Pebble Beach Food & Wine Festival
Guy Fieri, star of Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives”
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Pebble Beach Food & Wine Festival
by Amy Guerra
There may be no better way to spend a spring weekend: sampling food and wine from some of the nation’s most celebrated chefs in Monterey with my husband.
The Pebble Beach Food and Wine Festival is a four-day celebration in one of the most beautiful coastal areas of California. It is a long weekend of happy hours, dinners, wine tasting and food. When we were there, my husband and I sampled food from the best Caramel Valley, Monterey and San Francisco restaurants, met Food & Wine magazine’s most celebrated chefs, tasted imaginative cocktails and sampled wine and champagne for hours. It was foodie heaven.
Our first stop: Restaurant 1833, a short walk from our hotel. A small pathway led to the double-door entrance into the restaurant and bar housed in a building constructed in 1833. Our host led us through the bar and up the grand staircase into a small, opulent room. It wasn’t long before the rest of our party arrived, along with cocktails and appetizers to share and sample.
The cocktail menu was a collection of clever combinations such as a smoky mezcal with candied ginger and sweet pear nectar with vodka. The menu showcased the subtlety of a sugared rim and the brazenness of a drink called the “Kentucky Waffle,” made of bourbon, lemon, maple syrup and apple cider, garnished with a cinnamon stick.
Among the variety of appetizers showcased were a watermelon gazpacho with herbed oil and The Hen Egg, a soft bread cradling an egg, sunny-side up, and sprinkled with thick, homemade bacon bits. Simple but classic. Soon after, a table was crowded with the aroma and flavors of the main dishes: a tender, perfectly salted, bone-in rib-eye served with a 2012 bottle of Pinot Noir from Albatross Ridge in Carmel Valley and the restaurant’s piece de résistance, Truffle Chicken.
The impressions of our table of “foodies” was consistent – the soft, moist meat of the chicken, soaked in its own juices and served whole, was remarkable, a tribute to Executive Chef Abigail Burk’s time as chef de cuisine at Carmel Valley’s Bernardus Lodge. After sampling the decadent collection of chocolates and pastries, we made our way through the house, observing the contrast between the packed bar and the quiet library, all contained within the nearly two-centuries-old house-turned-restaurant.
The next morning we left the hotel early to drive to The Inn at Spanish Bay for our wine first session, devoted entirely to Australian wine. Eight glasses of Australian wine waited on our arrival, each carefully selected by some of the nation’s best sommeliers.
We lost ourselves in the moment. The hour-long discussion of length, texture and layers enveloped us as we tried Chardonnay, Semillon, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Shiraz and the 20-year-old Tawny Port that one of the speakers commented was “best friends” with Australian Sticky Toffee and cream.
No one rushed from the room at the close of the first session, content to hang back and finish the wine samples and enjoy the atmosphere. Eventually, a mix of curiosity and excitement forced most of the attendees toward the white tents that marked the Lexus Grand Tasting, home to 300-plus world-class wines and the 30 celebrity chefs who came to Pebble Beach to participate.
Food on display, the chefs put out their best recipes, with each restaurant seizing the opportunity to exhibit and prepare food in the most creative way—tiny, plastic globe terrariums, filled with moss-like chocolate; hot, toasted s’mores made with gourmet chocolate; and thin, crispy lobster crackers.
We waited in line to eat a burger smothered with macaroni and cheese handed to us by Guy Fieri, star of Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” His white Oakley sunglasses sat on top of his signature spiky, platinum hair. We snapped candids with other chefs from the network: Robert Irvine of “Restaurant: Impossible,” Duff Goldman of “Ace of Cakes” and Andrew Zimmern of “Bizarre Foods.”
We walked around the beautiful grounds before heading to the cooking demonstration by Linton Hopkins, owner of Restaurant Eugene in Atlanta, Ga. We watched as Chef Hopkins turned eggs into mayonnaise and, with a few additional ingredients, brioche breadcrumbs into crab cakes – emphasizing substituting a homemade mayonnaise in any traditional recipe. As he spoke about his restaurant, he made jokes and shared his secrets (i.e., always break an egg on a flat surface, make anything you can from scratch, prepare in advance and cut off the ends of the lemon to make cutting easier).
After the demonstration, we accepted an invitation to attend a happy hour hosted by The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas at Spanish Bay’s beautiful ocean-view fire pits. Guests were simultaneously impressed and satiated with caviar, fried shellfish in paper cones, and cocktails made with ginger chili syrup and passion fruit purée.
The Pebble Beach Food & Wine Festival was fun, over the top and exactly what we all came to experience. We were foodies, we liked wine and we were all enjoying it without reserve.
It was a long drive home and, quietly, we enjoyed the drive, content to relive our favorite foods and wines and to look up the wines we’d marked down as favorites. When we arrived home, we drove out of our way to pick up the best tawny port we could find, anxious to hold on to a weekend where delicacies, indulgence and excess reigned supreme.
The 8th Annual Pebble Beach Food & Wine Festival will be April 9-12, 2015. For more information, including ticket prices, visit the festival website at http://www.pbfw.com/
Amy Guerra is a criminal defense attorney practicing in Fresno. She has written for several publications throughout California and enjoys writing about the law, food, travel and all things Fresno.