We came, we ate, we drank – or something like that. I was ccooking up my next trip – to Pebble Beach Food & Wine – back in March during my Chef Fest event – Made in America 2 at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, Hawaii. Why not? The timing could not have been better. Road trip – Thelma and Louise would hit the road north for Pebble Beach.
One of my goals for the trip was to drink only the good stuff: Champagne. My mission to find bubbles at Pebble Beach was hit and miss. The Lexus Opening Night Reception did have a bubbles room – Trapps – but by the timeI got there the Krug and Don Perignon were no where to be found. With a little help from my friends Josiah Citrin and Raphael Lunetta French bubbles were scored – that is until we descended down to the After Party where all that was on offer was Stella Artois and Belvedere vodka – seemed a tad strange at an event that has wine in the title but I guess you have to respect the sponsors. All was not lost – there was a Som room where only sommeliers could gather, away from the beer and spirits rabble, to taste vino of every variety – including Champagne. Fabio Viviani took me firmly by the hand and got me in. The next positive thing to happen after dancing with David Lefevre was I got an invitation to the Final Final party.
If you’ve never been to one of these events it’s all about credentials – Access All Areas, admittance to the best after parties, being seated at the chef’s table at the most fabulous dinner… The Final Final was a short Lexus ride away at a private residence – where we were promised magnums of Champagne, perfectly seared steaks and pounds of caviar. David, Josiah, Raphael and myself decided to go for the food more than anything else. We were unable to persuade Michael Cimarusti – he’d been prepping in the root cellar and needed his beauty sleep. Matt Molina was no where to be found. We were all starving – so hungry in fact we ate some grapes in the lobby display and got reprimanded by the hotel staff.
The house was gorgeous. However upon arrival all that greeted us was a large bowl of chips and some salsa. Two things changed the course of the night – the first was a very large can of caviar that was placed in front of us.
And the second? When a French chef jumped up on the bench I was sitting on to announce that he’d arrived. It was Daniel Boulud. Bubbles, caviar and chips were the order of the night – until after 3am. Really?
Reminded me of the good old days at the Cannes Film Festival – when the time and sleep don’t count for much and it’s all about having a fun time with friends, new and old. Daniel told us stories about his time working at La Côte Basque for my father-in-law, Jean-Jacques Rachou, and said that this is why he stayed on in New York to make it big. Johnny Iuzzini interupted the conversation to help himself to our vat of caviar. I questioned that there were no toast points and Daniel complained about the quality of the caviar.
I was to see Daniel the next day at his Chef’s Table 3 star Michelin lunch with Christopher Kostow and bubbles galore – all courses were paired with Veuve Cliquot. Champagne was the order of the day – paired with an exquisite and luxurious luncheon.
As the heaven’s opened at the Equestrian Center we stayed dry inside the large white marquee sipping on Veuve Cliquot Yellow Lable and nibbling on frogs legs and smoked eel. The only bad bite of the day were the Brown Butter Rocks – not enough flavor and too much of a greasy mouth feel.
Inside the Chef’s Table for 150 guests looked magnificent. Seven long wooden tables adorned with dark purple anemones, sweet peas and hydrangeas were set up in the middle of the tent with the kitchen, ovens and all, wrapped around the edges. Someone had clearly thought about how dramatic the dark yellow/orange of the Veuve Cliquot would look against the purple.
We were treated to the theatre of the kitchen as a long line of servers lined up to bring the first course from Boulud – Shigoku Oysters in a Sea Water Gelée with Lemon Custard, Ossetra Caviar and Sea Urchin. This was a seriously good dish and one I will remember for years to come. Like memorable dishes I have eaten in France that stay with you forever, this is one of them. All the flavors of the ocean carefully and subtly working with each other to create a chef’s masterpiece. The smooth custard with the slippery oysters and then the tiny beads of caviar that were dotted with finger lime so that you got a burst of citrus with the fat little briny black eggs, all topped off with the delicate crunch of the little rice cracker. I could have just eaten this dish with the Veuve Cliquot Brut Rosé and my trip to Pebble Beach would have made my palate very, very happy.
But there was more – a smoked cod with smashed tubers and creamed borage from Kostow, paired with Vintage Veuve Cliquot from 2002.
Boulud’s Four-Story Hill Farm squab with vodouvan spiced breast, leg pastilla, avocado chutney (Boulud’s nod to California) and spring radishes – paired with Champagne Veuve Cliquot Brut Rosé 2004.
I am a great believer in the importance of dessert – it should finish the meal on a sweet high note. Sadly, the white chocolate and fresh pea salad from Kostow just didn’t work for me. Perhaps the peas weren’t sweet enough or the lemon custard – that had worked so beautifully in Boulud’s sea fantasy dish – wasn’t able to bring the peas and cake together into a well executed dish. Something was lacking and not even the Veuve Cliquot “Grande Dame” could convince me this dessert could rise above the odd factor of eating peas for dessert.
Rather than ending like this let’s take a moment to go back to that dish of dishes – Boulud’s oysters in a sea water gelée:
The best parts of Pebble Beach for me – apart from Daniel’s food was the fun times I spent with all the chefs. Eating stolen grapes with Josiah Citrin and Rapheal Lunetta, disco dancing with David Lefevre in the early hours at the after party; chips, caviar and Champagne with Daniel Boulud until 3am; and lattes with Nancy Silverton, Cindy Pawlcyn and Bruce Aidells on the patio of the hotel looking out to the Pacific Ocean. Food Network stars huddled around a fire pit, the sky was blue – for the most part – and so were the blankets a kind woman from the hotel brought for us to snuggle in before I said my goodbyes and headed home via giant rainbows in Paso Robles.