A star leaves Big Sur orbit; beer haikus are the best.
Thursday, June 14, 2012
The other night a line cook asked for a night off so he could attend a baptism, which isn’t out of the ordinary.
But something much less common happened next: The cook who filled in for him was his executive chef.
Rarer still: The shift would be the chef’s last on the line.
When the greats go, it’s nice to see them do so gracefully, and with class like that. Craig von Foerster, the guy who’s literally and figuratively cheffed at the top of the local food cliff at Big Sur’s Sierra Mar (667-2800), is leaving the Post Ranch property after 16 years as exec chef and 19 overall.
The exit seems to involve a little of that into-the-sunset sensation too, seeing as it sends him to a Springfield, Missouri farm his wife (and big-inspiration-herself) Tamara inherited, and toward dreams of a small restaurant of his own, with maybe a prep cook and a dishwasher and him preparing each dish personally.
“The farm came to us for a reason,” he says. “Once we get it going I’d like to open a small farm-to-table restaurant, not just the vegetables, but our own beef, pork, charcuterie and cheese.
“But it’s not easy leaving here. I’ve been incredible lucky to be chef at Post Ranch, an incredible place with incredible people.”
Some of those people teared up as they gathered on that last night (his final official day is this Sunday, June 17).
“I couldn’t hold it in,” says Executive Sous Chef Matt Millea. “He’s a mentor, a friend, a brother, the best chef Sierra Mar’s ever had, and ever will have. I’m not the kind of guy who cries, but I lost it. So did Craig.”
I almost taste tears when I think about the abalone in brown butter he cheffed at the first L.A. Food & Wine, or his words-get-in-the-way scallop and ahi tuna trios – we’re talking yuzu and wasabi; sesame and orange zest; and knock-your-socks-off sea salt-quail egg on the tuna – eaten as slowly as possible while looking out over the pearly Pacific.
But it’s more than amazing dishes. It’s the early adopter approach to the best Big Sur and Peninsula purveyors that made the daily rotating menus he introduced so heavenly (“His name’s not on the menu, the food is,” Millea says). It’s the fact that, with Tamara’s help, he sprouted the lush Sierra Mar gardens and self-published the much-respected Sierra Mar Cookbook. Or – perhaps most impressively – that he developed a kitchen that enjoys unheard of staying power, with many staffers around a decade plus.
Former Nepenthe chef Todd Williamson has worked with him since the ’80s – and enticed him to join the Sierra Mar crew.
“He has the most unbelieveable palate,” Williamson says. “It’s hard to explain… he’s like kung fu, always progressing, mutating into better work.”
There is comfort. Millea, who conjures his own array of amazing tastes, will be interim chef and remains a contender for the toque (and leadership is obsessed with finding someone of von Foerster’s caliber). And guys like Allejandro Verdeja remain linchpins. Verdeja once owned the least glorious gig in kitchen, the night cleaner, before von Foerster made him a dishwasher and then a cook.
“Allejandro was shy and reluctant to become a cook but Craig persisted,” Millea says. “With Craig’s guidance Alex flourished and is now the night sous chef, and has been for nine years. Craig agrees he knows Craig’s food better than Craig.”
We can all agree he’ll be missed. Read more – including word on von Foerster’s commute and its robust rep with Highway patrol – on the blog.
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Beer haikus rule. That was just one filling outcome from the buffet of foodie competitions we hosted on the foodie newsletter, Facebook and the blog last week – caption contests, wine quotes showdowns – with all sorts of event tickets on the line, including a $300 pair to Dinner in the Vineyard.
To compete, follow along the food blog at www.mcweekly.com/edible, by way of the Wednesday foodie newsletter (email email@example.com to sign up) or even the Weekly Facebook page. Next prize: tickets to Wes Anderson’s star-studded Moonrise Kingdom (see four-star story, p. 49) and $10 in the Osio Cinemas cafe. The contest: Name what food deserves its own movie on Facebook.
And here’s a free prize, a look at the best beer haikus submitted (winner got VIP passes to Beer Fest), and three of the best wine quotes (tickets to Carmel Valley Art & Wine):
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Third place, from Kelly Musca:
Bunnies, frogs, kangas
Some cold fresh ones from the fridge
Hops, hops, hops all day
Second place, by Valerie Brower:
beer, beer, everywhere
it’s my party, i don’t care
bong if i want to
And first place, a la drsweetsauce
Chilled beer in our mugs,
Look, the heads so full and thick,
Let’s toast for hair plugs!
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And the wine quotes. “The best use of bad wine is to drive away poor relations.” – French proverb (from “Mich”)
“Compromises are made for relationships… not wine.” – Sir Robert Scott Caywood (from the Weekly’s own, albeit-ineligible-to-win Joel Ede).
