Well Above Par
Heartfelt benefits, EcoFarm insight and hall-of-famers.
Thursday, February 9, 2012
At press time, Chef Thomas Snyder didn’t know what he was going to make for the third annual Clambake for a Cure Friday.
Here’s two things we do know.
One, judging from the seafood stew ($9), scallops ($16) and octopus confit ($9.50) he does at Esteban (375-0176) in Monterey, whatever clam – (or non-clam) seafood dish he plates will be good. And two, it makes absolute sense he hasn’t been very focused on food.
Snyder’s mom is in the final stages of a battle with a brain tumor, the same sudden and saddening catalyst for the benefit in its beginning. “I hope she makes it to Friday,” he says. This clambake – whose name nods to the Bing Crosby hoedowns of old – began after the small family at Jocelyn Ronen Winery lost its golf-and-wine-loving leader Lonen Curtis. Today his wife Susan and daughter Brandi run the winery and strive to do something for the struggle for a cure with their Golf & Grapes Foundation. This year the event moves to Marina Lounge on Fisherman’s Wharf ($125 deductible, www.clambakeforacure.com).
They’ll have talented help, and not just from 14 wineries that include Morgan, Oh, Scheid, Heller and Kristilynn and a handful of their friends from Napa like Elkhorn Peak, Elizabeth Spencer and Judd’s Hill. The 2004 James Beard Award-winner for Best Chef in the Southwest Luciano Pellegrini – one local palate I trust calls his food “completely sensual” – will be there, as will Top Chef alum Casey Thompson as she awaits the debut of her Napa outpost. The raffle prizes include a magnum package for Pebble Beach Food & Wine, a small cellar of wines and a case of steaks. Local chefs like Dory Ford, Mark Ayers and Tim Wood will join Snyder and a sprinkling of golf names.
Snyder knows at least one quality he’ll carry that came from mom: volunteerism. “I can do more,” he says. “We can do more.” He just signed up for a 100-mile bike ride with Team in Training.
Two more things he’ll carry, and miss dearly: “Her laugh,” he says quietly. “Her smile.”
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Food connects us. And it also heals. At the clambake, it’ll do a little of both. It did that double at the EcoFarm dinners at Happy Girl Kitchen (373-4475).
But first to EcoFarm itself, a ComiCon for organic farmers, only far realer and more flavorful.
Weekly’s environmental reporter Kera Abraham found pioneering Occidental Arts and Ecology Center Director Dave Henson’s keynote terrifying, entertaining, “even hopeful.” If we want to redirect the “approaching asteroid” of peak oil, water crises and global warming, organic farming will help – low – or no-till agriculture, avoiding pesticides and using compost rather than fertilizer helps clean groundwater and foster carbon-sequestering soils. Henson’s “take-homes,” as Abraham distills, will also help: Don’t be too optimistic. Don’t be too pessimistic. Be humble, fight ignorance, and celebrate diversity. (More on the blog.)
Weekly ag writer Sara Rubin found word on food-safety for small farmers to be: “If you have a lot of animals pooping, it’s not a good thing.” (So says Jo Ann Baumgartner, Wild Farm Alliance in Watsonville.) “But organic farmers need not freak out entirely,” Rubin adds. “You don’t need rat poison. The experts recommend perches to encourage raptors.” Meanwhile, the organic industry is bracing for a new federal law that they say will hold them to unreasonable food safety standards. “This whole thing is being driven by the attorneys and insurance companies,” says Dave Runsten, of Community Alliance with Family Farmers. Fortunately there’s a free resource for folks to get ahead on compliance: www.familyfarmed.org.
For my part I found inspiration coming from every direction in the exhibition tent. Because of its ability to absorb trace minerals and nutrients, seaweed can be used to help livestock and pets thrive, to amend soils and to enhance all kinds of cooking (Google Thorvin organic kelps and Maine Coast Sea Vegetables). Certified Organic Business Solutions actually makes USDA record keeping for organic certification easy (really – www.cog-pro.com) and an association called Demeter is making biodynamic certification doable too (www.demeter-usa.org). Local Solar Technologies (421-0440) is introducing a financing plan that renders renewable roof energy surprisingly reasonable.
At Happy Girl, it was a kaleidescope of wholesome tastes and personalities. Matt Millea of Sierra Mar (667-2800) helped Manresa Sous Chef Jacob Pilarski do braised lettuces and chanterelles, seared Brussels sprouts and nettle-stuffed onions, jamalade tarts and heirloom goat’s eye beans, even roasted beet with celery root and seaweed.
Weekly contributor Jamie Collins of Serendipity Farms furnished all the fly produce. Charlie Casio of Sweetwater Farms did insane super-smallplot manchego and chevre. Folks like raw-food freak Kari Bernardi, progressive chef Tim Wood, home farmers and organic pioneers Anton Tymoshenko and Jana Jo William, conscious fashion diva Alicia Petro and all-around local foodie Katie Blandin stirred a whirlwind of positive energy as we sipped Heller wines. And that’s just a few of the good hearts at my table. Poor Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) was simultaneously bitter and relieved he wasn’t sitting with us.
