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21 Ultimate Gifts: A Matter of Taste

Erika Heet

THE GIFT
A four-day food-and-wine experience for two in Napa Valley hosted by chef Thomas Keller.

A private sous vide cooking class with Keller.

Professional sous vide equipment and signed cookbooks to take home.

Dinner conceived and hosted by Keller in the private dining room of the French Laundry.

Wine tastings with the proprietors of Colgin Cellars and the wine merchant Soutirage.

Membership to the Napa Valley Reserve, plus winemaking and blending lessons at the club.

Four nights’ accommodation plus spa treatments at Calistoga Ranch.

$348,000

Chef and restaurateur Thomas Keller does not pitch fits or throw people out of his restaurants like some enfants terribles of French cuisine; rather, he is engaging and humble—the perfect host. As such, Keller is an integral part of a four-day gastronomic experience designed for two Robb Report readers in California’s Napa Valley.

“We want to keep you at the top of the bell curve of your taste buds,” says Keller, who apprenticed with French-born master chef Roland Henin and honed his skills at restaurants in New York and Paris before opening Rakel, Wall Street’s late-’80s culinary darling. Now settled in Napa Valley, Keller focuses on the French Laundry, his flagship Michelin-three-star restaurant housed in an early-20th-century stone-and-brick building that once held an actual French steam laundry, in Yountville. He also runs the nearby French bistro Bouchon, the Bouchon Bakery, Napa’s casual American dining venue Ad Hoc, and Per Se in New York, which Keller calls “the urban interpretation of the French Laundry.”

This experience will begin with a private tour of the Colgin Cellars winery, hosted by vintner Ann Colgin and her husband, Joe Wender. The tour will culminate with dinner from Bouchon, perhaps including such hors d’oeuvres as ballotine de lapin (a rabbit leg roulade with roasted beets, candied walnuts, bull’s blood greens, and a fig marmalade) and such entrées as magret de canard et sa cuisse confit (roasted duck breast and crispy duck leg confit with Savoy cabbage, chanterelles, musquee de Provence, and huckleberry gastrique). The dishes will be paired with top wines from Colgin and Wen­der’s personal collection.
 
The second day will be spent learning how to make wine at the Napa Valley Reserve, highlighted by a blending session with the private club’s winemaking team, which also produces Harlan Estate. Ad Hoc chefs will prepare a dinner at the Napa Valley Reserve, with com­plementary wines selected by the club’s winemakers. Memberships to ?the Napa Valley Reserve (valued at $175,000 per couple) will be extended to the recipients, who will spend all four nights in suites at the nearby Oak Creek Spa Lodge at Calistoga Ranch and enjoy two 90-minute spa treatments of their choice at any time during the stay.
 
A garden-and-farm tour led by French Laundry culinary gardener Tucker Taylor will begin the third day, followed by a Bouchon Bakery picnic lunch of breads, pâtés, terrines, and salads. That afternoon, Matthew Wilson, president of the rare-wine merchant Soutirage, will lead a discussion and tasting in the caves at Calistoga Ranch. Among the bottles set aside for the event are a 1986 Domaine de La Romanée-Conti Le Montrachet, a 1945 Château Mouton Rothschild, a 1921 Château d’Yquem, and, to top things off, a 1911 Jim Beam bourbon.
 
Keller will host a private sous vide (literally translated to “under vacuum”) cooking class at the Culinary Institute of America on the final day, with the recipients taking home thermal circulators and Cryovac machines so that they may perfect the method, which involves foods being vacuum-packed in plastic to seal in the flavor, then slow-cooked at a relatively low temperature. Keller will also provide a collection of cookbooks, some of which he authored, including a personalized, limited-edition version of The French Laundry. The final evening will begin with a Champagne reception at the French Laundry, where Keller will join the recipients for dinner in the private dining room—an experience that has never before been offered.
 
The dinner’s piquant possibilities are infinite, but one thing is certain: Under the care of the French Laundry’s chef de cuisine, Timothy Hollingsworth, the group will first be served Keller’s famous cornet of Atlantic salmon tartare. This delicate cone filled with buttery salmon and topped with sweet-red-onion crème fraîche is presented to every diner at the French Laundry. Typical of his musings on food and life, Keller’s philosophy behind the opening dish is simple: “It makes you happy.”

Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, Kristine Keefer, 707.944.0426, www.tkrg.org

The price is for two, but the gift can accommodate as many as eight people at additional cost. The gift must be purchased by September 30, 2010.

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