April 5, 2012
Pebble Beach Food & Wine actually begins before Thursday's Lexus Opening Night Reception—and before the sold-out celebrity chef golf tournament at Pebble Beach Golf Links earlier that day.
On Wednesday, an exclusive sort of affair known as the Founders' Dinner goes down at a swank private residence somewhere in the Pebble-Carmel area's nicest neighborhoods.
For the first addition of the event, attendees dropped $2,000 and brought a magnum of wine worth at least $5,000 (and often closer to $30K). Police motorcycles ushered Lexus shuttles to the absurd venue and Thomas Keller led the team of chefs.
I am going to politely pass on that engagement this year—and only partly because the nicest bottle of wine I own is a 2003 Bernardus Marinus. More importantly, I gotta keep my powder dry for the following four days.
••• "The possibilities," as they say, "are endless." Only that cliche rarely applies with any literal oomph.
Not the case at PBF&W, where spooling through the combinations of wines at the grand tastings (somewhere around 700 from more than 200 top wineries) breeds enough possibilities that I'm pretty sure I broke Google's calculator trying to figure it out with any kind of precision.
So there are essentially infinite avenues to foodie-oenophile ecstasy, especially considering that some of the best moments—like sharing a "Brews, Booze and BBQ" table with Daniel Boulud or BSing about Brophy's stud chef Brian Christensen with Michelin-three-star chef Christopher Kostow—come unscripted.
But it helps to have a plan. Here's one set of possibilities:
Important note: If you don't already have your tickets, get to www.pebblebeachfoodandwine.com right now as everything but the grand tastings should sell out by this weekend. Yes, now as in NOW.
THURSDAY Thursday's 6-9pm kickoff ($250) unleashes more celebrity chefs than either grand tasting—29 at last count, including Michael Symon, Jacques Pepin, Christopher Kostow, Todd English, Sam Choy, Michael Chiarello and Boulud—plating morsels throughout the many fire-pitted patios and elegant restaurants that make up the Spanish Bay compound, with 100-some worldly wineries each pouring several varietals.
Then it's time to invoke Ozomatli, who sings "Donde esta el afterparty?"
These babies bump into the early hours all weekend in the west wing of Spanish Bay (and after-afters rumble on beyond) but for tonight's (9pm-2am), everybody's fresh and already on site for the gala kickoff, so it's an electric one. Look for surprise chef stations, crafty cocktails by big-name elite spirits, the sommelier's room and the big tented DJ dance floor).
(Oh oh—as I'm writing this, both Thursday events are being suddenly reclassified as only available with packages, so use your networking ability and bartering skills to secure a ticket.)
FRIDAY Today is nothing less than a delicious decision-making dilemma that starts at 10am, with a choice between Pépin and Todd English demos ($100 each)—hard enough—then further tempts with a mega hit list of wine tasting panels. Domaine de La Vougeraie: A Celebration of Place ($250), Making Magic: The Wines of Atelier Melka ($100), Napa's Generation Next: Cult Cabs in the New Millennium ($500) are all show-stoppers. Their wines will at times surpass those at Santa Lucia Highlands' Royal Court: Pisoni and Friends ($100), but no panel will sniff the power of its personality. Not long ago at a PBF&W Pinot tasting/talk, Gary Pisoni told the crowd—not long before kissing his fellow panelists on the cheek and inviting everyone to his Gonzales farmhouse—"This [Pinot] is the kind of stuff where you drink some on the patio and I guarantee whoever brought it will soon be making out."
Lunch decisions get even more difficult, with seven different options plating talent like Boulud and Kostow (Lexus Chef's Table Michelin 3 Star Lunch). Elsewhere Charles Phan, Roy Yamaguchi and Sang Yoon will be Cooking Beyond Fusion; Farewell to Foie Gras will star Incanto’s offal ace Chris Cosentino, Joe’s Stone Crab chef André Bienvenu and Hudson Valley Foie Gras’ Michael Ginor; and a South by Southwest lunch features Dean Fearing, Tim Love, John Sedlar and Casey Thompson in one zesty, big-eating tribute to Texas ($200 each). Then there’s also a Belgian Beer Lunch, Stars of Los Angeles with the best from Spago, Bouchon and Providence and even a Vineyard, Farm and Sea meal at 1833 with Levi Mezick, Tim Wood, Craig von Foerster and Ben Spungin. As singular as each is (most are $200)—and as most are selling out—only one features a delicacy that's endangered. So aim for the awfully talented offal master and the Farewell to Foie.
