Wednesday, May 4, 2011


I just returned from a gorgeous weekend on the Monterey Peninsula.  This weekend was something of a perfect storm for me.  I'd planned months ago to run a portion of the Big Sur Marathon on Sunday (10.6 miles to be exact.)  But as I poked around The Internets one night, I realized the Pebble Beach Food & Wine festival was the same weekend!  Clearly, it was meant to be!  It was as if someone had wrapped up a weekend, tied it with a bow and handed it to me.  Eating and drinking, then running all in one of the most beautiful and charming areas of California!
Goat Cheese tart from Kent Rathbun of Abacus in Dallas, TX
The hustle and bustle under the tents at the Grand Tasting on Saturday
I'd been wanting to go to Pebble Beach Food and Wine for a couple years now.  I remember seeing photos and reading statuses of my extremely lucky Facebook foodie friends last year and yearning for an opportunity to attend some time in the future.  Not so much to wine and dine and be fabulous, Dahling - but more to rub elbows (and perhaps protruding bellies) with some of the country's *pause* the world(?)'s greatest chefs!
Andre Bienvenu's crew working the Joe's Stone Crab booth (Andre was just to my right and not in the shot)
Joe's Stone Crab: Crab tamale and a butter rum shot -- yummy!
I pored over photos and blog posts dreaming of the spectacle it must have been...all these chefs in ONE PLACE?  What if there was an earthquake and everyone fell into a crevasse?  Could we as a world, risk placing all these amazing cooks in one place at one time?  Who would continue to receive Michelin stars?  Ok.... I over-dramatize a bit.  But it was still an occurrence I dreamed of witnessing with my own eyes (not the earthquake/crevasse bit - but the PBFW bit...)
Baby Burgers on brioche - from Justin Sledge of Calistoga Ranch
Tim Love of Lonesome Dove Western Bistro in Fort Worth, TX was serving more tamales (a popular item today!)
Hmm... well.... sooo....  while the event was almost fabulous, I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed.  I knew my mind likely embellished the fabulousness of that which could be Pebble Beach Food and Wine, but even taking that into consideration, I was *still* disappointed.  I'm ridiculously thankful we were fortunate enough to receive comped tickets and didn't drop the $195 per person.  I'll save my $195 for an experience in a restaurant, thankyouverymuch.
Mindy Segal (far right) from Mindy's Hot Chocolate Restaurant in Chicago
It's not that the tents weren't beautiful or that the music wasn't fun and "club-like".  It's not that we didn't taste little bits of heaven here and there.  Nor was it that we couldn't have sampled 4-5 quadrillion wines.  In fact, for what it was - the event was nice.  There were lines, but they didn't take more than 10-15 minutes (and were made better if you had a sidekick to run and swoop up additional tidbits to bring back while you stood there and sipped wine).  It wasn't uncomfortably crowded nor were folks too pretentious or ostentatious (I said "too").  Really I was most disappointed by... the chefs.
Michael Ginor who is the co-founder, co-owner, & President of Hudson Valley Foie Gras & New York State Foie Gras
There was foie gras on this plate - I don't remember anything else because it doesn't matter... *drool*
OK, ok now let me fill in some blanks before I go off the deep end here.  We went on Saturday (perhaps they all came out to play on Sunday?) and we only attended the Lexus Grand Tasting as opposed to any other events.  I realize that the "schmancier" chefs perhaps were merely meandering with us Foodies under the tents that day.  Meanwhile for an extra $100-1000 one could hobnob with them more intimately at a cooking demo, lunch or dinner party, golf tournament, etc.  But the dreamlike delusions in my head saw me running from table to table, watching in awe as Daniel Boulud or Jacques Pépin or Christopher Kostow placed the finishing sprig of micro-green atop my pan-seared scallop with black truffles & butternut squash gratin, and gently handing it to me.  My bad.  This was not the case.
Jeremy Tummel of Stillwater Bar & Grill in Pebble Beach - cute isn't he?
More...tamales.  Crab too (not that they weren't good but why so many tamales?!)
Not that there weren't some incredible chefs at which I could ogle and whose food I could sample.  It just wasn't what I was expecting.  Jacques (and Claudine) Pépin did a demo, but they were not serving food.  Same goes for Michael Chiarello. Chefs like Charlie Trotter, Ming Tsai, Gary Danko and Tyler Florence were touted on the website, but I never once heard mention of them [at the Grand Tasting].  Again - maybe they were there on Sunday?  Or just doing demos... Or maybe they were just THERE hanging out and for that reason, PBFW can put them on the "Chefs List"?

The biggest "well known" chef serving food on Saturday was Tom Colicchio.  And really the people lined up at his booth were there to take photos of/with him and not to sample any food.  Wait, was he serving food?  Or just carving a pig...?
I spy Chris Cosentino (of Incanto in San Francisco) hiding behind Tom Colicchio!
What else would Tom Colicchio be doing other than carving a pig, right...??
I was also somewhat irritated and irked by the organization of the event.  While the website told me to go to the Inn at Spanish Bay for the Grand Tasting - the Grand Tasting was actually at the Pebble Beach Equestrian Center: one of the stops along 17-Mile Drive.  We saw no signs along the route we traveled, to tell us this.  And it took us another half hour to find the Equestrian Center after leaving the Inn at Spanish Bay...  If we had paid $195 for a 3 hour event, only to arrive and be lost and confused for 45 minutes I would have been livid.  As it was, I was pretty frustrated...
Kent Rathbun of Abacus in Dallas, TX
Kent Rathbun was serving truffle eggs with sweet pork belly bacon on toast
However, most of the time I'm a glass-half-full kind of person.  So I'm about done being overly critical of an event at which I really had a great time!  Moving on...
We're in berry country down here. It's like HEAVEN!  There was even a "berry station" along my run the next day!
Ohhhhh..... the berries.  They were PERFECT.
I knew one of my BBF's (Best Blogger Friend!), Anita would be there with her hubby, Mike and we'd planned to meet up with them.  But we were extremely lucky to literally BUMP into them about 20 yards into the tents!  Anita and I proceeded to run around like kids at Disneyland while our men patiently followed - making sure to fill up the wine glasses along the way.  What great guys...

