21 Ultimate Gifts: Bonbon Voyage
To connoisseurs of chocolate, quantity is almost as important as quality, and this gift from Neuhaus Chocolate delivers on both counts. You and a guest will fly on a Cessna Citation X jet from the nearest airport to Belgium, home of the 146-year-old chocolatier. During the weeklong visit, you will stay at Château Beloeil, a moated castle that dates to 1680, and enjoy private tours of the René Magritte Museum and the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate. In addition, master chef Michel Poumay will prepare a special dinner, followed by a lesson in pairing chocolates with food, wine, and other beverages.
That is all very enticing, of course, but it is secondary to the real reason why chocoholics will embrace this gift. Neuhaus will create four custom chocolates for you, a privilege previously granted only to Belgian royalty. After leading you through a personal tour of the factory, Master Chocolatier Daniel Stellaert will educate you on the fine points of creating great chocolates. Naturally, this will involve sampling the roughly 80 fillings that he employs—soft caramel, vanilla butter crème, marzipan, butterscotch, champagne, chocolate, strawberry, and various liqueurs—to determine which you like best, and whether you prefer them robed in milk, dark, or white chocolate. Equipped with that information, Stellaert will create a quartet of bonbons that matches your tastes. One of the four will be hand-decorated with your initials.
Souvenirs of the delicious sojourn will arrive at your home once a month, every month, for the rest of your life. The package from Neuhaus will always include a fresh supply of the personalized foursome, delivered in a tin lined with monogrammed fabric and tied with a ribbon. Additional treats will include a truffle-of-the-month tin and a special summertime (May through September) sweet: Neuhaus’ new Snobinettes, which are ice-cream bonbons covered with a dark chocolate shell. Every shipment will be sent via temperature-controlled air freight to prevent melting and ensure freshness. (Click image to enlarge)
Price: $1 million.
Contact: Gita Sweeney, 646.654.3438, GSweeney@nikecomm.com
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Christmas Is Coming to the Restaurant at Meadowood in Napa Valley
It is fairly well settled among all but the grimmest misanthropes and most grasping misers that it is better to give than to receive. But even better still is getting to do both at once. For seven years now, the Restaurant at Meadowood, in Napa Valley, Calif., has provided that opportunity with its Twelve Days of Christmas charitable dinner series. For this year’s event, the chef Christopher Kostow has invited 11 guest chefs to prepare holiday meals, each accompanied by wines from one of California’s finest vintners. Among them, the chefs have 13 Michelin stars and three James Beard Foundation Awards.
The series begins on December 5 with a meal by chef Matthew Orlando of Copenhagen’s Amass and wine by Armand de Maigret for the Hilt and Jonata. Given the Restaurant at Meadowood’s focus on local engagement, it is fitting that most of the wine labels are from Napa Valley—including Matthiasson, whose award-winning wines have been selected to pair with a December 17 dinner by the Michelin two-star chef Corey Lee. The program is capped by Kostow’s own presentation, on December 20, matched with wines from Bond.
Pricing begins at $395 per guest per dinner, with packages available that range all the way up to chef’s-counter seating and one night’s lodging at Meadowood, along with a copy of Kostow’s upcoming book ($2,100 per couple for a weeknight, $2,175 for a weekend). The program benefits two local charities: the Holly Cranston Memorial Fund, which supports families with children who have disabilities, and Napa Emergency Women’s Services. (855.304.8986, www.therestaurantatmeadowood.com)
Las Vegas has long been defined by the blazing neon signs and often ostentatious hotels and casinos lining its infamous Strip. But in recent years, the city’s dining tables have gained reputations almost as eminent as those of its gambling tables and other more colorful diversions. Indeed, virtually every brand-name chef—from Joël Robuchon to Gordon Ramsay—has opened a flagship Las Vegas restaurant in the last decade or so, with more and more venerable eateries popping up every year, mostly within one of the city’s famed hotel-casinos. Here is our list of the newest and most noteworthy dining establishments to arrive in Las Vegas, all of which are sure to help satiate the desire for what is quickly becoming Sin City’s most popular indulgence.
