At the insistence of friends, my day two of Flavor! Napa Valley began with a quick bite at Bouchon Bakery in Yountville. The location, recently hit by a small fire that wiped out their baking area, is certainly cozy, but with the rain holding off, we enjoyed a bit of pumpkin brioche in the adjacent courtyard before venturing off to the CIA.
Joining the late morning interactive luncheon, I was a bit taken aback to see chef Scott Conant on stage when I arrived. Like many of the luncheon guests, I expected to see chef Michael Chiarello at the kitchen helm, but in a turn of unexpected events – namely an emergency appendectomy during the wee hours of the morning – Chiarello was understandably detained. Stepping in, chef Conant joined Bottega executive sous Ryan McIlwraith to ensure the luncheon went off without a hitch, with chef Masaharu Morimoto even hopping up on stage to croon a few notes for the crowd!
The fun really began after the stage demo, when guests were ushered across the way to the CIA kitchens to cook up one of the dishes for the luncheon. Dare I say I was certainly in awe entering the kitchen – the prestige and honor of stepping into such a historic culinary institution, throwing on a white coat, placing a toque on my head. Corralled into groups, each team was lead by a CIA student through the process. Our chef Brandon made sure to assist with everything from knife skills to sauteing, temping to timing – and a roasted butternut squash with mushrooms and burrata was made!
Never one to miss a soiree, particularly one he helped to coordinate, chef Chiarello arrived to a standing ovation just as the luncheon came to a close. Looking a bit weary, hospital band still on his wrist, Chiarello snapped photos with fans while thanking Conant and McIlwraith before wife Eileen shuffled him back to his post-surgery recuperation.
Full of butternut squash, spaghettini with rapini and romano, and a toasted-spice sous vide chicken, I made my way to my last session for the weekend before venturing back to Portland. Though I’ve attended a number of wine tastings, the “Power of Points” with wine man Ray Isle was really a wonderful, informal afternoon session. Joined by two local vintners, Isle offered a tasting of six wines in an effort to educate guests on how points are determined for wines and how much the ratings can vary between reviewers, imbibers, and vintages. Fascinating, particularly for wine buyers like myself who often make decisions based on wine points.
And thus my wine country extravaganza came to an end! Some people leave their hearts in San Francisco. I left mine in Napa Valley.
Many thanks to everyone who made it happen. Count me in for Flavor! Napa Valley 2012!
*Photo credit: Jennifer Heigl / Daily Blender
**Many many thanks to Flavor! Napa Valley sponsor Silverado Resort for hosting me during my stay!