Pulling together the sweeping Pebble Beach Food and Wine has been a spectacular ride by itself.
Thursday, January 31, 2008
In wine, it’s called the finish, in food, the aftertaste – that which lingers once the swallow has flown, creating lasting musical memories upon our sensory soundboard. Without those post lip-parting reverberations, taste becomes as flat as today’s technically laundered studio recordings. The harmony created by intermingling sense-memories creates the soundtrack of our tasting experience.
About this time last year, a particularly amazing aftertaste couldn’t help but come off bittersweet, when the Masters of Food and Wine at The Highlands Inn dispensed its last tantalizing tastes. I wrote the following after the finale:
We’re left with memories, make believe and dreams… The Masters is gone. It will sink in, slowly at first, then forcefully and frequently, especially in the wintertime, when biological alarms will sound in the souls of fortunate individuals who regularly attended. They may be drawn to The Highlands, to retrace the curlicue drive, ascend those majestic steps and enter the long hallway to tasting Nirvana. Small groups may gather to reminisce, share tableside conversation à la Shawshank Prison associates of Andy Dufresne, left behind laughing and lamenting their departed friend. That’s the way it goes when something wonderful disappears.
Fortunately, something wonderful is appearing in its place, just in time to answer the alarms, and with enough promise to supplant that Masters legend with one even more prodigious.
Rob Weakley, former food and beverage director at The Highlands – where he oversaw the final six Masters – knows discussion of this inaugural legend, Pebble Beach Food and Wine, without reference to The Masters, which was born here, grew up, then at 21 left home to see the world (it is currently residing in Argentina), would be incomplete at best, insulting at worst.
“This all came about with The Masters leaving – and us wanting to continue the event,” he says. “The biggest thing we all looked forward to at The Highlands every year was The Masters; we were wondering how we could continue giving something like that to our community.”
For Weakley the aftertaste from the synergistic satisfaction of helping orchestrate the countless components of each year’s collaborative culinary tour de force – and the contacts he made with the many local purveyors of produce, wine, fish and all foodstuffs – were too much to cede exclusively to memory.
“Aspen and South Beach have the two biggest wine and food events in the country and neither one of them has grapes or agriculture,” he says. “Here we are with Napa three hours to the north, Santa Barbara three hours to the south and our own area and it just didn’t make sense to not have the nation’s greatest wine and food event.
“So David [Bernahl] and I thought about what we could actually build here, looking at Concours and AT&T, that scale, with the Pebble Beach reputation and our connections in the food and wine industry.”
As fate would have it, The Pebble Beach Company had been entertaining similar ideas. “We had actually been trying to put one together for three years, a major food and wine event,” says Cody Plott, Pebble Beach president and CEO. “About this time last year, The Highlands was putting in their last event, we were approached by Rob Weakley – I’m an ex-Hyatt guy – so Rob, who was a Hyatt guy, said: ‘I’d like to stay in the area, I’d like to do this, are you guys interested?’ So he got together with [Pacific Tweed President and CEO] David Bernahl and went to a bunch of chefs and asked them if they’d be interested in a big event here. He kind of brought to the table the all-star lineup.”
And what a lineup it is (see sidebar, previous page). With names like Pépin, English, Trotter, Tsai, Mina – to a couple of guys named Keller, Fleur de Lys’ Hubert and French Laundry’s Thomas – and beyond, you’d have to be Helen Keller not to see the magnitude of the talent about to be assembled on one small parcel of paradise for one long weekend of pure pleasure. The otherworldly wattage of talent will lead transcendent seminars, direct supremely insightful (and indulgent) tastings and generally bask in the collection and collaboration of having so many fellow world-class chefs at the same major events.
Attendance will be huge, and that creates logistical logarithms to solve for the organizers as well as the host venues inside the Del Monte Forest.
“We have a gazillion stemware to be delivered for the event,” says Beat Giger, corporate chef and director of special events at Pebble Beach Resorts. “We are setting up auxiliary washing stations in tents just to take care of the glassware.” (The actual count is 17,000 – or about 2,000 more than the entire population of Pacific Grove.)
“The Grand Tastings [Saturday and Sunday 1-3pm, at 2,000 attendees a pop] have already outgrown Spanish Bay so we’re setting up tents at the Equestrian Center. There will need to be plates and silverware for the thousands of tastes of food.”
For Pascal Rifflart, director of food and beverage at the Inn at Spanish Bay, the Opening Night Reception (Thursday 6-9pm) presents a challenge all by itself – and one that will swarm the world-class facility in unprecedented ways. “The big thing is the starting event which is really going to showcase Spanish Bay,” he says. “It’s going to be everywhere. Roy’s is closed, Peppoli is closed, Traps, banquets, all closed, the whole building is only for that party.”
Tom Hlasny, wine and spirits manager for Spanish Bay, predicts a show that will stun even seasoned Masters veterans. “This will be an event that’s going to be over the top,” he says. “I was part of the Masters on the supplier side for the last 18 years and this will be approximately three to four times larger in scope than the largest Masters ever was.
“We’re going to have two to three semis, one that will be a temperature-controlled wine cellar to contain all the wines for each given day. Just the logistics of dealing with all the participants, 200 wineries, 50 or so chefs – remember, each one has anywhere from one to three assistants – it’s gonna be throw the seat belt on, tighten it up and make it run fast.”