Dining: Hog Wild
In the Piedmont region of Italy, where Cristiano Creminelli’s family has been curing artisanal meats since the 1600s, chubs of salami might be redolent with Barolo or white truffles.“In Italy, we make 900 kinds of salumi,” Creminelli says, using the collective term for salami, prosciutto, and other cured meats.“In Italy, the first religion is food.”
Six years ago, Creminelli came west—to Utah, of all places—to spread the gospel and add some new verses of his own. He had spent months traveling the United States to source naturally raised, organic Duroc and Berkshire pigs before discovering that some of the best producers were near Salt Lake City, which also has an ideal dry climate. “It can be 1 percent humidity here—that is amazing for me,” says Creminelli, who cures meat using only, as he likes to say, salt and time.
Creminelli’s company, Creminelli Fine Meats, soon won acclaim for traditional salami such as soppressata and finocchiona and became a leader in the burgeoning American charcuterie movement. His porchetta, the Italian version of roast pork, is made using a 2,000-year-old recipe and a La Porta Forni oven imported from Italy specifically to achieve the shatteringly crisp skin and rich, melting interior. Creminelli’s meats can be found in specialty markets throughout the country, but in the last year, he began offering the salami-obsessed a glimpse inside his workshop.
“I spend a quarter of my time experimenting,” he says, noting how he makes small batches of salami flavored with what are now his local ingredients, such as bacon or even whiskey from the Utah distiller High West. Early on, he was inspired by pork from a nearby farm where the pigs are raised on apples. The meat was sweeter than usual, and he seasoned it with cinnamon and ginger, “like apple pie,” he says. Creminelli called that salami the Americano. It is now sold only at Whole Foods Markets.
His “experiments” are available exclusively to members of the Creminelli Club, who pay $185 a year for quarterly shipments. A recent release included two fragrant sticks of truffled wild-boar salami, as well as truffled Marcona almonds, a wedge of apple-walnut smoked cheese from the Utah producer Beehive Cheese Co., and a small wooden snack tray. One would expect to be overwhelmed by the funk of boar and truffle, but Creminelli created a salami that was deeply compelling yet subtle by blending only the dark-red lean meat of the gamy boar with the creamy fat of Duroc pork. Instead of pungent truffle oil, he used fresh black truffles, hand-ground with salt to distribute the flavor throughout the meat.
“My idea is to be not so strong, which is actually more traditional,” Creminelli says. “Here I see a lot of people using a lot of spice, but I work more the other way. I work to bring out the flavor of the meat. The flavor of the spice is easy.”
Creminelli Fine Meats, 801.428.1820, www.creminelli.com
The French Laundry Celebrates Two Decades of Superlative Dining
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Napa Valley’s—and arguably the country’s—most storied dining venue, the French Laundry, chef Thomas Keller craved an intimate evening of fine food over the July 4th holiday. But the restaurant has such a multitude of devotees that Keller deemed the building too small for a proper fete. So with dramatic flair, he obtained a permit to close down Washington Street and created the most high-end block party imaginable—bookended by the restaurant and its idyllic rolling green gardens.
“It evolved from an inviting-all-your-friends, potluck moment to ‘let’s do Champagne and caviar . . . and a hot-dog stand,’’’ said the event planner Todd Fiscus, of Todd Events. “The juxtaposition of Thomas Keller and his team’s version of what is in a hot-dog stand was pretty fantastic. So you got a bag of chips, of course, but then he had also made by hand bratwurst and hot dogs.”
Dill pickle–flavored popcorn served in old-fashioned blue-and-white paper cups, deviled farm-fresh eggs, handmade mini dogs on fine pretzel bread: It was indeed a dreamy spread of summertime U.S. favorites. But guests had to save room, too, for custom pots of Sterling caviar, grilled cheese made with black truffles, Kumamoto oysters on the half shell, and classics such as Keller’s famous salmon cornets.
“It was an intimate party with 500 people,” Keller said, comprising “our friends, our family, guests we have long-term relationships with, so a lot of hugs, a few tears, and great memories. It was a very casual, relaxing, and fun event, with really great music—and really great food.”
Guests included Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, chef Daniel Boulud, and the famed interior designer Adam Tihany, as well as Hollywood and vineyard luminaries such as Francis Ford Coppola, among many other celebrity fans. When Keller took the microphone at 9 pm, the crowd fell utterly silent. He expressed genuine thanks to everyone from the original owners, Don and Sally Schmitt, to the generations of chefs who have come through his kitchens (an alumni party for chefs and employees of the French Laundry was planned for the following Monday), to his brand director (and fiancée) Laura Cunningham.
