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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.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Glorious Harvestness Happens

If there's one word to describe the second edition of Harvest Carmel, that'd be easy. Overwhelming.

Not in a bad way. No no no. But for its supposed status as a little sibling to the Pebble Beach Food & Wine, this event throws even more diverse activities at its audience, from internationally touring rock talent to eco-minded finger painting to barbecue seminars to breast-cancer-battling cocktails to the West's best wines to Zagat-decorated chefs. Sheesh.

"It's almost like it takes people a couple of years to figure out how to enjoy everything," event co-founder David Bernahl told me as he hustled to (and from) Harvest to a massive Meals on Wheels benefit production with Wolfgang Puck in L.A. each night of the two-day event.

WAR didn't take much effort to enjoy.

The all-smiles alliance had as much fun as the crowd in swinging from their under-appreciated catalog of funk to their as-popular-as-ever "Cisco Kid" and "Spill the Wine."

At least 300 voices the field over joined in on "Why Can't We Be Friends."

But no one danced like the super-talent in the turquoise, who even got a turn on stage.

At the MeEarth Hilton Bialek Habitat area, student art from recycled and scavenged materials rocked their own (break) dance moves. Kids big and small dug in compost to check out wriggly worms (under 12 come in free)...
slapped painted palms on a illustration of Earth...

and got to pet a baby cow.

This cutie got into her own unique kiddy activity come day 2, adding a little tambourine to The Gin Blossoms anthems. The 90s buzz band hit its classics but also unloaded a full dose of originals from its new CD, No Chocolate Cake, which just came out this morning.

Robin Wilson was a force of charisma, swigging Red Bull-vodka from a Gatorade bottle, high-fiving the crowd and distributing tambourines.

He even mugged with sleek cougars and little fans alike. It was that intimate a show.

"This is a fancier crowd than we're used to," he said between songs. "We're just working-class guys from Tempe, Ariz."

As hard as it was to tear oneself away from the super-accessible stage, too much more inspiration lay everywhere on a field that doubles the size of the PBF&W Grand Tasting tent. Guests almost need both days (and two stomachs, and two livers) to get to the 200 wineries and 50 chefs.

Just the organizers' projects represent a small galaxy of flavors—the same Coastal Luxury Management team that founded Harvest in the wake of TomatoFest had its executive chef and chief of the Cannery Row Brewing Company kitchen Mark Ayers (right) pumping out absurdly good mini crabcakes.

Good news: Their bigger iteration is on the menu at CRBC.

Same goes for the heroic carrot cake.

CLM restaurants director Gary Obligacion was all grins at his post repping CRBC sister 1833 Restaurant, still under construction in the Stokes Adobe.

The summertime melon gazpacho with awesome texture from marcona almonds, pistachios and peas knocked socks off—and bodes well for a ever-shifting seasonal menu I'm told is rounding into shape as they survive building code checks and keep assembling the redone 1833 kitchen in downtown Monterey.

The rabbit ballontine with pickled fennel relish was also worth some mmm-mmmm (and a picture).

One epicurean revelation: Brian Overhauser of Wrath Vineyards, whose Peking duck confit taco with meat from Metzer Farm stole the first day's taste award and the $1,500 check that comes with it.

It was a wowser. I could've inhaled a dozen, but there was way too much other taste to get after. Overhauser is planning collaborations with Hahn down in South County to bring the forgotten corner of the county culinary credibility it hasn't enjoyed previously. Stay tuned for word on the center they're putting together in 2011.

Hot name Tyler Stone did these apricot and raspberry wonders...

and mingled at Saturday's afterparty, fitting with a theme of accessible star power that lasted all weekend—where people are coming away with a full belly, dazzled palate and a story of chumming with A-listers.

The afterparties are informal affairs that might be the best part of the day, particularly because you can pluck from the wonderfully wide array of top wines leftover from the day, all at one table.

Rob Baker of Me and the Hound slept overnight on the lawns so he could tend his slow-smoked pulled pork, which was again a home run.

One of the coolest components I saw was the electric pink cactus pear cocktails Salinas' own Andy Boy was doing by the Shoreline-sized stage.

Andy Boy reps distributed ribbons to bump up breast cancer awareness and told me their ag giant has donated $1 million to research to date, and continues to plop pink emblems on their boxes.

Equally inspiring: word from Dory Ford that his Aqua Terra sustainable/healthy school lunch program is expanding beyond Stevenson Lower to Chartwell and All Saints. Better yet, he says he's meeting with lawmakers to discuss subsidizing the meals so more than private and charter well-to-dos can dig in.

More reports from the field soon. In closing this peek at the party I will say this: Yes, the Harvestness hits hard and happy. Start resting up for next year.