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4.05 – 7.05

July 7, 2010
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July 2005

Lots of little fun things happening here. The first was the amazing display of fireworks in Sonoma on the 4th of July. I haven’t seen the fireworks in at least 10 years and I must say, they were truly fantastic! Sonoma – you ROCK!

The New York Fancy Food show came and went. Our Red Onion Confit was a finalist in the Product Awards. We didn’t win, but we made a great showing.

The Sonoma Showcase was held at MacMurray Ranch up in Healdsburg. Simply a beautiful property and the event was great this year. I think there may have been at least 100 wineries and over 50 restaurants. Just about every type of food imaginable was offered from oysters on the half shell, seared cod, goat milk ice cream, corn chowder, beet soup in test tubes, grilled sausages, cheese, Niman Ranch ribs, liberty duck many ways, seared lamb and lots of chocolate. We prepared a cold seafood salad with scallops, squid, shrimp in a light gazpacho base. It was a very, very, very hot day! The best seller was definitely the cold beer in the refrigerated tent!

This weekend is the Salute to the Arts. More food, more wine but lots of ART! Should be fun. See you there.

May 2005

Like we didn’t have enough wine to drink in April, we had to go to Paso Robles for the Hospice du Rhone. As always it was a fantastic event. We saw some old friends, shared stories of our French trip and tasted some great wine. We tasted wines from the Languedoc region from Domaine Clavel, wines from the Clare Valley in Australia, the wines of Alvaro Palacios (Priorat in Spain) and some fantastic wines from local wine guru Pax Mathe. Saturday’s auction lunch was Paella three ways with Spanish Tapas, which of course brought me back to our Gaucho days. Lunch was prepared by Mehan Loring of The Park Restaurant in San Luis Obispo. She did an amazing job. When I told her how wonderful it was and how hard it is to make a great paella (especially for 500 people), she modestly told me that paella wasn’t that hard to make! She’s a PRO! We also had our annual STEAK-A-THON pilgrimage at AJ Spurs in Templeton, where once again John couldn’t finish his 24 ounce piece of meat – though I must say Dean did a pretty good job.

We are busy getting ready for Memorial Day weekend and the First Jazz Festival in Sonoma (same group that created the Aspen Jazz Fest). This should prove to be one insane weekend. Ann & Andy from MiniBlooms are putting their finishing touches on the Sonoma patio and it just looks so beautiful!

The fig cafe’s brunch has been a big hit! Business in Glen Ellen is better than ever! Thank you all so much for keeping it alive. Dustin Villa has been promoted to Sous Chef and we are all so very proud of him and the great job he is doing.

April 2005

On the go – the month of April has come and gone and my frequent flyer miles have increased considerably. Where should I begin – yes – in the Rhone ! This is the abbreviated issue of our ten day trip! John and I flew to France on a Monday, drove down past Lyon about five hours south of Paris and on late Tuesday night we reached our first Chambre D’hote, “La Gerine” outside of Ampuis. Nervous about our lunch that we were serving on Friday and anxious to see the cooking facility, we barely slept. The smell of strong coffee awoke us out of a groggy sleep and we were greeted by our lovely hostess Janine, who had her long wooden table set with all of the necessities of a French breakfast, including brioche, baguette, butter, homemade jams (the prune was my favorite), juice, yogurt and coffee.

The rest of our gang, Vicki & Howard Carroll, John Alban and Mat Garretson were due to arrive during the next two days. Our mission was to get ready for our task of feeding 35 hungry French winemakers and pairing the food with John & Mat’s Viogniers and Syrahs. Janine delivered the news that we wouldn’t be able to see the kitchen until Thursday but luckily, she knew all of the best purveyors for the food we needed. She sent us to her favorite fishmonger, where we selected beautiful sea scallops still attached to their roe, and tuna belly that John was going to turn into ceviche. Next we went to Vienne to her fromagerie where we had to choose between some of the most beautiful cheeses I have ever seen. We selected some fresh chevre from the local dairy and some of the same that had been aged for several weeks. We then went to the butcher and ordered pork loin, which they called pork filet mignon. We were to pick it up late the next day. It was coming straight from the farm.

What to do with the rest of our day? Well of course, eat a long leisurely lunch with delicious Condrieu and Cote Rotie and then follow it up with a long leisurely dinner with some more fantastic Condrieu and St Joseph (after all, we were in Condrieu).

The next morning we inspected our kitchen facilities and met our host Chef Jean-Pierre, who greeted us with double espressos and a warm welcome. “This is my kitchen, but you must come back at 3 pm and you can work until 7 pm ” Our task was becoming increasingly difficult and we became tenser with each passing hour. At least we were able to sit down and write our menu.

Tuna Ceviche with Avocado & Jalapeno Pepper served alongside Pan-seared Sea Scallop with Roe on a bed of red onion confit, with a sauce of carrot & orange coulis. We were playing off the Cold & Hot, Spicy & Sweet, Creamy & Acidic.

The next course was to be Prune & Apricot stuffed Pork Filet Mignon, served with Pork Jus, and roasted root vegetables. Dessert would consist of a cheese plate of the fresh and aged cheese and the California Vella dry jack that I smuggled into France . These cheeses would be accompanied by spicy raisin compote, fig syrup and lavender honey.

After a four hour prep session we were whisked away by our friend, Yves Gangloff for a Barrel tasting in his cellar followed by dinner. We tasted maybe 14 wines from the barrel amongst his dog, Zen and his ten cats roaming the cellar. I must say that this was my favorite barrel tasting ever! The wines could have been poured from bottles. The tastes were intense with delicate aromas and long finishes. Many of these wines will only produce a barrel worth. This was a surreal experience and it just kept getting more bizarre. (It could have been the quantity of wine?) After the tasting we sat down to Yves dinner table set with radishes, sweet butter and sea salt, aged sausage and baguette slices. Dinner consisted of a large beautiful salad, braised endive, a selection of goat cheeses and you won’t believe it but Yves cooked Pork Filet Mignon with Prunes and Apricots. John & I just about freaked!!!

This was a good thing and a bad thing. The Good part was the positive reinforcement in the fact that we understand the seasonality and the sense of place and our instincts about food were spot on. The Bad part was is that there was no way were comfortable serving the same main course that we were eating. John & I nudged each other under the table and while tremendously enjoying his beautifully flavored pork dish, we were haunted by what was to come the following day. Nothing like another 5 or 6 bottles of wine and a decent night sleep that will cure all that ails. John revised our menu to include Pan-Roasted Pork served with a Syrah-Prune reduction sauce, Root Vegetable-Vella Dry Jack Gratin and Sautéed Spinach. With the homemade fig cake we brought from home, I made Chevre “Oreo” Cookies to accompany the cheese course. All in all, the lunch did turn out well. I wasn’t really sure who we were serving the food to, but I do know that the plates came back to the kitchen empty. During the next five days of the Rhone Descouvertes, while tasting wine at the different salons, winemakers would say – Merci, thank you so much for the lunch, it was only then, that I really got to meet our guests. The Rhone Descouvertes is truly a phenomenal experience. Six days of tasting, starting in Condrieu in the Northern Rhone and wandering our way slowly down to Vacqueras in the Southern Rhone . True memories . Thousands of wines were poured, we ran into other American friends and California winemakers along the way, the buffets were grand, the parties were raging and there were some very special moments along the way.

There is so much more to say, just not enough room on the page to say it!

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