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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.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Democracy of Delicious

Saturday at Spanish Bay the Panetta Institute honored journalists David Brooks, Cokie Roberts and Tom Brokaw for their service of democracy with a big Pebble Beach crystal glasses and heartfelt appreciation.

The greater honor, though, might have been a seat at the tables where the top chefs from the Los Angeles Lakers, Facebook and the Pebble Beach Company all collaborated on a blockbuster—and surprisingly creative—spread. (Buffalo tenderloin carpaccio and kimchee sliders?!)

Local legend Bert Cutino led Weekly writer/lover of democracy/devotee of good food Walter Ryce through the annals of the operation. Here's what Ryce came back with (read his discussion of the honorees' remarks here):

In the moments before the start of the Panetta Institute for Public Policy Jefferson-Lincoln Awards gala at the Inn as Spanish Bay on Saturday, “Dinner Expediter” Bert Cutino (above right) is gregarious, welcoming, and not at all nervous.

“Here we are, another show,” the Sardine Factory co-founder tells photographer Randy Tunnell. “Everyone knows what to do; they know the drill.”

He’s so unharried that he offers to take me behind the scenes to see the machinery of an operation that, in two hours, is going to deliver more than 440 four-course meals to a well-heeled capacity crowd.

He walks through empty ballroom, immaculately appointed with wine glasses, place settings, centerpieces, candles and gift boxes—44 10-tops, all told—with enthusiasm, talking as we go through a door in the back that opens to the staging/plating area, where some of his team are prepping the hors d’oeuvres that are currently circulating among the pre-gala reception.

They include confit of duck on pepper buttermilk biscuit with huckleberry jam and blue cheese, and incongruous but intriguing buffalo tenderloin carpaccio and kimchee sliders.

As he navigates us to his bustling kitchen—which reminds me of the seminal Copacabana scene in Goodfellas, which might explain why Cutino conjures Paul Sorvino— he says, “Each course plays to the chefs’ strengths. We’re contrasting classical and experimental. We’re not held back by ethnic tradition. Years ago it would be suicide. But talents want to be creative. The ultimate judge, though, is the consumer. If they don’t like it, fuggedaboutit.” He laughs heartily.

That talent, on this night includes a deep (and all volunteer) roster of L.A. Lakers Executive Chef (and committed environmentalist) Jeffrey Mora, former Google and current Facebook Executive Chef Josef Desimone, Pebble Beach Resort’s own Corporate Chef John Hui, and more than a baker’s dozen other esteemed colleagues, from El Camino Hospital’s Jacques Wilson to Johnson & Wales University’s James E. Griffin.

Together they constructed a dinner course that followed the hors d’oeuvres with a seasonal offering of soup of local porcini mushroom fume, to a terrine of Castroville artichokes and fresh beets (using 1,500 of them, hand peeled), alighting on the main course of roasted center-cut filet mignon Oscar with crab lump meat and asparagus bread pudding, ending on an indulgent "white chocolate fantasy" of white chocolate mousse filled with dulce de leche with warm cherry and pistachio compote.

Many of the vendors who provided the food did so for free. And for their own free and valuable labors, the chefs were marched through the ballroom, filled with guests prior to the ceremony, lead by bagpiper Becky Jenkins.

Democracy, it turns out, tastes damn good.