A Taste of the Highlights from First Big Sur Fungus Face-off
January 15, 2013
One of the co-hosts and emcees of the first Big Sur Foragers Festival, Wendie Brodie, knows her way around the finer foods in life—the local celeb chef has tasted her way through some of the world's better restaurants and cheffed up delish dishes in her swanky Carmel Highlands home with Julia Child.
So when she evaluates epicurean experiences she carries some credibility.
"Big Sur," she told the group gathered on the ample Ventana Inn & Spa patio above the Pacific for the climactic Fungus Face-off last weekend, "has made us feel second to none."
Yes, Big Sur can do that, what with the migrating grey whales providing escorts up Highway 1 and the towering redwoods providing perspective on our small place in the world—and a place for mouthwatering mushrooms to grow.
She might've been talking about the hospitality from Ventana and the Big Sur Health Center, but she could've been talking about the foraged ingredients that made the tastes from the three hour event last days in tastebud memory banks.
Some of the highlights:
The divine little gougère puffs filled with chanterelle mousse from Big Sur Bakery's Michelle Rizzolo and Philip Wojtowicz—earthy, textural, indulgent, bite-sized—were so good I could've eaten a bucket of them. They deservedly took Best Vegetarian dish.
Fernwood's Scott McMullen won the new-and-different "Most Easily Adapted to Home Cooking" category with a bread pudding packed with wild mushroom-banana squash and goat cheese, but I thought the Big Sur Taphouse forager French dip—with luxurious chanterelles stacked on thin sliced beef and bathed in chanterelle au jus with black sage and chanterelle salt—was more deserving in that slot. Nice one, Enrique Esparza and Steve Mayer. Either dish, though, the hardest part is scoring some mushroom jewels or finding a willing fungus hunter.
Ripplewood's Carl Shadwell got some buzz—and Most Creative—for a Meyer lemon-lavendar-local honey ice cream with a mini chanterelle cream cookie platform.
Sherry Gladstone and Mark Marron of Big Sur Affair Catering upstaged the ranks of standout wineries (Pessagno's Pinots pairing best with the mushrooms, if I may) with their now-storied chanterelle-infused vodka martini, which won Most Inventive Use, and even paired it with fresh local baby Dungeness crab cake in a chanterelle poblano sauté. Yummer.
Coast Gallery's Matt Farmer did a roasted garlic take on chanterelle bisque that came off a little funky but deserves cred for eschewing cream for a healthier thickening from rice instead.
THe team from Nepenthe teamed with The Cultured Abalone Farm on an abalone-porcini fritter that tasted better than it looked—and thanks to little seaweed-pickleweed accents it took Most Artistic Presentation.
Carmel Valley Ranch's Tim Wood had the most daring dish, one that seized upon some gorgeous Santa Cruz Mountains matsutakes, and one that paid big flavor dividends. He marinated them—typically chefs shy away from anything but the purest presentations—and layered their meaty glory on crostini with roasted garlic, shaved black truffle (the guy's blessedly relentless with the truffle) and the ranch's own salt. Wowser. That took both the people's choice for Best Feature dish and Best Dish Using Wine.
With around a dozen wineries joining chefs under tents donated by A to Z Tent Rentals—in alphabetical order, Baker and Brain, Calcareous, Comanche Cellars, Chapellet, Chesebro Wines, Mesa del Sol, McIntyre Vineyards, Morgan Winery, Pessagno Wines, Silvestri and Scheid—the tastes were up to the spellbinding (and sunny) vista, which ran from green mountain ridges to the hypnotic horizon.
The modest but immensely satisfying and enlightening afternoon bodes well for consequent sequels. Most satisfying, though, was knowledge that entirety of the proceeds would go to the health center, which is about as crucial to Big Sur as any entity there. In other words, second to none.