Five For Five
Defining moments from Pebble Beach Food & Wine’s first half decade, and how Miami crab fits in.
Thursday, April 5, 2012
It’s short of 6 on Saturday at Joe’s Stone Crab in South Beach Miami, Fla., and in the 1,000-square-foot waiting room – and the bigger bar beyond – the energy and tight elbow room better resemble Friday’s The Naked and Famous indie rock show at midtown’s Grand Central than any restaurant I’ve seen. Even with seating for 450, the wait is already climbing toward an hour and a half in a hurry.
I’m told veterans leverage everything from political power and sweet talk to intimidation and old-fashioned cash to shorten that wait.
Only I’m not too intimidating nor too buttery with palm grease, so I go with a Central Coast approach: I report to the host that I was referred here by the people at Pebble Beach Food & Wine, and would love to dive into the goods from a Miami rep at the April 12-15 event, Joe’s Executive Chef Andre Bienvenu.
Suddenly the wait cracks open like their signature thick-shelled, super-meaty, sweet-and-juicy stone crab. (Delivered to Monterey County doors, albeit with a few food miles, at www.joesstonecrab.com.)
One of the locals I’m with, a lawyer who eats here with peers and judges during the see-and-be-seen lunch hour, seems impressed.
“That was fast,” she says.
In other words, check your metric. Whether by national attention (USA Today, New York Times, Time), chef excellence (legendary French chef Hubert Keller often isn’t even the most celebrated Keller present) or even reservation traction at faraway Miami’s most popular restaurant ever, every standard shows PBF&W, entering its fifth year next weekend, has made it big like its 66,000-square-foot Lexus Grand Tasting tent.
Just the tip of this year’s talent iceberg reveals how many choice chefs make sure they’re available mid-April. The first six listed, alphabetically, for just the first open-to-the-public event alone (Thursday’s Lexus Opening Night Reception, $250), are Michelle Bernstein, Daniel Boulud, Michael Chiarello, Sam Choy, Todd English and Dean Fearing. They have as many Michelins as the tires’ cartoon. Then there are another 20-plus like Francois Payard and Jacques Pépin where that come from, making the opening more chef-stuffed than the grand tastings. More than 120 wineries are rolling in too, from Duckhorn to Domaine Chandon.
Bienvenu of Joe’s – where the house wine is by our own Hahn Winery – will figure into the flavor at the celebrity chef and winemaker golf tournament Thursday, Farewell to Foie Gras lunch Friday, then the Lexus Grand Tasting Saturday. If his key lime pie, stuffed clams and roasted tomatoes are any indication, there are epic eats en route – Miami’s first “eating house” isn’t about to enter its 100th season later this year for nothing.
To know where you’re going – and what you’re eating and drinking – it helps to know some possibilities, and where PBF&W’s been. Hence my “Four-Day Doosie” potential roadmap (hit the blog, www.mcweekly.com/edible) and a look at five key events that brought five years in with a flourish, below. But now – before you read further – check out www.pebblebeachfoodandwine.com, as everything but the grand tastings should sell out by this weekend.
1. Mortgage Mastering
PBF&W wouldn’t have popped if Masters of Food and Wine hadn’t left Carmel Highlands after years of storied foodie fantasy. But what gave the early days added daring: Co-founder Rob Weakley and wife/CLM accountant Michaela borrowed big against their house and sold much of a deep wine cellar – “like selling your kids,” says Rob – to rent an office and hire Senior Event Coordinator Tonyia Sampognaro.
2. Expanding Appetites
Normally billionaires don’t interrupt my lunch, but PBF&W III was no normal event. I was grazing through greatness – think lobster pierogi with caviar and chanterelle from Roy Yamaguchi – against the backdrop of a postcard-quality Pacific at Roy’s when Dan Snyder, owner of the NFL’s Washington Redskins, among other holdings, asked who I was writing for (the answer, of course: you). I didn’t have to ask him why he and a couple of his business partners were a table away: His Dick Clark Productions was quietly finalizing a major investment in fledgling Coastal Luxury Management, the then-Carmel-based firm behind the event. And while that buy-in hasn’t changed the make-up of PBF&W, it has provided fundamental connective and monetary means to give CLM its other pieces, including 1833 and L.A. Food & Wine, which both made monster debuts last year. Meanwhile, as CLM helps Dick Clark with its Golden Globes and Academy of Country Music Awards and such, more celebrity comes to them, many of whom will likely find their way to Pebble at some point.
