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Let's eat.

From Big Sur's killer cliff-clinging eateries to Salinas' unparalleled produce, this blog aims to sniff out all things Monterey County can stomach, via picture and prose, curiosity and appetite, hand and mouth.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Food Love a la Pebble Beach

The French master himself has said it so many times: "Food is love. Sharing food is sharing love." Fittingly, PBF&W is showing Jaques Pepin (above, pictured during his demo this afternoon) the love, honoring him in an unprecedented way at this pinch-me-it-can't-be festival—he just accepted a reserve bottle of some of the best Roerderer bubbly in the business during his caviar cooking demo as part of the honors, which include a special dinner anchored by epic-in-their-own-right Charlie Trotter, Ming Tsai, Ken Frank and Gina DePalma tomorrow. A well-deserved nod to his trend-setting in creativity, accessibility and overall delicious-making ability happens tomorrow.

But before that came lunch. This was the opener for the "By Land or By Sea: The Delicacy Lunch Featuring Russian River Valley Wines," a cauliflower panna cotta with scallops and salmon roe, with a rhubarb foundation.

And before that happened, Ming Tsai and Thomas Keller did some dynamite demos (while various wine tastings lavished attendees with their own surreal sensations nearby) on the Spanish Bay grounds in big tents erected solely for this event.

Tsai has some zingers. On Iron Chef: "I can't go down as the Chinese guy who loses at [preparing] duck! I wouldn't be able to go into a Chinese restaurant. 'Kids! We're getting burritos.'"

On Neptune Seafood in L.A.: "Their live king crab is one of the best things you can eat in this life."

On crab cakes: "Julia Childs would say this about burgers. Pack loosely. Let the spaces fill with juices. Same with crab cakes."

On oil: "Olive oil has a lower smoking temperature. And it's expensive. So canola can be just what you want...test oil first—try something besides the cake because that would be a waste. Like a bread crumb. You need good heat for the crust that seals in the flavor."

On avocados: "Avocados are nature's butter. I can't think of a better thing that comes out of the ground."

On chicken: "This is a place where you want to 'one-up'—dry aged bone in ribeye can be significantly more expensive, but organic, kosher chicken might be $3.50 a pound instead of $2.50. It's worth it."

On Chinese: "That was my first Fonzie impression. Don't think I'll do that ever again. And Chinese can't do other things. Like wear cowboy hats."

On chicken and Chinese: "I'm a dark meat guy. Legs and thighs. There is a reason they are fattier: skin all the way around. The difference in flavor [compared to chicken breast] is astronomical. And it's a Chinese dream: better and cheaper?! How can you not use it?"

On Thanksgiving: "Always brine your turkey. Twenty-four hours. In kosher salt and sugar—add them until the water tastes like sweet sea water. In a cooler. And keep it cold with non-toxic frozen gel packs in the cooler."

On Thomas Keller: "He's a different level chef. We are craftsmen. He is an artist."

Speaking of...Keller was doing his demo deal next door. I just caught the tail-end. "Only two things enhance food: Salt and acid," he said. "People thing 'Salt and pepper are seasoning,' but salt enhances flavor. Pepper changes it."

Then came the ludicrous lunch. Michael Ginor of Hudson Valley Foie Gras reinvented sustenance as far as this quazi-foodie's concerned with a pâté brulée, duck confit brouille (above foreground) and duck procuitto charcuterie plate (which overachieved further with an excellent Thomas George Estates Chardonnay)....

...before Roy Yamaguchi dropped this lobster pierogi with caviar, chanterelle and morel helping the cause. Aloha means "Hello" (and "I'm going to eat you").

Then squab, roasted, with chamomile, and sublime pistachio cream sauciness and heiloom carrots and crispy truffle flakes. Tender as a first teenage love and just as tasty. Particularly with '07 Guyzer Block Syrah from Davis Family Vineyards.

And dessert from Pebble Beach Company's own oracle of sweetness, Jonathan Hui: milk chocolate mousse built like a delicious brick with pear gelee inside (above), pistachio gelato made in house with a pistash brittle topper and warm sour cherry almond cake. It's like damn, dude, nicely done.

At a post-lunch demo, self-taught Charlie Trotter had some stirring insights himself. My favorite riff: "To be a great chef you can read lots of cookbooks, filet fish [professionally], treat leg of lamb…but if you don't taste, taste, taste, you're nothing," he said. "Like Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, who shot free throw after free throw, thousands, you start to feel it. You have to practice. [Then] you understand nuance. You interpret. Like the 'mind's eye,' there's a palate's eye. I haven't tasted this dish yet but [because of that practice] I can smell it I know I have to 'goose' it up a little bit."

Pepin was up next, dishing laughs with his daughter Claudine and blowing minds with caviar treatments paired with Cristal. (Paging heaven: We're fine here.)

In short, serious salivation activation on the premises. Onward.