“So many memories have happened in this restaurant that have shaped so many careers, including my own, in this small building on the corner of Washington and Creek,” Keller told the crowd. “I want to thank all of you—we invited you into our restaurant, and we have hopefully given you good memories. What happened along the way is that all of you, our guests, have made our time here just as memorable. Thank you very much.”
Then a surprise tribute video was played, featuring Boulud comically narrating a homage that included cameos by Adam Sandler, Eric Ripert, the kitchen staff of Per Se, Ryan Seacrest, Charlie Rose, Jacques Pépin, and the Simpsons version of Keller himself.
Later in the evening, the Hudson Project took the stage again so revelers could dance into the night. But the beautiful feast kept coming in the form of scrumptious desserts, such as macaroons and the French Laundry’s signature coffee and doughnuts, lighting up palates as the stars lit the crisp Napa night. (www.frenchlaundry.com)
San Francisco’s Quince Restaurant Moves to the Hedge Gallery for the curATE Dinner Series
While San Francisco’s Quince is temporarily closed for renovations this summer, the Michelin two-star restaurant will move to the city’s Hedge Gallery for a five-week pop-up dinner series. Uniting the visual and culinary arts, curATE will transform the Jackson Square gallery into a dining room cum art exhibition from July 30 through August 30. The dinner series will merge the locally sourced Northern California cuisine of chef Michael Tusk with diverse artwork from some of the city’s most acclaimed curators, including Iwona Tenzing, Anthony Meier, and Jessica Silverman.
CurATE’s five exhibitions will include prominent local gallery owner Anthony Meier’s painting and sculpture collection Deconstruction, which will be accompanied by a menu of deconstructed culinary classics including Waldorf salad, spaghetti and meatballs, and peach Melba. The following weeks will feature similarly diverse art installations complemented by thematic menus with dishes like white gazpacho with spot prawn, almond, and cucumber; carrot bisque with Madras curry, yogurt, and Tibetan flatbread; and Koshihikari rice with ginger, lime leaf, and passion fruit.
Entry to the reception and gallery viewings from 6:30 to 7:30 pm is priced at $50, while seating for dinner at 7:30 pm costs $199 per person (including access to the reception and gallery). Optional wine pairings are available for an additional $110 per person. Tickets are limited and are now available for purchase. (www.sfcurate.com)
Bacara Resort and Spa Hosts Santa Barbara Food and Wine Weekend
Santa Barbara County along California’s Central Coast, with its sprawling hills, valleys, and meadows, is home to more than 175 wineries. In June, the region was home to the first annual Santa Barbara Food and Wine Weekend. This three-day artisanal event was conceived by the Bacara Resort and Spa, a luxurious oasis overlooking one of the most scenic coastlines in California. The event benefits the Julia Child Foundation.
A laid-back affair, the festival attracted more than 900 attendees anxious to sip and savor regional foods and wines. One of the most popular events was the alfresco barbecue demonstration and buffet luncheon prepared by Frank Ostini, the second-generation owner and chef of the famous Hitching Post restaurant in nearby Buellton. The Hitching Post is one of the few restaurants that makes its own wines to complement its fare, which includes wood-fire-cooked beef and seafood entrees prepared in the distinctive Santa Maria–style barbecue that is unique to the Central Coast.
Santa Maria–style barbecue is derived from the area’s indigenous Chumash people and the Spanish who settled there in the 18th century. The Spanish adopted the Chumash technique of cooking over a fire built of the native coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia), which grows in abundance along the Central Coast. The oak’s sweetly pungent smoke imparts a distinctive flavor to foods. Families who arrived in the area during the 19th and 20th centuries subsequently embraced this cooking style. Growing up in Santa Maria during the 1960s, Ostini remembers, it was common for the town to have weekly barbecues along its main street, often for charity events, where various meats—including tri-tip, a sirloin cut invented by a Santa Maria grocer—were cooked over a hot fire fueled by logs of coast live oak. Since then, Ostini and his family have refined the Santa Maria style of barbecue.