3. Grander Gets Grander
So many beautiful bells (fashion shows) and mouthwatering whistles (caviar bars) have been added to the midday Saturday-Sunday grand tastings that it’s hard to isolate which bonus was the first – perhaps it was the addition of the Stella beer garden with the signature glasses given away in felt sacks year two. But whichever one it was, it provided an early indication that there would be no shortage of improvements PBF&W players would make to the already expansive epicurean adventure, and beyond. Just last year, Patrón lounges and exotic salt tastings and rare bourbon flights were joined by world-class wheels-of-steel-spinning DJ Vinroc. “Some events like this try to get bigger,” event co-founder David Bernahl says. “It’s big enough. We want to make what we have better.”
4. Jacques’ Position
It was 2010 when Gregory Roederer gifted Jacques Pepin a magnum of double-triple-secret reserve Cristal as part of the first lifetime achievement honor PBF&W bestowed. Then came a special dinner anchored by epic-in-their-own-right Charlie Trotter, Ming Tsai, Ken Frank and Gina DePalma. Last year the assembled chefs toasted Tom Colicchio, this year it’s Thomas Keller. By honoring the past – and building upon its foundation – the Best Foodie Event in the West sows deeper connections with and between many of its stars, ensuring a robust future.
5. Lexus Nexus
The whole Lexus Culinary Masters title was new, but these were well-known names already: Boulud, Dean Fearing of Fearing’s, Chiarello of Bottega, Christopher Kostow of the Restaurant at Meadowood, Masaharu Morimoto of Morimoto and Michael Symon of Lola. Last year, as winds whipped the tent walls, each of the six legends whipped through demos designed to flesh out the six tastes (bitter, salty, sour, astringent, sweet, spicy/pungent and umami). It was a spectacle to behold by itself, plus attendees tasted the results and sipped Roederer too. (The six also did a blockbuster dinner.) But more spellbinding might be what it hints at – while this six-pack experiments with various projects, what teamwork will come next as PBF&W ages further?
In another demo later that weekend in the same space, a fiesty Guy Fieri asked, “Has this been a party or what?” The answer was obvious. Expect the same one for 2012, and an essentially flawless five-for-five for the ever-burgeoning PBF&W dynasty.
• Catch this 22: To celebrate its 22nd b-day, Cibo Ristorante (649-8151) is dropping 22 percent off checks for anyone who mentions the anniversary all April long.
• Another tasty 22: Starting Earth Day (April 22), Whole Foods Market will no longer carry wild-caught fish rated red by Seafood Watch – and not just here, within swimming distance of the Aquarium, but nationally.
• Hit p. 44 to check out Stuart Thornton’s review of celebrated foodie flick Jiro Dreams of Sushi, showing at Osio Cinemas starting Friday, April 6.
• Tasty collaboration as Esteban Restaurant and Joyce Winery get a wine dinner going 6pm Wednesday, April 11: crab salad, braised pork belly, roast duck, lamb roulade and goat cheese cake make up the five courses to pair with JW’s best (375-0176, $68++).
• Crossroads Carmel donated tix to the Iron Chef Dinner (which is already sold out) and Opening Night Reception at PBF&W (see story, this page) to the SPCA. Bid on them, get a write-off, and help your kitten karma at www.spcamc.org/auction.html.
• Bet you a kale chip I’m not alone in hoping the monthly Independent Marketplace at the Independent Sand City 4-9pm Thursday (April 5) is as cool as advertised – organic greens, sustainable meats and seafood, food carts, local jams and honey, art, live DJ action, beer and wine, Henry Miller Library books, records and film. Look for a report from its debut on the blog.
• April is National Poetry Month (and International Guitar Month, Keep America Beautiful Month, Child Abuse Awareness Month, National Anxiety Month, National Humor Month, National Welding Month and National Garden Month). Drop a haiku on the Wild Thyme Deli & Cafe (884-2414) Facebook page by April 30 and the best one wins a $40 gift certificate. As I heard from a 5-7-5 friend when I sent word the contest was go: “It is so-o on/ Good food puts me in the mood/ to woo with haiku.”
• From Wallace Stevens: “A poet looks at the world the way a man looks at a woman.”