March 14, 2017 – How do you get some of the world’s best known chefs to come to Carmel for the Relais & Châteaux GourmetFest 2017? Founder David Fink makes it sound simple: “I invite all the top chefs,” he says, some whom he’s known for decades and others that he’s never even met.
Of course Fink is delighted to have old friends like Daniel Boulud and Michael Tusk on board, but he’s equally jazzed about having Gabriel Kreuther (“I’ve never met him, but he’s a rock star in New York”) and Shinichiro Tagaki (“my brand-new friend from Japan”). They’re part of the more than 18 stellar chefs that will create culinary history this Thursday through Sunday at GourmetFest’s unforgettable food and wine events.
“This is something very, very special for the Monterey Peninsula,” says Fink, proprietor of L’Auberge Carmel and original founder of the Masters of Food & Wine in 1987, the predecessor to GourmetFest. “It’s a labor of love—the team here does such an incredible job.”
Kicking off the four-day festival this Thursday is the Welcome Party, the opening night celebration which Fink says is always a GourmetFest highlight. The strolling dinner is a chance to meet and talk to many of the award-winning chefs who are part of this year’s events, including Boulud, Takagi, Nathan Rich from Twin Farms, Aubergine’s executive chef Justin Cogley and pastry chef Yulanda Santos, Derek Poirier with Valhrona, Chris Kajioka of Hotel Wailea, and Per Hallundbaek of Falsled Kro at stations paired with prestigious wine estates.
In addition to tried-and-true events such as the Wild Mushroom Hunt & Lunch (this year with chefs Cassidee Dabney of Blackberry Farm and Jerry Regester of Santa Lucia Preserve), there are also new ones, such as the Friday and Saturday NTSQ Velo Premium Morning Cycle—a biking adventure capped off with a gourmet lunch. Also on tap is a 10-course rarities dinner feast paired with wines from Champagne Pommery, Château Margaux, Domaine des Comtes Lafon and Bouchard Père & Fils, prepared by James Beard Award-winning chef Tusk of San Francisco’s Quince Restaurant, two-star Michelin chef Boulud, and host chefs Cogley and Santos.
Add to that once-in-a-lifetime wine tastings (from Chateaux Margaux and Bouchard Pere & Fils, to Domaine des Comte Lafon, Chappellet Winery, and Champagne Pommery), tasting panels supported by more than 30 of the nation’s top sommeliers, and a Sunday morning tasting of the rare Pommery “Cuvee Louise.”
A special tribute to the late Donn Chappellet and tasting is also planned to celebrate 50 years of Chappellet, which includes the ultra-rare and iconic 1969 Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon.
Wrapping up the festival will be the Grand Finale Dinner on Saturday and the Taste of the World on Sunday—which again gives the opportunity for up-close-and-personal time with premiere chefs, as well as a glimpse into Relais & Châteaux properties around the globe.
But it’s not all just about food and drink—it’s also about doing good for local nonprofits. GourmetFest’s online auction this year offers up a whole host of once-in-a-lifetime tasting experiences, headlined this year by a wine-tasting trip to Burgundy that will raise money for storm-stricken Big Sur.
“We’re hoping to raise more than $100,000 for the Big Sur Relief Fund,” says Fink, who will himself lead the excursion to one of France’s fabled wine regions that includes private tastings at Domaine Leflaive and Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, and lunch with Domaine LeFlaive proprietor Brice de la Morandiere that will include one of the rarest wines in the world, a magnum of 1996 Domaine Leflaive Montrachet.
The trip for two couples will also have Fink as tour guide through the Cote de Beaune and Cote de Nuits areas, renowned for Burgundy grape growing since ancient times. It’s all part of Fink’s effort to help Big Sur, now cut off from the Peninsula by the collapse of Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge. “Over 1,000 staff are out of work and iconic businesses like Nepenthe, Big Sur Bakery, Esalen, Post Ranch and Ventana are all temporarily closed,” Fink writes on the auction webpage.
Other entries in the online auction, all of which feature visits to Relais & Châteaux’s most extraordinary properties, will benefit the Carmel Chamber of Commerce, the CSU-Monterey Bay hospitality program, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and Rancho Cielo Youth Campus.
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