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Ostini starts with a blazing fire of coast live oak and a clean grill pre-seasoned with beef fat. For seasoning his chicken, steaks, and chops, he uses a blend of salt, black pepper, and garlic. He constantly bastes the dark meats as they cook, using red-wine vinegar and garlic-infused vegetable oil; he brushes chicken and vegetables with a mixture of butter, white wine, and lemon instead.
“We use a very hot fire because the heat will go into the grains of the meat and actually spread those grains apart,” Ostini says. “You have to be careful that the heat doesn’t push the juices out of the top of the meat, because you never want the juices to leave the meat—I don’t care how well done you want it. If you’re grilling meat and see the juices start to come up, turn it over and get the process started the other way. Instead of charring the outside to get a crust so the juices won’t escape, we keep them trapped by continuing to turn the steak.
“For basting,” he continues, “we put the meat on the grill, turn it over, baste, and then season. This keeps the surface of the meat moist enough to absorb the seasonings. You can baste multiple times, at least two times on each side—a lot the first time and less as you go, because as the cooking continues, you don’t want to put more seasoning on or the meat will start to taste salty. Then turn it over and don’t baste and season anymore.”
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Here are a few more of Ostini’s barbecue tips:
- The biggest mistake people make when barbecuing is overcooking. Searing the meat is fine, but don’t overcook it. We pull it off slightly before it’s done, and let it finish cooking on its own, while it’s on the plate, being served.
- The steaks that barbecue best are New York and rib eye. Because of their high fat content, they are more forgiving on the grill. But my personal favorite is the filet mignon, because it can be cooked fast and seared and be delicious and juicy when served rare.
- Turkey and chicken dry out quickly, so take them off the grill a little bit undercooked, because they will keep cooking, especially if you put them on warm plates—that will keep them moist. Cook chicken more on the skin side than on the meat side, thus rendering the fat on the skins, so the outside is nice and crispy.
- Pork cooked all the way through will be dry and leathery, especially center-cut pork loins, so we grill them to rare. We then take them off the grill and chill them whole, so that they don’t lose any juices. Then we slice them into steaks and cook them to order, finishing them on the grill so they don’t lose any flavor, thus keeping them crispy on the outside and pink on the inside.
- It takes 30 minutes to an hour to prepare a small- to medium-sized fire under a grill. Oak wood can smolder and make a very sooty taste, which overpowers the flavor of the food. We want a gentle smokiness, and that requires a very hot bed of coals and a lot of air coming into the fire so that it burns clean. The fire is what imparts the real flavor.
FrontRunners July 2014: Tectonic Plates
Seven of the world’s most influential chefs—each with a Michelin three-star restaurant and a spot on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list—are making surprising moves around the globe and shaking up gastronomy near and far.
Next year, René Redzepi will move Noma, the paradigm of the hyper-local movement, from Copenhagen to Tokyo for a pop-up at the Mandarin Oriental (January 9–31). Dinner, including a night’s accommodation, is $1,470 for two. www.noma.dk
The Fat Duck
Heston Blumenthal will relocate his Bray, England, temple of avant-garde gastronomy to Australia’s Crown Melbourne resort for six months starting February 2015. En route: In June, Blumenthal opened the Perfectionists’ Café in London Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 2. www.thefatduck.co.uk; www.theperfectionistscafe.com
El Celler de Can Roca
The three Roca brothers will close their Catalonia restaurant for five weeks starting in August for a series of global pop-ups, including Mexico City and Lima, Peru. www.cellercanroca.com
Ristorante Italia di Massimo Bottura
At Massimo Bottura’s new Ristorante Italia di Massimo Bottura, located in an Eataly food hall in Istanbul, the renowned modernist focuses on regional Italian cooking. www.osteriafrancescana.it
It is no surprise Enrique Olvera headed from Mexico City to New York City to open Cosme this year. What was surprising: opening Koba, a beach restaurant in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, in June. www.enriqueolvera.com
Masters of Modern Luxury: Alain Ducasse
Alain Ducasse has redefined what it means to be a great French chef. He was the first one to open restaurants around the world, and today his 20 restaurants on four continents hold a total of 17 Michelin stars. Across this far-flung empire—which stretches from the gilded Louis XV in Monaco to the bistro Benoit in New York City and the lively Spoon in Hong Kong—Ducasse maintains a reputation for perfectionism in all aspects of the dining experience. These superbly high standards have made him the single most persuasive ambassador for the pleasures of the French table. —Lisa Abend
All in the Details
Coco Chanel once said that luxury is when the wrong side is as beautiful as the right side. I totally share this point of view. In some cases, we take Chanel’s definition literally: No one ever notices it, for example, but the tablecloths in all my restaurants have mitred hems. Or take the bouquet I serve as an amuse-bouche. These are shrimp so tiny you are supposed to eat them whole. But to make the experience more pleasant, we remove the rostra—the sharp part on the shrimp’s head—even though it’s only 5 millimeters long. We do that for each and every shrimp. And then there’s what happened at Beige, in Tokyo. A few days after we opened, I noticed that many guests looked uncomfortable when they sat down: They were bent too far over the table. So I immediately had 5 centimeters cut off all the chair legs.
