, officially designated in 1983.
One of California’s oldest wine-growing regions, the Valley is known for its zinfandel, and is home to many heritage vineyards from 50 to 120 years old.
This year, over the Passport weekend the guests were treated to premium wines and gourmet food in more than 45 wineries. It wasn’t easy to decide where to go first, where to spend more time, and how many wineries to visit in the course of one day I’ve devoted to this unforgettable event – everywhere I wished I could linger a little more, soaking in the sunny weather and reveling in winemakers’ hospitality.
Mill Creek Vineyards & Winery stepped away from its last year’s theme, and declared that the Prohibition was over! Willy the Whack has gone legit and moved to Vegas. While everyone enjoyed the sit-down full-service of Mill Creek wines and food pairing by Peloton Catering of the Wheel House Lounge, Willy the Lounge Lizard, and his posse were promenading by in period costumes with the quaint mill wheel slowly rotating in the background. 2015 Dry Rose was a “welcome wine” followed by 2015 Sauvignon Blanc from Vera’s Block Estate. The rest of the tasting wines were paired with food: 2014 Reserve Chardonnay with Smoked Prawn Brochette; 2012 Zinfandel with Crimini Mushroom Veloute; 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon with Angus Beef Crostini, and port style dessert wine “4739” presented a wonderful dessert. Mill Creek Vineyards & Winery is located at 1401 Westside Road, Healdsburg, CA; 707-431-2121.
Davero Farms & Winery indulged all the senses with its fruit orchards, herb gardens, animal pastures, roses everywhere in full bloom, and the wines, produced through 100% natural winemaking. Derived from Italian varietals – Sangiovese, Barbera, Sagrantino, and others, most grown on the surrounding vineyards – the wines were paired with the meats, fresh produce and olive oil, produced on the Davero biodynamic farm whose telling motto is, “Grow what belongs here. Be patient.” Davero Farms & Winery is located at 766 Westside Road, Healdsburg, CA; 707-431-8000 x1.
Geyser Peak Winery came up with a festive “Taste of the Rat Pack” with samples of Frank Sinatra’s, Sammy Davis’s, and Dean Martin’s favorite tasty bites paired with crowd-pleaser wines – 2015 Rose of Cabernet Franc, 2015 Dry Creek Sauvignon Blanc, Sparkling Rose of Pinot Noir, 2012 XYZin Reserve Zinfandel, 2012 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tawny Port.
A signature themed cocktail, “Devil’s Manhattan Pack” was served on the outdoor patio overlooking Dry Creek Valley to the swingin’ sounds of live music band on the lawn. Geyser Peak Winery is located at 2306 Magnolia Drive, Healdsburg, CA; 707-857-2500.
Wilson Winery invited its guest to New Orleans’ Mardi Gras! The Wilson Krewe was led by the Queen of Carnival in a parade of gold medal-winning Zinfandels straight to the outdoor party complete with 2013 Sydney Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, paired with Cajun Jambalaya by Lisa Boisset of The Cook And The Drummer. The other treat, grilled to perfection tri-tip was paired with 2013 Molly’s Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley. Musical entertainment from DJ FizNik Rick rounded up the day of Laizzez les bons temps rouler! Wilson Winery is located at 1960 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, CA; 707-433-4355.
Mauritson Family Winery, always serving over-the-top feasts, presented winemaker Clay Mauritson’s superb Dry Creek Valley and Rockpile Zinfandels and Chef Charlie Palmer’s delicious food pairings. 2014 Mauritson Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Creek Valley was paired with Crisp Hawaiian Ahi Taco with Avocado Mousseline, while 2014 Mauritson Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley – with Painted Hills Shaved Beef with Parmesan Crostini. Clay and Charlie signed bottles of the newly released 2014 Charlie Clay Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, paired with Pulled Pork Sandwich with Red Cabbage Slaw. Mauritson Family Winery is located at 2859 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, CA; 707-431-0804.
Quivira Vineyards and Winery brought Provence to the Dry Creek Valley with its biodynamic wines and garden. Quivira Rhône wines were paired with food inspired by the Southern France cuisine. The guests had an opportunity to stroll through the artisanal market sampling Quivira estate grown products, and marvel at the gardens with ponds and flowerbeds, and blossoming vineyards. Quivira Vineyards and Winery is located at 4900 West Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, CA; 707-431-8333.
Dry Creek Vineyard charted its course on the imaginary high seas with the help of fish n’ chips truck, sea shanties performed by The Seadogs, and staffers dressed in full sailor uniform. The “wine for sailors” on offer included 2015 Dry Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg (at the Dinghy) 2014 Fume Blanc, Sonoma County (served Dockside) and Zinfandel, Chardonnay and Cabernet at the tasting room. The guests were invited to become a DCV deck hand and join the crew. Dry Creek Vineyard is located at 3770 Lambert Bridge Road, Healdsburg, CA; 707-433-1000.
More information at: www.drycreekvalley.org.