November 17, 2011
I kicked off the holiday season extra early this year in order to get some tips for entertaining from some of the best in the biz. The top food-and-wine brass at Bernardus Lodge hosted an “Autumn Harvest Lunch” while sharing ways to make our own Thanksgiving meal tasty and attractive.
Half of the value of attending a Bernardus event is spending time in the lovely Marinus dining room—in this case, nearly 30 rapt foodies commingled at three beautifully decorated community tables with a cozy fire and the Santa Lucia range as a backdrop through the windows.
A long rustic table held a bounteous arrangement of fruits, wild mushrooms, and pretty vegetables. We were even allowed to get up close and whiff a white truffle ($2,800/pound) and some black truffles. Wow. I estimate the white one was a thousand-dollar baby. It may as well have been the Hope Diamond, for all my excitement at beholding it.
Guests were greeted with cider-spiced bourbon, and also received a packet of recipes. The four-course meal included two wines, two desserts and coffee. At the end, the centerpieces were raffled off for four lucky people, and we all got a take-home gift. The cost was $85 per person and it was well worth it.
Throughout, we listened to Chef Cal Stamenov, wine director Mark Buzan, pastry chef Ben Spungin and local florist Susanna Gamble divulge their secrets and answer questions.
Buzan talked about the 2009 Bernardus Chardonnay and the 2008 Pinot Noir, Monterey County, that we drank—both are wonderfully food friendly, unlike so many rich versions of these varietals that have become popular. I think the trend is turning back toward wines that are true to their varietals. I hope so, anyway.
“For the holidays, stick with classics that you know can be versatile,” said Buzan, advising on how to please a variety of guests while serving foods with contrasting flavors and textures.
“There will be people who want red and Pinot Noir is king for the holidays,” he added. “It has the structure and the richness, but it doesn’t overpower anything you worked so hard to make. It’s all about balance.”
The Chardonnay is priced at $22 and the Pinot Noir, $20. They can be purchased at the Bernardus Tasting Room and Village Market in Carmel Valley; Nielsen’s in Carmel; Monte Vista Market, Whole Foods, Bottles ‘n’ Bins in Monterey; Star Market and Zeph’s in Salinas.
Stamenov discussed each of the delicious dishes we sampled and each was an affirmation that no matter how good a cook I think I am, my efforts don’t come anywhere near the level of quality of this kitchen. How hard can it be to roast a chicken to perfection? Apparently, there is both science and magic at play.
We enjoyed a soup of chestnut, apple and pumpkin; salad of grilled fuyu persimmon, avocado, green and purple endive, crispy Asian pears, radicchio, frisee and mixed greens; black truffle stuffing (worth the price of admission); whole roasted chicken with herbs (the recipe could apply to turkey).
Whether you’re making turkey or chicken, Stamenov recommends beginning with an oven preheated to 500 degrees (600 if possible). Roast the bird for 20 minutes or until the skin is deep brown and crisp, to seal in the juice and flavor, and keep the skin moisturized during cooking with good olive oil.
“The most important thing about making a turkey is to start with good quality,” he said. “Not frozen…Diestel is good.” Range-grown turkeys from Diestel Family Turkey Ranch in the Sierra Foothills can either be organic or not. I recommend the organic turkeys under their Heidi’s Hens label. Stamenov reminded us to pre-order since the demand for turkeys spikes once a year. It makes fresh birds difficult to find without planning.
Spungin (pictured at top) talked about his brioche (16 cups of flour and 20 eggs for three loaves!), his divine banana-hazelnut meringue tart (it was more like a novel than a short story the way it gradually revealed layers of delectable flavors and textures), and a heavenly white chocolate gingerbread. Imagine, we got to eat all three of these and there was enough for seconds for those who wanted more!
Gamble demonstrated how to make a centerpiece from flowers, grapevines, fruits and mushrooms, as well as a wreath from grapevines, olive branches and any other branch you grow or can pilfer from neighbors. All in all, it was a terrific way to spend an afternoon.
You can find details about the upcoming chocolates and desserts demo, the 15th annual truffle dinner, and more at www.bernardus.com. Click on Calendar/Events in the Food & Wine section.