Chef Dean Fearing was in the galley, and the galley was 10,000 feet up—a burled-wood kitchenette inside a private jet making lazy loops above California’s Monterey Peninsula. On the cragged coastline below, the fourth-annual Pebble Beach Food & Wine festival was in high gear. The long April weekend of extravagant dining and revelry had attracted a sellout crowd of 7,000, but only six participants were invited to fly above it all to sample the Dallas chef’s idea of airline food: a zingy seviche of lobster, scallops, and shrimp served with never-empty glasses of Dom Pérignon.
The Pebble Beach event—with its shiny roster of celebrity chefs, nonstop tastings of rare wines and fine food, cooking demonstrations, blockbuster dinners, and parties—is known as the most luxurious stop on the food-festival circuit. “There’s Aspen, Miami/South Beach, and Pebble,” chef Daniel Boulud said, en route to an after-party one night. “Pebble is the most high-end, my personal favorite.” But it is equally appreciated for its loose, rock-and-roll attitude and tradition of keeping things personal. The event offers ample opportunities to chat with renowned chefs and winemakers such as Bonny Doon Vineyard’s Randall Grahm, who, over lunch at last spring’s festival, held forth on “changing the gestalt of wine.”
Further below the radar, Pebble Beach offers a handful of intimate events—such as the flyover tasting with Fearing—by invitation only. Details of these dinners and get-togethers may not be listed on the official schedule with its $50,000 Montrachet tasting and Krug Champagne dinner. The most coveted invitation is to the Founders’ Dinner, which opens the event every year. Always in a private home (typically undisclosed until the guests are being chauffeured to the house), the dinner this year took place at a cliffside Carmel estate, where Daniel Humm, Nancy Silverton, and Boulud prepared 10 courses matched with $250,000 in wine. Each of the 22 guests paid $2,000 for the experience and contributed a bottle of wine worth $5,000.
“We’ve gotten better at incorporating luxury into all sorts of experiences,” says Dave Bernahl, an entrepreneur who founded Pebble Beach Food & Wine with his partner, Rob Weakley. From October 13 to 16, Bernahl and Weakley will expand their repertoire with the debut of Los Angeles Food & Wine—an even more ambitious version of the Pebble Beach event. Presented in conjunction with local partners including Wolfgang Puck and AEG, the Los Angeles event—tastings, demonstrations, themed dinners and lunches—will largely take place downtown at AEG’s L.A. Live entertainment complex. But some activities will be scattered throughout the city, including a caviar tasting on the rooftop of the L’Ermitage hotel in Beverly Hills, a party cohosted by singer Mary J. Blige and chef Masaharu Morimoto at Morimoto’s new restaurant in Hollywood, and a pop-up lunch at the Santa Monica Farmers Market with chefs Ray Garcia and Josiah Citrin.
Bernahl, who expects 23,000 attendees in Los Angeles, will reveal little about the invitation-only events in the city. However, he lets slip the location of the Founders’ Dinner—the Bel-Air home of winemaker Ann Colgin—and says he plans something called the Final Final House, a “sanctuary” for chefs and select others in a penthouse overlooking the city. And, of course, XOJet—the partner that supplied the Challenger 300 jets at Pebble—will be taking off from the Santa Monica airport for more high-altitude dining.