Thursday, February 25, 1999
Commitment to perfection. That''s how Pacific''s Edge pastry chef, Lincoln Carson, describes the adrenaline-charged atmosphere that electrifies the air at the Highlands Inn Annual Masters of Food and Wine extravaganza. This year marks number 13 in the series, and underscores what key players Executive Chef Cal Stamenov and Wine Director Mark Jensen have long held true: Every year it seems to get better.
One of the most compelling qualities of this large-scale event is the diversity that it brings together under one roof. Not even counting the number of wineries that are represented from vineyards as far flung as Chateau Latour and Weingut Hermann Donnhoff, this week''s titillating line-up bids welcome to chefs like Alice Waters and Joaquim Splichal. Depending on which luncheon, dinner or off-premises field trip your ticket is good for, you might find yourself ravishing a plate of truffle-crusted veal or nibbling on Hudson Valley foie gras at the same time you savor a rare, hand-selected vintage. Every nuance of each interacting flavor is judiciously evaluated and chosen to produce the desired result: pure, unadulterated, sensuous pleasure that begins with the first bite and fills the air with awe, admiration and the kind of sparkling gaiety particular to lovers of good food and wine.
The scope and style of cuisine being celebrated is rivaled only by the profusion of personalities making their way onto the scene. "The energy here is amazing," Carson enthuses. "There are people who take their vacation, just to come out to volunteer in the kitchen," an assembly that can swell to 90 or more. "It''s so positive, it''s incredible. Whatever ego might come through the door very quickly disappears."
Year-in and year-out devotees agree that the opening night kick-off packs the biggest punch when it comes to culinary thrills and chills. Tuesday night''s Hot Restaurants In America theme filled the Fireside Room with nine chefs demonstrating their finesse and bestowing the spoils onto a band of some 450 itinerant enthusiasts, mixing, mingling and merrily sampling this movable feast--the least of which is hardly the dizzying display of desserts and pastries.
Throughout the Surf Room, former Highlands pastry chef Anne Parker and husband Yann Lusseau showed off a Tahitian-style savarin and a rainbow selection of berry, lemon, and passionfruit tarts, typical of what they offer at Parker-Lusseau Pastries in Monterey. Lincoln Carson showcased Valhrona chocolates and tropical sorbets, the local chefs bringing up the lighter side in deference to grandstanding guest chef Wayne Brachman, of the Big Apple''s Mesa Grill and Bolo.
Brachman, the author of Cakes and Cowpokes and soon-to-be-released Retro Desserts (William Morrow) wowed onlookers with this year''s fire-and-ice theme. Flaming apples in vodka and maple syrup, making marshmallows and roasting them in front of our very eyes, and slaying awestruck chocolate fiends with Chocolate Blackout Cake, Brachman confided, "I don''t go for that whole death-by-chocolate stuff. I just like to leave ''em limping a little. No way do I want people to suffer from death by chocolate--just maybe in the intensive care ward overnight!" By using mango, mint and raspberry coulis on the plate, he explained that this allows Chocolate Blackout victims a refreshingly different flavor with each bite, rousing them to the last crumb. cw