Extra Fancy Sauce at Pebble Beach Food & Wine

I can honestly say that I’ve never been to an event quite like Pebble Beach Food & Wine.

Over. The. Top.

As I pulled up to the Grand Tasting in my Honda CRV, I giggled at the sign which read, “Free valet parking when you drive your Lexus,” and knew that I was in for something completely different at this tasting event. As I walked from my car to the enormous white tents hosting the festivities, I had a momentary concern that my nice-looking outfit wasn’t snazzy enough but any fashion worries drained away after I drained my first taste of wine. It is, after all, much more about high-end food & wine than about high-end fashion. (At least it is for me.)

Kent Torrey of The Cheese Shop in Carmel with a silly customer wearing a tri-corn cheese head hat

Kent Torrey of The Cheese Shop in Carmel with a silly customer

Ever since I first heard about this foodie festival from Kent Torrey of The Cheese Shop in Carmel (who was in the midst of telling ridiculously cheesy jokes during an around-the-world cheese tasting at the shop), I was intrigued. Since I loathe golf but love wine, I thought that this festival might be a great way for me to experience Pebble Beach on my own terms, with wineglass in hand rather than a putter.

Bud break at Pisoni Vineyards in Santa Lucia Highlands AVA

Bud break at Pisoni Vineyards in Santa Lucia Highlands AVA

I also heard about this event from Santa Lucia Highlands ultra-premium grape grower Gary Pisoni of Pisoni Vineyards. In his exuberant way—“It’s a great event! You should go!”—he convinced me that I needed to try a serving of this special Pebble Beach dish with extra fancy sauce. Thanks to the Pebble Beach Food & Wine media team, I had a chance to experience two special events—a wine seminar and a multi-course meal with paired wines—as well as the Grand Tasting. These experiences were representative of many other foodie sessions planned and presented with aplomb by chefs and producers from around the world throughout the jam-packed 4-day event. On the first day, Pebble Beach Food & Wine kicks off with—you guessed it—golf.

Foodie Terroir from Santa Lucia Highlands to Monterey Bay

Are you ready to drink wine at 10am? If it’s made from Pisoni Vineyards fruit, absolutely.  At a love-fest session entitled “Santa Lucia Highlands’ Royal Court: Pisoni and Friends,” we had a chance to taste through wines made by the lucky, grateful winemakers who’ve been granted the very special chance to work with Pisoni Vineyards fruit, including Patz & Hall, Capiaux Cellars, and Paul Lato Wines (one of our favorites). I’ve tasted wines made by another collection of winemakers using Pisoni fruit through a World of Pinot Noir seminar and the feeling was much the same: fun, friendly, and collegial with an undercurrent of family.

A plate with Parsley Braised Monterey Bay Abalone with Black Truffle Pillows, Swank Farms Sweet Peas, and Green Garlic Purée

Parsley Braised Monterey Bay Abalone with Black Truffle Pillows, Swank Farms Sweet Peas, and Green Garlic Purée

From the seminar at The Inn at Spanish Bay, I wound along the northern edge of the gorgeous Monterey Peninsula until I arrived at Restaurant 1833 in Monterey for the next session, a beautiful food and wine pairing in one of the area’s most exciting restaurants that happens to be in one of its oldest buildings, the Stokes Adobe. (Guess what year it was built.) “Vineyard, Farm & Sea: Monterey’s Bounty” featured brief presentations for us in the media room by the producers of various meal components including the abalone, the beef, and the wines. Each course was prepared by a different chef from some of the area’s finest restaurants including Craig von Foerster, formerly of Sierra Mar Restaurant, Tim Wood of Carmel Valley Ranch, Ben Spungin of Marinus and, for the home team, Levi Mezick of Restaurant 1833.

Using a deft touch, these local chefs produced each course with creativity and panache and, lucky for us, each one worked hard to out-do the others with their respective courses. Having had too much cornmeal-encrusted abalone pan fried in butter, I really liked the manner in which Chef Tim Wood prepared the parsley braised Monterey Bay abalone with black truffle pillows, Swank Farms sweet peas, and green garlic purée. The presentation was beautiful, too. Everything on the menu featured ingredients from the greater Monterey Bay region including the Carmel Road and La Crema wines paired with each course. The terroir of everything in this meal—from land and sea, farm and vineyard—impressed with Monterey flavor, beauty, and freshness.

Indeed, every course was a delight, especially dessert with its whimsical approach: the chocolate reading glasses were especially fun. During the meal, I shared a table with other foodie writers and journalists including Sarah Wood, editor of the lovely Edible Monterey Bay. What a treat to enjoy this experience with other folks passionate about food, flavor, and sustainability. The hardest part? Remembering to take a photo of the pretty food before diving in with knife and fork.

Sarah Wood, editor of <em>Edible Monterey Bay</em> grins through chocolate dessert glasses

Sarah Wood, editor of Edible Monterey Bay grins through chocolate dessert glasses at Restaurant 1833


Grand Tastings to the Skies

I had lots of fun at the Grand Tasting, from the thumping house music to the delicious nibbles and sips to the friendliness that generally happens when wine is pouring. The Cheese Shop of Carmel offered a boggling array of cheese, as always. Although I didn’t attend any sessions with the posse of celebrity chefs gathered for the weekend, one could run into one of these famous folks just while strolling about the Grand Tasting tents. All of a sudden, there’s Tyler Florence at the American Institute of Wine & Food table! I thoroughly enjoyed myself in this fancy tasting but, as fun as it was, I had to keep a date with a helicopter.

The Cheese Shop serves the wine taster's needs for cheese with a large display

The Cheese Shop serves the wine taster’s needs for cheese

A couple of weeks before the 2012 Pebble Beach event, I received an email out of the blue that blew my mind: “I’ve been told you are headed to Pebble Beach Food & Wine this year and I would like to invite you on a helicopter ride over Monterey’s offshore Blue Canyon,” wrote Galen McCorkle, a representative for Carmel Road Winery. Would I like to join them on a flight to visit Carmel Road Vineyard? Ha ha: YES! That’s like when a friend asked me if I was interested in an extra space on a 16-day raft trip through the Grand Canyon down the Colorado River. Ha ha: YES!

I shall taunt you with a few images from this spectacular experience but the full story will come in another post. Suffice it to say that flying south above the Salinas Valley to the Arroyo Seco AVA with the clouds spilling over the Santa Lucia mountain range and touring and tasting the products of these SIP Certified vineyards wonderfully capped this extra fancy and completely delightful Pebble Beach Food & Wine experience. Thanks to Carmel Road for this spectacular opportunity. More soon…

The curve of Monterey Bay's shoreline from the air

Vineyards in the Arroyo Seco AVAVineyards in the Arroyo Seco AVA with helicopter

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