Of course, luxury is interpreted differently from place to place. Le Louis XV and Plaza Athénée are definitely two very high-end restaurants. Their standards of cuisine and decor are very specific and cannot be compared to those at Mix or even Jules Verne. But it’s not my aim to offer the same kind of luxury at each restaurant.
A New Course
I’m not one of those people who believes that fine dining is decaying. Top-of-the-range restaurants are developing very rapidly in countries like China or Brazil. But at the same time, we’re witnessing the blossoming of new styles of eateries, ones that aren’t necessarily as formal as before. And this might be too optimistic, but I believe that concerns about nature are gaining more and more importance, making luxury in cuisine less and less about caviar than about the authentic taste of a carefully selected vegetable or piece of fish. All of these options can count as luxurious, because the essence of luxury is always time and space: the ability to enjoy large, free spaces and to master time in order to savor life.
When in Rome
The key to maintaining standards across all of my restaurants is having the right team. There’s a very simple fact to how I operate, and it’s that every executive chef heading a brigade in one of my restaurants has been with me for at least 10 years. That means they are all fully inculcated into my cooking philosophy— and totally share my perfectionism as well! Nonetheless, trust does not exclude control. I visit every one of my restaurants very, very frequently. That’s control, like I said, but it’s also a way to stimulate and motivate the team.
You can’t be rigid when you’re dealing with so many different geographies and cultures. I strongly believe you have to be pragmatic and flexible. The raison d’être of my restaurants is not to preach the good word to my customers. It’s to allow them to have a good experience. To do that, you have to achieve the right balance between surprise and reassurance, and you have to do it in everything—in food, service, ambience, even wine. Most of my guests expect to find French wines on the list, but in the United States, we also have a smart selection of American wines. And in Japan, I also have great sakes on my list. And in Doha, where I cannot serve alcohol, I invent alcohol-free cocktails that pair well with the food.
With cuisine, it is the same. In Doha, there is camel on the menu—but cooked with French techniques. I never betray French cuisine, but when in Rome, I do as Romans do.
Luxury as we know it today was born in the courts of Europe, where artists used to work for aristocracy, and art was an expression of noble power and refinement. The bright side of this is that crowned heads were very useful patrons for artists and gave them the means to produce great works. In other words, luxury brings art into the world. Personally, I appreciate aesthetics, but never at the expense of function. And I must admit I’m a compulsive collector. I hunt antiques of various kinds, though I’m most drawn to pieces of luggage. My favorite is Goyard; it is the icon of luggage makers—pure perfection. I’m particularly proud of a special trunk they made for me to carry culinary utensils.
An Evening of French Delicacies
Moët & Chandon has teamed up with the Michelin three-star chef Yannick Alléno, formerly of Le Meurice in Paris, to open Le &—a pop-up restaurant set within the L’Orangerie reception space in Moët & Chandon’s historic estate, which dates back to the early 1800s. Now through the end of July, Le & celebrates the renowned Champagne house’s new Grand Vintage 2006 release and takes guests on a multistep culinary journey through several different rooms of the estate.
