Leon Panetta on restaurants, Pebble Beach Food & Wine on the horizon.
Thursday, March 15, 2012
You heard it here first: If it weren’t for a certain family restaurant in Monterey, Osama bin Laden might still be alive.
At least that’s my takeaway from a speech last week by Monterey High grad and U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. Amid the butter-poached lobster, forkable filet, torrential bidding and are-you-kidding auction – and the whirlwind of who’s who – at last weekend’s 20th annual Ted Balestreri National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation dinner at Spanish Bay, longtime Balestreri pal Panetta talked about the importance of the hospitality industry to his own development.
“My parents had a restaurant in Monterey,” he said. “I washed dishes. My parents believed child labor is required.”
In other words, before he could become the guy who offed bin Laden, before he could direct the CIA, before he could steer Bill Clinton’s staff, before he could represent Cali in Congress, he had to learn the hard work and critical thinking only a local kitchen can teach.
The comment of the night, though, came at his conclusion: “The fact that we have young men and women willing to give their life for everything he or she loves makes them heroes. In [D.C.] we need to look at what these kids do. If [lawmakers] made half the sacrifice to govern, it would be a great country.”
He also connected restaurants to our wider well-being. “National security depends on a strong military, but also on strong diplomacy and on a strong economy,” he said. “You make a great contribution to the economy, so you make a strong contribution to national security.”
Connectivity was a theme that carried the night, as everyone from Chris Shake to Dick Marriott shelled out for items including whoah! wine bundles, dinner with Wolfgang Puck and paella for 40 at Pessagno, all to boost a program called Prostart, which trains local high schoolers in cheffing and management.
One auction item reminded the audience of a macro-event just around the culinary corner: Two magnum passes to the fifth Pebble Beach Food & Wine April 12-15, which went for $2,800.
The lineup is as head-spinning as ever. When Michelin three-star chefs Daniel Boulud and Christopher Kostow do a mini-Mount Rushmore of talent and execution on Friday, it’ll be only one of seven different options at that moment alone. Elsewhere Charles Phan, Roy Yamaguchi and Sang Yoon will be Cooking Beyond Fusion, Farewell to Foie Gras will star Incanto’s offal ace Chris Cosentino, Joe’s Stone Crab chef André Bienvenu and Hudson Valley Foie Gras’s Michael Ginor, and a South by Southwest lunch features Dean Fearing, Tim Love, John Sedlar and Casey Thompson in one zesty, big-eating tribute to Texas ($200 each). Then there’s also a Belgian Beer Lunch, Stars of Los Angeles with the best from Spago, Bouchon and Providence and even a Vineyard, Farm and Sea meal at 1833 with Levi Mezick, Tim Wood, Craig von Foerster and Ben Spungin.
At other points in the weekend, Iron Chef Dinner ($500) drops Jose Garces, Masaharu Morimoto, Michael Symon and Geoffrey Zakarian on the plate. The tickets to a Tribute to a Legend: Thomas Keller dinner come only with the imperial ticket package. Up and comers Joshua Skenes (Saison), Perry Hoffman (étoile) and Mark Murphy (Landmarc) rank among the hotter names making PBFW debuts. Veteran all-worlders like Jacques Pépin remain linchpins – and remarkably accessible at the grand tastings ($195), which deliver 30 celeb chefs and 200 wineries each.
“For the first few years, you’re new,” Bernahl says. “Now, people we look up to in the food world say, ‘This is the event we want to be at.’ It’s amazing to see the grassroots support we’re getting – from the highest levels.”
• Here comes foie gras’ last stand, and no one better to make it with than French chefs. Wednesday, March 21, that means foie salad, seared foie with pear, foie-stuffed quail, foie profiterolles and more at Andre’s Bouchée ($100/six courses, 626-7880).
• Fear not. The ABC sign at beloved Stone Creek Kitchen (393-1042) doesn’t reflect any real change. They’ve merely incorporated their partnership for tax purposes and needed to transfer the liquor license (they’re now an Inc. instead of an LLC). More good news: They are putting in a tasting bar for folks to sip from the wine and beer collections (and/or eat lunch or dinner). And they’ve got corned beef and Irish beers for St. Paddy’s.
• We Cooperative, the local-farm boosters who brought you pop-up stuff like Big Night at Carmel Belle, is teaming up with Local Catch Monterey Bay (see story, next page) to make local produce and sundries available for pick-up at the same time. Visit wecooperative.com for more.
• Local photog to the rock gods Tom O’Neal is pairing Rolling Stones and Joni Mitchell stories with an art show and fine food from Chef Johnny DeVivo at TusCA (657-6675) on Friday, March 16 ($65 includes drinks, snacks and a 20 percent donation to Youth Arts Collective). Swing by – and buddy up with – McIntyre Vineyards Tasting Room next door to TusCA for a fat discount on the event.
• All organic Heller Estate (659-6220) has a St. Paddy’s weekend deal: Buy a case of “green-grown” 2008 Dancers Meritage ($288), 2009 Chenin Blanc ($276) or 2009 Chardonnay ($264) and get a second case for $1. More Carmel Valley Irishness: A Lucky Day With Joullian noon-4pm Saturday, with free barrel tasting, hors d’oeuvres and live music at the tasting room (659-8100).
• Another St. Patrick’s play: Todd Fisher’s Irish beer tasting menu at Sticks (647-7470): things like Murphy’s Red Ale with lobster fritter, red cabbage kraut and horseradish creme fraiche ($48/four courses).
• “If you’re lucky enough to be Irish,” goes one of many Gaelic truths, “then you’re lucky enough.”