I think that wine actually came into play here, because once Anita and I got going, we started shoulder tapping chef after chef to ask for photos - and were successful!
The wine made us a little braver: Bossy Lisa and Dessert First Girl pose with Daniel Boulud!
Next, Anita and I assaulted shoulder-tapped Michael Chiarello! (Funny, this is my 2nd photo with maybe 5 years)
One of the highlights of our traipsing that afternoon was stopping by Sherry Yard's booth.  Ms. Yard is of course THE pastry chef for Wolfgang Puck.  She's won a James Beard Award for Best Baking Cookbook and is responsible for some major dessert action at the Academy Awards (and the Grammys and the Emmys too...).
The famous Sherry Yard (head of pastry for Wolfgang Puck) with Yigit Pura (the first Top Chef Just Desserts winner)
My hand model proves that Sherry Yard *did* have macarons - they were just gone by the time I got there!
Ms. Yard's fantastic spread - Fantastic!
Not only is Sherry one AMAZING pastry-maker, she was totally fun and friendly and welcoming too.  She never stopped smiling even as people elbowed their way towards her sugary spread.  She happily answered questions and just seemed like such a NICE PERSON.  She had the most colorful and creative booth - nothing minimalist or modern or sleek.  It looked FUN.  It was pink and bubbly - just like Sherry.  On top of all of this, when Anita and I did our shoulder tapping here she not only welcomed a photo, she gave us cookies from her display (they were wrapping up and breaking down.)  And the icing on the cookie?  I mean cake?... when I mentioned to Sherry that Anita is basically The Sh%#, and dropped her blog name... Sherry had heard of it!  Warm fuzzies for Anita the rest of the day (and probably week? month?)
We totally look like BFFs, right??  And she gave us those cookies as she took down her display!
Anita joked to me that sometimes it's fun to pretend we're rich.  She's right.  As we both clutched our generously comped tickets (and giant colorful cookies on sticks) we did indeed feel lucky.  I shouldn't complain at all about an event to which I was *given* a ticket (tho it was not given by PBFW so I really don't owe them anything...)
Food bloggers unite! Anita, Lisa, Irvin and Sabrina
We were like little girls in a candy store!
At the end of the day we were stuffed silly, warmed by wine, excited at spotting a Baldwin brother and slightly high on capturing photos of ourselves with some notable culinarians.  It was a success as far as the day went.  And it's never a bad time when I'm with Anita!  I'm glad we went and I'm happy for the experience.  But I've taken note that until I no longer need to *pretend* I'm rich... I'll save this kind of money to sit, relax, and be served instead.


  1. Great write up!

    Having been there for the full 4 day run of the event, however, I don't think you can fairly judge the event as a whole based on a few hours at only one of the events.

    For example, every one of the chefs you mention having missed out on did in fact have a food station at some point during the 4 days of the event. Many had food stations at the lavish opening reception Thursday night, and others on Sunday's grand tasting (which was, I'm sorry to say, much, much better than Saturday's).

    As to the cost, while I easily had $195 worth of food and wine at Saturday's event, I would agree that it wasn't qualitatively worth $195, whereas Sunday's event was absolutely worth that much.

    Regardless of the chef, however, you will never get the kind of food that they are capable of food, the kind of food that they are known for, the kind of food upon which their reputations are based, at food station events like the grand tastings - the conditions just aren't conducive to it. The sit down events spread throughout PBFW are much better venues in this regard.

    I'm not saying it's perfect (to the contrary, I have a list of complaints about the overall event that's many times longer than this post), just that you can't fairly say that PBFW was disappointing based on your experience - it would be akin to saying that French Laundry is disappointing after only stopping in for an amuse bouche. You have to run the entire gamut of PBFW to truly experience the mad orgy of food, wine and personalities that is PBFW. At the end you might or might not think it was worth it, but at least you'll have experienced. In my case, I came away with a food and booze hangover that I'm still feeling the effects of today, and more than a little horrified by the brazen display of gross excess and indulgence, by the rampant narcissism and egos, and most of all, by how much, in spite (or because?) of all that, I enjoyed every damn bit of it.

  2. What a super fun recap! I love it. I'm so jealous you got to hang out and chat afterwards with Sherry Yard and get a cookie lollipop! I wanted one, and she was all ready to give me one, but I had to dash to my next event (okay, so the fact that I had to go and drink 130 year old port, probably isn't making me sympathetic at all).

    Sherry Yard is one of my pastry idols, and she's so sweet! I'm so glad to met her. And to have hung out with you too! It had been too long. So good running into you...

  3. What a great event! It looks like you had a great time there.