The experience begins in the property’s glasshouse reception area with a selection of seven appetizers called the 7 Salt Bar. Each of the dishes—including dim sum with pork extract and mushroom, fregola sarda pasta with shellfish, and oyster with cucumber extract—is served with Moët Impérial and explores how salinity interacts with the bitterness and acidity from the grapes, the earthy umami from the yeast, and the sweetness of the dosage. Guests then migrate to the main dining room, which features chandeliers crafted from Moët bottles and a central open kitchen with Molteni appliances. Here, pike terrine brioche is served with mushroom extract, butter, lobster coral, and the rich Grand Vintage Collection 1985, which has hints of preserved mirabelle plums. Roasted lamb chop with potato and onion is paired with the creamy pomelo notes of the Grand Vintage 2006.
After dinner, guests are guided into a dimly lit space meant to heighten the senses of taste and smell; there they are served three shots of concentrated parsnip that was cooked sous vide and then run through an ice-cream maker several times. The potent reduction is served alongside glasses of pale-yellow Grand Vintage Collection 1999, which exhibits refined notes of nectarine and currant. The evening is concluded back in the dining room, now transformed into a lounge bar with overstuffed chairs, neon illuminated art, a DJ, and a dessert menu that pairs the romantic and fruity Moët Impérial and Grand Vintage Collection 1999 with creative delicacies such as strawberry soup, Baulus cake with beer ice and beer pie, and stirred yogurt with gelled corn extract and popcorn. Reservations require a minimum party of four guests and cost about $612 per person. (www.moet.com/pre-booking)
Food for Thought June 2014: American Appetites
From the briny perfection of May River oysters to the cutting-edge cuisine of California’s top chefs, food festivals from coast to coast are celebrating American regional cooking. The best of them feature marquee culinary talent, exciting local ingredients, and deep culinary traditions—yet maintain an intimate scale that lets visitors truly get to know the food and the people behind it. Here are six of our favorites.
Music to Your Mouth
Inn at Palmetto Bluff, Bluffton, S.C.
November 18–23, 2014
What began as a small gathering to promote real estate at Palmetto Bluff—a picturesque former plantation on the banks of the May River—has become a yearlong series of food events around the country culminating in the Music to Your Mouth festival at the resort. Hosted by John T. Edge, director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, Music to Your Mouth features more than 75 luminaries of Low-Country and Southern cuisine for almost a week of tastings, cooking classes, dinners, parties, and casual gatherings. Participants have included chefs Anne Quatrano of Bacchanalia in Atlanta, John Currence of City Grocery in Oxford, Miss., and Mike Lata of the Ordinary in Charleston, S.C. Many events are like set pieces: A nighttime oyster roast on a remote stretch of the riverbank featured a surprise performance by Kristian Bush of Sugarland; a grand tasting was arrayed in Palmetto Bluff’s gaslamp-lighted main square; a Potlikker Block Party showcased the work of a single Southern farmer. Tickets go on sale in June, with prices ranging from $75 for a single event to $6,300 for the Baker’s Dozen package for two, which grants access to 12 events. Last year, 16 of the 17 events sold out in two weeks.
Highlight: The Bourbon and Bacon Cruise aboard an antique yacht on the May River; cult whiskey maker Julian Van Winkle and smokehouse maestro Allan Benton joined last year’s passengers.
Taste of the South
Blackberry Farm, Walland, Tenn.
January 8–11, 2015
Blackberry Farm is one of the world’s most lavish agro-tourism destinations: The 4,200-acre luxury estate and farm nestled in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains produces its own cheese, beer, pickles, charcuterie, and other craft products, and it holds numerous food and wine events throughout the year. In January, it delves into the local culture with Taste of the South. Chef Joseph Lenn of the Barn restaurant at Blackberry Farm hosts guest chefs—such as pit master Rodney Scott of Scott’s Bar-B-Que in Hemingway, S.C., Sean Brock of Husk in Charleston, S.C., and Michelle Bernstein of Michy’s in Miami—for a long weekend of cooking demonstrations, specialty dinners, beer and whiskey pairings, and scholarly discussions led by literary gourmands such as Francis Lam and David Shields. Tickets are reserved for guests of the resort; 2015 prices have not been set, but last year’s tickets cost $800 per person for all events.
Highlight: The final-night gala, where diners are treated to rare vintages in addition to first-rate dishes, and a silent auction features some of the top restaurants of the South.