Fast is how this all came together. Consider that in its first year, the Pebble Beach Food and Wine most likely will vault into a position among the top three wine and food events in the country, joining the likes of the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen and the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in Miami. It barely seems possible to have created it so quickly, yet that is what Weakley, Bernahl and event operations chief Gary Obligacion have managed to do – in part because Weakley took his severance from the Hyatt and money from leveraging his house to fund the initial stages.
“Rob always had the burning desire to get something going,” Bernahl recalls. “After the last Masters, we set up a meeting right away with Pebble Beach. Pebble Beach allows us to model what Concours and AT&T have done in pulling people from all over the world. What we want to accomplish is a high level of excellence, events in which to interact with the chefs and vintners, educational settings, and we want to highlight California and Monterey County to show what we can do out here. I think the industry, the locals, as well as the entire West Coast, will be really behind this. Also, the amount we can raise for charity makes a lot of sense.” (The three charities they’ve targeted include the Monterey Wine Educational Foundation, CASA of Monterey County and Boys and Girls Club of Monterey County.)
One great feature is that attendees to this year’s events, whether packages or individual tickets, have right of first refusal next year. “We will launch ticket sales at least two weeks earlier next year to the ones who were here this year so they can be assured a spot,” says Weakley. Obligacion anticipates some 4,000 individual attendees.
Pebble Beach Food and Wine also has made it a priority to impact the local hospitality community, aside from hotel rooms and retail. “We’re setting up a central reservation system for area restaurants,” Weakley says, “because there will be approximately 3,000 people around each night, there will be a need for folks to dine out. Then, starting next year, we’ll be doing winemaker’s dinners at area restaurants.”
Of the 14 people interviewed for this piece, each envisions a time in the near future when Pebble Beach Food and Wine, like the Concours D’Elegance, spills over to the entire county for a week-long festival of diverse food and wine-related activities.
Here’s looking forward to the first tastes – and an aftertaste that will last indefinitely.
PREMIERE ALL-INCLUSIVE TICKET PACKAGES start at $2,000 and run upwards of $4,750 (nine event, $995 passes are sold out). À la carte event tickets typically range from $100 to $250. For tickets visit pebblebeachfoodandwine.com or call 1-866-907-FOOD.
Pop onto pebblebeachfoodandwine.com and click on the chefs’ heads for their bios. In a word: sizzling. Each will lead cooking sessions, contribute amazing dishes to featured events and generally enjoy the environment. Here’s the impressive constellation of star chefs (and their primary claim to spatula fame):
Todd English | Olives, Boston, MA
Ming Tsai | Blue Ginger, Wellesley, MA
Charlie Trotter | Charlie Trotter’s, Chicago, IL
Rick Tramonto | TRU, Chicago, IL
Jean Joho | Everest, Chicago, IL
Roy Yamaguchi | Roy’s, Honolulu, HI
Jacques Pépin | Jacques Pépin INC, Madison, CT
Claudine Pépin | A Cook’s Kitchen, Denver, CO
Susan Spicer | Bayona /HerbSaint, New Orleans, LA
Michael Ginor | Hudson Valley Foie Gras, Ferndale, NY
Andrew Carmellini | a voce, New York, NY
Tom Colicchio | Craft, Top Chef, New York, NY
Daniel Humm | Eleven Madison Park, New York, NY
Gina DePalma | Babbo, New York, NY
Ted Allen | NBC/Bravo /“Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” New York, NY
Joël Antunes | Joël Restaurant, Atlanta, GA
Clark Frasier | Arrows Restaurant, Ogunquit, ME
Gerard Boyer | Château Les Crayères, Reims, France
Philippe Legendre | Le Cinq, Paris, France
Alain Passard | L’Arpège, Paris, France
Sherry Yard | Spago, Beverly Hills, CA
Mark Ayers | Pacific’s Edge, Carmel, CA
George Fritzsche | Pacific’s Edge, Carmel, CA
R. Kent Torrey | The Cheese Shop, Carmel, CA
Cal StamenovBen Spungin | Marinus, Carmel Valley, CA
Douglas Keane | Cyrus, Healdsburg, CA
Mark Estee | Moody’s Bistro & Lounge, Lake Tahoe, CA
David Kinch | Manresa, Los Gatos, CA
Kendra L. Baker | Manresa, Los Gatos, CA
Keiko Takahashi | El Paseo, Mill Valley, CA
John Hui | Pebble Beach Resorts, Pebble Beach, CA
Ressul Rassallat | Club XIX, Pebble Beach, CA
Arturo Moscoso | Pèppoli, Pebble Beach, CA
Yoichi Saito | Roy’s, Pebble Beach, CA
Patrick Durant | Stillwater Grill, Pebble Beach, CA
Gary Danko | Restaurant Gary Danko, San Francisco, CA
Elizabeth Falkner | Citizen Cake, San Francisco, CA
Belinda Leong | Gary Danko SF, San Francisco, CA
Charles Phan | The Slanted Door, San Francisco, CA
Michael Mina | Michael Mina San Francisco, San Francisco, CA
Hubert Keller | Fleur de Lys, San Francisco, CA
Joel Huff | Silks, San Francisco, CA
Josiah Citrin | Mélisse, Santa Monica, CA
Walter Manzke | Bastide, W. Hollywood, CA
Thomas KellerClaire Clark (Pastry) | The French Laundry, Yountville, CA
Mark Miller | Coyote Café, Santa Fe, NM
Michel Richard | Citronelle, Washington, DC
Andre Bienvenu | Joe’s Stone Crab, Miami, FL
Tre Wilcox | Dallas, TX