Partying with the preeminent female chefs of the Peninsula, plus pork proverbs.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
For the first time in history, they make up most of our work force. They still earn many more college degrees – and they’re not just smarter, they smell a hell of a lot better. Same can be often said about what comes from their kitchens.
Even so, the fairer sex still doesn’t get the fairest shake in a restaurant industry where men still dominate leadership slots. (Skeptical? Name five local female chefs for me real quick.) So I stopped by the Christmas party for the local chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier, a worldwide philanthropic society of professional women leaders in the fields of food, beverage and hospitality, to see what insight might surface.
Longtime local chef legend and TV personality Wendy Brodie had her breathtaking Carmel Highlands home awash with smells of coffee-sauced beef tenderloin, fondue and potluck contributions like pumpkin creme brulee. A quick run-through of just a few Dames there quickly presented an undertaking in epicurean education by itself. Lygia Chappellet is a Big Sur artist, goat cheese producer and member of the family who makes some of the tastiest Cab in Cali. Daryl Griffith runs Pebble Beach Company catering, Ginger Hopkins makes Cooking for Solutions go and Helaine Tregenza is an organic produce gatekeeper. Chapter president and Le Cordon Bleu alum Mary Chamberlin, like many of the ladies of taste, has all sorts of pots simmering, as a pro chef, caterer, cooking instructor and author of the recent Traveling Soup Pot (the salmon laxsoppa she brought was slurped up with enthusiasm).
Their primary purpose, education, speaks to the smarts of the subspecies. To honor the epic enlightening force that was Auguste Escoffier, their priorities are scholarships for local ladies to pursue higher flavor training and foundational things like the raised bed gardens at Junipero Serra School. They invite in members by way of qualifications, not quantity. Ten years in food service – plus high community standing – comes standard.
“We go for quality,” Chamberlin says. That translates to the food and wine too, judging from the scrumptious (non-medicinal) hemp squares and the tropical crab cakes. Fellas, take note.
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If pressed to pick between bacon or hot sauce – just one?! – forever, I chose bacon. Given the fact that I go through Tapatío the way Tom Brady gets after Gatorade, that’s saying something.
So I’ve watched pork popularity soar (Chicken-fried bacon! Bacon-stuffed pork loin! Bacon stuffed animals!) with a full heart. I’ve taken joy in seeing Grilling.com writer Clint Cantwell make a Thanksgiving “pig” out of pure pork, with hot links for legs, a sausage body, ham ears, Vienna sausage nose, pork rind tail and bacon wrap. I’ve hoped the trend would stick long enough for more to love the real white meat as much as me.
I found a dude who does, no trend needed: Chef Jason Balestrieri of Cantinetta Luca (625-6500). Last week he had mad expressions of oink obsession going at his annual La Maialata (Dinner of the Pig). First up: the pleasantly surprising prosciutto martini ($12), a slightly sweet, mild and smooth sipper made with meat-wrapped olives and Italian vodka. It’s not on the menu, but for those in the know, it’s available by request.
Other highlights: the earthy fireworks of flavor found in Balestrieri’s cotechino sausage served with a sweet chutney and Umbrian lentils ($8); the braised pork cheek ravioli with chanterelles and Swiss chard ($18); and the must-do olive oil and caramel sea salt gelato desserts, a full-blown bargain at $5 each. It was all good enough that we didn’t tempt the signature housemade salumes, which deserve their status as the place’s signature plate. The pop music playing felt like a funky fit, but that served to focus my attention on the divine porcine even more.
• Show me a better quesadilla than the melty and moist sand dab dilla ($9) at Turtle Bay Taqueria (333-1500/Monterey, 899-1010/Seaside) and I’ll eat a tub of TBT’s lethal “dog’s nose” habanero sauce.
• Uh oh – Big Sur Chanterelle Cook-off (667-0241) is in jeopardy pending a venue, says shroom cap Toby Rowland-Jones.
• The matchup of 10-3 division leaders was a tasty one before Cy Yontz decided to roll out First Ever Monday Night Football tailgate party at Rio Grill (625-5436). While the Niners and Steelers trade paint Dec. 19, $25 earns all-you-can-eat ribs, heirloom bean chili, tri-tip sandwiches, chili-cheese fries, fingering potato salad, smoked mango-habanero hot wings, bone-in venison short ribs and epic chip dips.
•On weekends a beer and a burger are $10 at one of my favorite lunch spots, Monterey’s Trailside Cafe (649-8600), and that includes new seasonal drafts like Affligem Noel, Newcastle Winter IPA, Anchor Christmas and Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale, plus fries or salad. Also nice: Veggers can tab a black bean burger instead of beef.
• Bet your overalls Central Coast Young Farmers and Ranchers know how to have a good time – and they always seem to incorporate a good cause. Come 6:30-8:30pm Thursday, Dec. 22, at Casa Sorrento (757-2720) it’s a holiday food drive with drink specials, live music and a chance to chip in canned food donations.
•The first “Sips and Sweets”: Caraccioli Cellars (622-7722) pours Brut Cuvee, Brut Rose, and two Pinot Noirs individually paired with Moonstruck Chocolates, plus Roger Hernandez plucks guitar at the Carmel tasting 6-10pm Friday, Dec. 16, $15, RSVP.
•“Un-corked” pops Sundays at Edgar’s in Quail Lodge (620-8910/624-2888): No corkage fee on bottles to pair with the fireplaces (indoors and out) and Chef Julio Ramirez’s new seasonal menu of things like cider-glazed roasted pork, Guinness pappardelle and Bloody Mary sea scallops.
• “The fear of women,” Gelett Burgess said, “is the beginning of knowledge.”