By Catherine Coburn
Thursday, February 19, 1998
Last year the fish bill ran $32,000 for just six days. The year before, a single pot of soup cost about $2,000. "The main ingredient was truffles," explains Executive Chef Cal Stamenov, kitchen host for the Annual Masters of Food and Wine event at Highlands Inn in Carmel. "We don''t like to hold back on what the chefs can do."
What they come here to do, of course, is cook. And for this particular occasion, the menu for every part of each day''s festivities is limited only by imagination. Tuesday kicks off the Master''s 12th year with an opening night gala. From there the celebration goes off-site for two events during the week, a Carmel Valley mushroom hunt and a tour of Chalone Winery, each with an appropriately elaborate repast.
Back at the hotel, celebrity chefs like Wolfgang Puck, Lidia Bastianich and Charlie Trotter flaunt their stuff in live cooking demos. The kitchen never slows down as it rolls from three-course luncheons into five-course dinners, every dish paired with fine wines from vineyards across the globe.
This year''s Master''s will attempt to outdo past year''s events with the addition of the James House Rarities Wine Dinner. Twenty-four guests will enjoy the world''s rarest wines accompanied by the cuisine of Joachim Splichal, Julian Serrano and Richard Leach, hosted at the acclaimed James House perched on a Highland''s bluff above the ocean. "At first we weren''t quite sure how to price it, since nothing like this has really been done before," admits Stamenov. "We ended up putting the tickets on a lottery system. They sold out immediately." Tickets to the dinner cost $2,000 each, a price better explained by the fact that guests will sample some two dozen rare vintages.
Most Master''s events are priced between $100 and $200. Surprisingly, it''s a splurge that a wide mix of food enthusiasts seem willing to make, with diehard cooking-show fans rubbing elbows with food editors and wine connoisseurs used to such shows of culinary largesse.
And in some cases, the ticket price could be considered a bargain. "Depending on the menu," says Stamenov, "it may only be a break-even situation for us. Like with the caviar luncheon last year-we''re talking about four or five ounces per person, by the end of the meal. About 900 glasses are expected to be used during the course of the evening."
A black-tie grand finale dinner is followed by the Fish Market Grill, a seafood exhibition and luncheon on March 1, culminating six non-stop days and nights that will see up to 90 people in Pacific''s Edge kitchen at a time. Meanwhile, Stamenov may be spotted wearing a set of headphones to coordinate typically flawless service between the back and front of the house. "Sure, I''ve had nightmares-like the time a three-star chef from Germany rejected the langoustines I got in. They weren''t quite fresh enough for him. Wouldn''t even crack a smile," Stamenov recalls. What to do? "We got on the phone, called Texas, everywhere. Finally found a shrimp boat, right out here." A police escort and Monterey Bay spot prawns to the rescue. The Masters is a show that will go on.
We mourn the passing of a culinary great, Patrick Clark of New York City''s Tavern on the Green, who died last week. A huge supporter of the Master''s of Food and Wine, his presence and spirit will be missed dearly. cw