And the winner, “Wine is sunlight, held together by water.” – Galileo Galilei (from Laura Williams)
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Toilets took on more significance (“Girl just left porta potty. Sexy thing. Then she asks ‘no place to flush?’”). I hung with the Big Hurt and listened to Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” in a Carmel Valley saloon. I snuck into Cal Stamenov’s vineyard kitchen, gave him a bottle of Boekenoogen and prepped some family-style asparagus. I went to more events and ate more than I might’ve normally because I thought the tweets would be neat, advancing a pattern that was really fun, and likely thoroughly unsustainable.
Yes, I am back on Twitter and detailing days like last Saturday’s 12-event odyssey, from chowders contests to Fifi crab cakes, at least until I drop. Find me exploring along @MontereyMCA.
• Food news that really pops: A study by University of Scranton chemistry professor Joe Vinson – who’s made a habit of finding healthy stuff in unexpected places (like chocolate) – got national attention after he presented findings to the American Chemical Society (ACS) that popcorn carries more good antioxidants (named polyphenols) than fruits and vegetables. Wasn’t news to my pops, though, or at least he doesn’t eat like it. The Coalinga character who never met a stranger – or a student he couldn’t help or a building he couldn’t fix – eats about a big movie bucket a day. Happy Fathers Day, Big Daddy. Let’s go get some oysters.
• Some Father’s Day ideas: Fandango (free drink for Dad), Tarpy’s ($3 beers and ribs), giveaways at Peter B’s (dinners, overnights), wine dinner at Courtside Cafe (with elk loin and Shale Canyon Saturday) and Two Good Rounds: 19th Hole Stories From the World’s Greatest Golfers ($19.95, www.twogoodrounds.com). Author Elisa Gaudet was in town to mingle around AT&T time, gathering treasured golf stories from Arnold Palmer, Graeme McDowell (who won the last U.S. Open here and celebrated at Brophy’s) and Jack Nicklaus, among dozens of pros who also share favorite post-round spots (including the Tap Room), hole-in-one stories and cocktail recipes. Speaking of Nicklaus, he was schmoozing around Pasadera Tuesday with some powerful Chinese friends (see story, p. 8). In other golf news: Monterey Swenson & Silacci (375-2725) is the official florist of the U.S. Open.
•The venerable Whaling Station (373-3778) reveals a design overhaul led by iconic owner John Pisto’s daughter Gia with an invite-only Friday, June 15, soiree off Cannery Row. I like the look of the new bar menu (sausage stuffed olives for $2, two oysters for $3, grilled sardines for $5, among other morsels).
• Last weekend’s Clam Chowder Cook-off verdict (or at least the highlights)… Even though the judges are goofy in the head, justice was nonetheless served: Best of Show was Forge in the Forest (624-2233), which means its new owner-led revitalization – and the dawn of a new day in the kitchen with Chef Jean Paul Peluffo – is a good thing. (And one that welcomes Olivier Portet and Napa’s storied Portet wines for a $75 wine dinner Thursday, June 28.) Classic clam champ: Crabby Jim’s (372-2064) from Fisherman’s Wharf, who also took best presentation. Seafood chowders from Louie Linguini’s (648-8500) and Flaherty’s (625-1500) followed the Forge, and Sysco surprised in the creative category, chased by Stillwater Bar & Grill at Pebble Beach (625-8524).
• Happy birthday Stone Creek Kitchen. You won me $20 the easy way. Hit the blog for a dozen reasons to love the joint, which celebrated a year last week, by Hillary Gibson.
• Something different on the plate: a luau to benefit Sierra LaMar Fund ($10) Saturday, June 16, at Seaside High with Ke Kai O’Uhane Hula Ohana and One A-Chord Band performing, dessert and coffee included and robust island lunch plates for purchase, (916) 217-6498.
• Carmel Valley cheerleader-promoter-force of nature Kiki Wow is IDing July 1 as Plaza Linda’s reopen date in the former Volcano Grill. She calls the kitchen “quarter of a million dollars” – and adds that Bill Lee, who owned VG and now GMs at Sardine Factory (373-3775), has been a saint of a voluntary advisor in getting things squared away.
• Another epic first-Thursday-of-the-month Independent Marketplace last week (next up July 5). That’s far from all that’s fermenting with the folks at Happy Girl Kitchen, who co-founded the never-the-same monthly market. July 6-7, Manresa Restaurant Sous Chef Jacob Pilarski pops back up at their P.G. spot to chef Freewheelin’ Farm produce to benefit youth empowerment outfit FoodWhat ($55, 373-GIRL).
• “Man cannot discover new oceans,” Andre Gide said, “unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”