Insights From GourmetFest 2019

March 19, 2019 – At the Ment’or Cooking Demo on a brilliant Saturday morning at Gourmet Fest, organizer David Fink introduced chef Walter Manzke of République in LA as having been his original chef at Bouchée in Carmel. Fink then purchased the L’Auberge property, where Walter became the first executive chef.  The dish Manzke prepared for us was beef short ribs, something David said he ate three times a week while he owned Bouchée. Manzke mentioned the Meatery in Seaside as a good source for meats.

Among the things we learned: reduce the red wine to remove all the alcohol before putting in with the meat, cook the mirepoix separately until all the vegetables are translucent—which can be like watching grass grow—and finally, before launching them into a 325 degree oven, put the seared short ribs into a cast iron pot and cover them with parchment paper before putting the lid on. This prevents them from becoming too dark, which can render them bitter. Never let the mixture boil.

Chef Manzke likes to serve this dish, which includes blanched baby carrots and fresh peas, atop something creamy like mashed potatoes, wild mushrooms or sunchoke purée.

Chef Manzke’s short ribs

It was the latter he chose for our lunch. Simply scrub clean, then chop the sunchokes, which look like crazy satellites, into small bits, leaving the skin on. Roast them until tender, with thyme and salt, and once caramelized, add vegetable stock and cook them down. Add a touch of cream and put them in a blender. Yes, you can blend them without fear of ending up with a pathetic glue of pulverized pulp as you would if you’ve tried—and we’ve all done it once—to mash potatoes in a blender, as opposed to a food processor. 

Chef Michael Mina and chef de cuisine Raj Dixit at the Ment’or Cooking Demo on Friday

Oftentimes at events like this, it’s what you learn outside of the agenda that sticks with you just as vividly as what you learn in the seminars. At Gourmet Fest 2019, I learned that a life well-lived is a non-stop life of constant inspiration, courtesy of my tablemate at the Ment’or luncheon held at La Playa. 

The four-course affair, MC’d by Joel Riddell of ABC7 News, featured food from chefs Walter Manzke (République, LA), Adriano Venturini (Eden Roc at Cap Cana, Dominican Republic), Loic Leperlier (The Point, Adirondack Mountains, NY) and Christopher Wilson (Twin Farms, VT). We were treated to some excellent wines, among them Champagne Taittinger ‘Prelude’ Grand Cru, 2016 Lingua Franca ‘Avni’ Chardonnay (Williamette Valley, OR) and the 2014 DuMOL ‘Fin’ Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley, CA). 

Deer tartar at the Welcome Reception

As I took my seat in full view of the splendidly blue Pacific (where the handsome and adventurous Frenchman, Clovis Taittinger, visiting from his home in Reims, told me he planned to go swimming while we dined), I instantly noticed my tablemate, Joel was wearing a distinctive ring. It bears the likeness of a beaver, the symbol of engineering ingenuity. We East Coast types affectionately call it a brass rat. “So you went to MIT?” I said. Joel’s ready smile blazed to 200 watts, followed by a torrid account of his fabulous life, so far. He grew up in Dorcester, a notoriously tough neighborhood on the south side of Boston. His father died when he was a baby. The year he enrolled at MIT, his mother suddenly passed away of a gioblastoma, so his older sister took him in. At age 34, after suffering a miscarriage on Revere Beach, she decided she wanted to go to medical school. Good luck with that! She had not even gone to college. But she so impressed the admissions folks at Simmons that she was admitted, and later went on to get her pHD and retired after a storied career at Walter Reed Hospital. Never underestimate the guts of a woman inspired.

California morels with peas, spring onion and bacon

Back to Joel, (EE MIT and MBA Stanford), who is only 80, and runs a baseball league that meets in various places across the country, including Florida, Arizona and right here in Monterey. He’s active in the symphony, Sierra Club Ventana Chapter, has a huge wine cellar, and just got back from skiing in Colorado, where he discovered his knee operation of 23 years ago was no longer in effect. The surgeon who performed said op was duly notified that an alternative need be deployed: how else could Joel play second base? Or continue to ski? Two of his passions, besides wine. He had just had dinner with a group of friends and met Gary Pisoni for the first time, which clearly means his life has really just begun! Kudos to Joel who not only has a great palate, but bought a place for their housekeeper to live some 26 years ago when he and his wife moved to Carmel Highlands. It was the right thing to do: she pays the rent and everybody is happy. A rich, full life, indeed.

Speaking of rich and happy lives, Sommelier Larry Stone, whose lithe and lively Lingua Franca Chardonnay we very much enjoyed with the cured red snapper dish, explained that he pretty much sold everything he had for a piece of land in Oregon’s Williamette Valley that he was told would be great for growing Pinot. The only problem was he had no money left to plant. His wife thought he was nuts.  “It was like the Field of Dreams!” Fortunately for them, he managed to find a French winery that thought it would be a great place to plant. He made 60 new friends and scraped the money together to fund the venture, which is currently producing some elegant and accessible wines from what is now recognized as one of the world’s top growing regions. 

Never give up on a dream, no matter how far-fetched.

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