Post lunch more wine awaits (Ribera Del Duero: A Region on the Rise, Icon of Italy: The Wines of Gaja, among others)—as does Culinary Cocktails with Mariena Mercer of The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas—but the liver could use a rest with wine dinners on the way, so Michael Chiarello of Napa's landmark Bottega, one of the most exciting food artists and engaging personalities on the country's cheeseboard, and his Bold Italian demo ($100) is the bullseye here.
Dinner represents another wonderland to spin the plate, head and palate, with two world-classers, The Iron Chef Dinner and Tribute to a Legend: Thomas Keller, headlining the roster. The best thing to do here: Start organizing a marathon car wash, because Iron Chef is sold out and the Keller celebration, with Boulud, Nancy Oakes, Francois Payard, Ron Siegel and Michael White cheffing, is $1,250. Or, instead of washing cars, just sell yours. Then linger as long as you can after dessert getting your last drops of wine—this is your afterparty. You need your sleep.
SATURDAY Not all Saturdays are created equal. A 10am Cook Like a Rock Star! ($100) date with food TV personality Anne Burrell wakes up palate and mind as she pulls from experience ranging from Iron Chef and The Best Thing I Ever Ate to the Culinary Institute of America and Chef Mario Batali's kitchen. Or thicken your knowledge and establish a solid base for more drinking with The Ultimate Indulgence: Chocolate and Wine ($100) with Lindt USA Master Chocolatier Ann Czaja. I'll be picking master sommelier minds at the Secrets of a Sommelier Blind Tasting: Whites ($100), an entertaining exercise that will reveal how much more we actually understand but are scared to acknowledge without the aid of a label.
Then, as if 25 celeb chefs—Tyler Florence! Cindy Pawlcyn! Mark Estee! Chris Cosentino!—hand-making magic-you-can-eat and 200 Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous-grade wines weren't close to enough, the big-tent events add beer gardens, salt-tasting bars, caviar counters, tequila lounges and more every single year. At least one noon-3pm Lexus Grand Tasting ($195) is a must. They are simply the best Monterey County party of the year. And, unlike the other events, a small stash of tickets are held for last-minute locals.
Fortunately one incredible Saturday evening event—unlike Date Night: "He Said, She Said" with Andrea Immer Robinson and John Robinson, Burgundy 101 and Guy Fieri: Cookin' It, Livin' It, Lovin' It—remains available: Celebrating Thirty Years of Extraordinary: 1982 First-Growth Bordeaux. Unfortunately it will mean more car washes for those not in Armani—maybe add a wax option ($750). But opportunities like this, featuring Mouton-Rothschild, Margaux, Lafite, Latour and Haut-Brion among others, only come around, oh, every three decades or so.
An epic day demands an epic end (and, at $1,250, another fundraiser): Rick Tramonto leads a stacked chef lineup of Michael Cimarusti (Providence), Josiah Citrin (Mélisse), Florence (Wayfare Tavern) and Sherry Yard (Spago) as the Dom Perignon flows like the Salinas River. A bargain, by comparison: Food & Wine Magazine's Best New Chefs Alumni dinner ($350), which stars some exciting hot younger celebs like Roy Choi, Mark Sullivan and Nancy Oakes. Afterparty optional.
SUNDAY Yes, that's a mean cumulative hangover headache—imagine if the wine weren't the world's best. A 10am undertaking of Hommage a la Grande Dame: Celebrating Clicquot's Great Lady ($500) or Pretty in Pink: Sparkling Rosés from Around the World ($100) wipes that out soothingly, though—or some of Florence's charismatic cooking could do the trick over at his simultaneous demo ($100)—just in time for a final Grand Tasting hang with Charles Phan, Levi Mezick, Nancy Silverton and a few thousand of your closest foodie friends.
Now go get 'em.