L.A. Loves Alex’s Lemonade
University of California, Los Angeles
September 20, 2014
There is no better snapshot of Los Angeles’s exciting food, wine, and cocktail scene than this casually glamorous party hosted by three of the city’s most prominent restaurateurs, Suzanne Goin, Caroline Styne, and David Lentz of Lucques, A.O.C., and Hungry Cat. The afternoon event—a benefit for Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, which supports childhood cancer research—offers tastings from the city’s celebrated chefs, including Ludo Lefebvre of Trois Mec, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo of Animal, Mary Sue Milliken of Border Grill, and Michael Cimarusti of Providence, who personally serve guests and mingle with the crowd. Naturally, the crowd includes a large celebrity contingent; on the Alex’s red carpet last year were Jimmy Kimmel, Lena Dunham, Neil Patrick Harris, and Laura Dern, among others. After four years of being held in a movie studio back lot, this year’s event moves to the wider confines of Wilson Plaza at UCLA. Tickets start at $195, and auction items such as dinners prepared at home by chefs will be up for bid.
Highlight: A phenomenal selection of small-production wines from around the world and no lack of cocktails, mixed by some of the city’s top bartenders.
Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, Hawaii
October 22–25, 2014
High-profile chefs hang loose and get personal in this relaxed beach-side festival. Whether they are teaching small classes or cooking nightly dinners, each chef applies his or her style to ingredients found on the island. Do not imagine they are limited to seafood and coconuts: Hualalai is known for developing an extensive network of local farmers and purveyors and now the island’s bounty includes wild boar, ricotta cheese, dragon fruit, exotic herbs, spices, and the intensely sweet Wow tomato. This year’s chefs include Amanda Freitag of the Empire Diner in New York City, Marco Canora of Hearth in New York City, Seamus Mullen of Tertulia in New York City, and Ben Ford of Ford’s Filling Station in Los Angeles. Dinners, classes, and adventures beyond the kitchen (such as golf and paddleboarding with the chefs) are purchased à la carte and range from $50 to $300.
Highlight: For the final dinner, each chef makes a course that is paired with M. Chapoutier wines.
Great Barrington, Mass.,and Hudson, N.Y.
The Massachusetts–New York state divide is more porous than it appears on a map, and Berkshire Farm & Table, an organization dedicated to cultivating Berkshire County’s prominence in the food world, encourages diners to explore the culinary traditions on both sides of the border. The ChefX “exchange dinners” are among the group’s signature events, with top toques from Hudson, N.Y., heading to restaurants in Great Barrington, Mass., to cook multicourse, pop-up dinners for 35 to 100 guests; then, a few weeks later, Great Barrington chefs return the favor at restaurants in Hudson. All of the dinners emphasize local, fresh-off-the-farm ingredients, and last year’s participants included Bjorn Somlo of Nudel Restaurant in Lenox, Mass., who made an elegant crab and crowdie “rangoon,” and Ben Freemole and John McCarthy of the Crimson Sparrow in Hudson, who sautéed bay scallops with black garlic, scallions, and cashews. The dates and prices for this year’s dinners have not been released; tickets to the 2013 dinners were $100 per dinner.
Highlight: A chance to mingle with the chefs during a casual cocktail hour.
Napa Truffle Festival
Napa Valley, Calif.
January 16–19, 2015
Truffles may traditionally be a European enterprise, but truffle growing is taking root here in the United States, particularly in Napa Valley. This event brings together the cultivators and the consumers for a week of science and hedonism.
There are technical workshops on truffle growing, with experts such as Dr. Paul Thomas of the American Truffle Co.; foraging tours through Las Posadas State Forest in northeast Napa; and multicourse truffle lunches and dinners that make use of the delectable fungus. Last year’s events included a truffle lunch by Carrie Nahabedian of the Michelin-starred Naha in Chicago, held at Nickel & Nickel winery, and a truffle and wine dinner at La Toque, by chef Ken Frank and visiting chefs.
The festival moves to the Oxbow Public Market on its final day, with cooking demonstrations and fresh whole truffles on offer, so participants can try their hand at cooking them at home. The $1,250 Grand Truffle Weekend Package includes all events.
Highlight: Attendees may bring their four-legged friends to join in a truffle-hunting demonstration with trained truffle hounds.