This was the joy of food, not coincidentally all vegetarian, organic and lovingly prepared by people sitting in the room. The closest thing to that type of fun love came with the dancing to Hot Buttered Rum later that Saturday night back at EcoFarm. Some guy from the crowd even slid across the stage on his organically stuffed belly.
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You know you have a dinner designed to honor people who don’t just get the joy of food and hospitality, but get it roaring when a representative from the First Family of Food, the Escoffiers, and giant spoons are both in attendance. Auguste Escoffier wrote the bible on cooking – if you or a chef you know weren’t affected by it, you aren’t really eating – and now his grandson won’t just be talking about his grandpa’s memoir at Mary Chamberlin’s Carmel home on Thursday, he’ll be inducting the newest members of Disciples of Escoffier he hand-picked with a big, fat, French dinner party 6:30pm Sunday, Feb. 12, at Bernardus. He’ll do it in part by dubbing them on the shoulders with a giant wooden spoon.
The local chapter of Les Dames d’ Escoffier hosts with the Bernardus team. After sitting next to him at a James Beard dinner in New York, local cookbook author Chamberlin is buddies with great grandson Michel and the stateside agent for both the family’s foundation and its museum of culinary art.
“Michel comes here every year,” she says. “Stays at our house two to three weeks. It pays off for our chefs. Otherwise he might not be here recognizing them.”
She calls the invite-only ranks of the disciples “the most prestigious group of chefs, winemakers and businessmen from all over the world.”
The local reps are nothing if not impressive. Jeff Jake conducted a model career that elevated Pebble Beach good before taking his ample reputation and tastes to Silverado. Benjamin Brown worked similar magic at Pebble. Cal Stamenov has defined creative and fresh excellence on the Central Coast for Bernardus for years. David Fink of Mirabel Group has changed the face of Carmel flavor through work at Highlands Inn and his own Cantinetta Luca and Aubergine. Percy Whatley has carved out beauty on the plate beneath Half Dome for Awahnee Lodge in Yosemite. And Didier Dutertre’s Bistro Moulin might be my most-recommended restaurant anywhere. 624-0830 for $155 tickets.
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More love on the plate flying around town. Four that caught my eye, all with varying set-menu price points. Carmel Food Company (624-0300) is never open Tuesdays; this Feb. 14 the cozy-charming-spendy spot is for dinner starring chocolate mousse cake ($7), pasta atomica ($26) and beef rouladen “Berlin” ($27), or a prix fixe for $29.
Bistro Moulin (333-1200) offers a special lovers menu for $45 – escargot followed by lobster-chicken crepes, anyone? – that will sell out no problem. Pacific’s Edge (622-5445) already provides sure-fire seduction before they start throwing the oyster trios and John Dory Dungeness crab and truffle gnocchi at you ($125/four courses).
And Restaurant 1833 lays out two choices of heart-tingling treats like caviar in a nest of angel hair pasta and beef stip loin with seared foie gras at $75 and $125 a person. I also like the rolling tastings and pairings River Road wine country’s doing ($30/winos, $15/DDs; 649-WINE) and Aubergine’s aphrodesiacs menu ($99-$125, 624-8578).
Trip over to the blog for more curated choices. And do me a quick favor: remember where there’s good food, by definition, there’s love.
• What a feeling: wrangling a spinach-and-cheese crepe ($4.50) and a bacon-chorizo-egg-mozzarella sandwich ($5.50) through a drive-through window. Such is the 8am existence at Mundos (656-9244) in Monterey. The results vary: I waited 20 minutes and the plain crepe needed fresh herbs, but the “Matador” with chorizo and center-cut bacon on sourdough was textured excellence.
• Good news, wine snobs. We reported Silvestri (659-1700, www.silvestrivineyards.com) is seriously considering a tasting room in Carmel Valley Village, but it’s better than that. Launch date is March 1.
• Tarpy’s Roadhouse (647-1444) remains a top spot for a workday or weekend lunch, especially when balmy winter weather begs for a sunny seat out by the wishing well. I loved the house burger ($9.25) with sauteed mushrooms and onions, applewood bacon and a choice of cheeses – it’s the jalapeño Havarti you want – as much as the uniquely tasty seasoned potato wedges.
• Edgar’s (620-8910) now does “Dine at Dusk” 5-6:30pm Tuesday-Sunday: $14.95++ for soup or salad and a selection of entrées, served with rosemary focaccia and butter plus $5 wines and cocktails. Hit the driving range next door, then the fire-pitted patio.
• Zeph’s (757-3947) is a strategic and well-sourcing spot for Valentine wines. It’s also a silly value when they do tastings like a Zin-Syrah event 5:30pm Thursday, Feb. 16, with music and snacks too ($20 in advance).
• Pajaro Street Grill (783-1235) keeps rolling out new menus. This week they’re joined by double Soju margaritas for $5 and chicken mole plus veggie pie and polenta for $12.
• Lokal in Carmel Valley (659-5886) hoped to be open by Valentine’s. That’s looking less likely. Hit the blog for more insight.
• The man behind the scenes serving coffee in the celebrity tent at the AT&T: Paper Wing Theatre’s own indomitable, insane, charismatic man of drama, LJ Brewer. Somehow that’s perfect.
• “Don’t cry because it’s over,” Dr. Seuss said, “smile because it happened.”