There are top toques, and there are “Top Chefs.”
And all of them, and just about everyone else in-between, were at this past weekend’s first annual Pebble Beach Food & Wine spectacle, where foodies and vino lovers forked over hundreds to thousands of dollars to sip rare wines and to mingle with today’s hottest celebrities: chefs, of course.
Thomas Keller of the French Laundry in Yountville? Check. David Kinch of Manresa in Los Gatos? Check. Ming Tsai of Blue Ginger in Wellesley, Mass.? Check. The legendary Jacques Pepin? Bien sur.
Masaharu Morimoto (below) of “Iron Chef America” fame delighted a lunch crowd with his sophisticated rendition of a classic Asian comfort dish: grilled Kobe beef atop congee. He was so pleased with the results, he couldn’t resist scarfing down a bowl of it, himself.
If at times it seemed like a reunion of Bravo TV’s popular “Top Chef” program, that was only natural since American Express Publishing, which oversees Food & Wine magazine (a sponsor of the TV show), was also one of the biggest sponsors of the Pebble Beach event.
“Top Chef” judge Gail Simmons, who is also in charge of special projects for Food & Wine magazine, was there to moderate a couple cooking demos. She is much prettier in person, by the way.
Lead judge Tom Colicchio (left) sliced slivers of hamachi crudo as he chatted up Joey Altman (right), host of KRON’s “Bay Cafe.” Colicchio, more standoffish in person, said he never expected the show to take off the way it has. With filming for the show taking only one month a year, Colicchio says it hasn’t changed his life much, except that he’s now more recognizable.
Altman was excited that his new cookbook, “Without Reservations: How to Make Bold, Creative, Flavorful Food At Home” (Wiley, $35) will be coming out April 21.
Tre Wilcox (below), a crowd favorite from “Top Chef” Season 3, cooked seared diver scallops with black truffle potato sauce, gold chanterelles, and spinach, before walking over to help Morimoto plate his dishes. Shy and soft-spoken but with the buffest biceps around, Wilcox left Abacus restaurant in Dallas. He now teaches cooking classes, and hopes to open his own restaurant in the near future.
One of this season’s “Top Chef” contestants, Ryan Scott, formerly of Myth Cafe in San Francisco, also made the rounds. Tall and charming as can be (yes, ladies, he’s over 6-feet, and quite dishy), Scott was mum on how well he did in the competition. He’s now scouting Bay Area locations for his own restaurant. And joked that he’d put chicken piccata on the menu as a first course. Fans of the show will remember that dish was nearly his downfall, and almost sent him packing his knives in the very first episode.
In all, more than 50 chefs and more than 200 wineries were on hand at the Pebble Beach extravaganza, which attracted about 3,000 attendees. Not bad for a first-time event. And not bad at all, considering its predecessor, the Masters of Food & Wine in Carmel, boasted a mere 20 chefs, 60 winemakers, and 1,200 attendees.
Rob Weakley, co-founder of the event at the Pebble Beach Resorts, had organized the Carmel one for the last six of its 21years until it outgrew its venue, the Highlands Inn. As a bagpiper played at sunset each night, resounding melodically with the ocean’s crashing waves, it’s hard to imagine a more picturesque adult playground for gourmets to romp in.
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