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Saturday, October 28, 2006

"Inside the Kitchen" At The Ritz: Cooking & Wine Classes

As I mentioned in my last post, I'm at The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay this weekend to attend the second annual food and wine event known as "Inside the Kitchen."   On a sunny and absolutely gorgeous morning here in the Bay Area, I loaded up my car and took the leisurely drive down Highway 1 -- anxious to get started on the ambitious schedule of cooking and wine classes for which I had signed up.   I would be attending three back-to-back sessions spanning from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., followed by a one hour break and then another class from 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.   A full load, to be sure, but when the topics are haute French cuisine, wine tasting and pairing, and pastry techniques and the instructors are renowned chefs and master sommeliers, I certainly would not mind!

This is my first time at the "Inside the Kitchen" weekend, so I'll begin by sharing some general impressions.   For anybody who appreciates good food, follows the local dining scene, and/or enjoys cooking, the atmosphere here is bordering on electric.   After sitting down in the hotel lobby for a moment to organize my papers, I looked up and saw Laurent Manrique from Aqua -- clad in t-shirt and shorts -- standing in front of me and casually chatting to some long-lost acquaintance.   A bit later, I looked across a room and saw Fleur de Lys' Hubert Keller ambling about, followed by Rubicon Estate's Larry Stone.   As I entered the conference room wing that the resort has converted into classrooms, various chefs in their crisp whites scurrying about me, I was reminded of just how much I appreciate the well-developed food culture that we enjoy here in the Bay Area.   I also found myself wondering why no other event like this existed in the Bay Area before the Ritz started it last year, and thinking about how having an event like this makes all the sense in the world.
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When I walked into the first class of the day, Haute French Cuisine with Damien Dulas of Restaurant Guy Savoy, I was impressed with the setup.   An ordinary conference room that likely hosts dry corporate meetings the rest of the year had been outfitted with a full panoply of portable Viking kitchen appliances.   An oven and microwave combination was housed in a large unit on wheels, a conventional refrigerator was positioned behind the instructor, and a six-burner range -- with a work table beside it -- sat front and center in the room.   A camera had been mounted on the ceiling directly above the range, and a large plasma television screen broadcast the proceedings to the audience in the room.   The class with Chef Dulas had about 25 attendees, with a gender imbalance -- 22 women and only 3 men -- that struck me as surprising.   Chef Dulas prepared two dishes in front of us:   Colors of Caviar (an appetizer consisting of caviar, sherry vinaigrette, cream, bean puree, and sabayon) and Crispy Sea Bass with Delicate Spices (a filet of flaky fish with a spice-filled crust).   As Chef Dulas' demonstration for each dish ended, the wait staff filed into the room with a generously portioned sample for each of us to enjoy.   Both dishes were tasty, and Chef Dulas' instruction provided some interesting and useful ideas and techniques.

Next up was Wine 101 With The Masters, a session devoted to wine tasting and the exploration of how certain wines do, or do not, work with certain foods and flavors.   Three tables were set up around the perimeter of a large room, each staffed by two Master Sommeliers.   Larry Stone and Brian Cronin were at one table discussing the pairing of wine with food, Richard Betts and William Sherer stood at a second table highlighting the difference between new world and old world reds, and Robert Bath and Luis de Santos manned the third table and guided us through a number of white wines.   This was one of the most informative sessions of the day, so packed with great information that I found myself wishing I had another hand to take detailed notes as I was tasting.

The third class I attended was Mixing It Up With Bruno Davaillon, taught by the Executive Chef of Alain Ducasse's Las Vegas restaurant Mix.   I unfortunately joined this class late because I lingered a bit too long at the Wine 101 session that preceded it, but I did get to watch Chef Davaillon prepare a fantastic Baked Cod with Grenobloise Sauce in a conference room that showcased the Pacific Ocean over his shoulder.   Samples were once again provided, and the flavors in the dish were absolutely wonderful.   The dish prepared and served before I arrived was a Spicy Crab Salad, Cucumber, Mango & Green Papaya -- which, from the recipe at least, sounds quite good.

I wrapped up the afternoon fittingly with dessert, attending Pastry with Frederic Robert.   Chef Robert, the Executive Pastry Chef at the Wynn Las Vegas Resort, demonstrated the preparation of three desserts:   Fried Chocolate Bombolones, Roasted Pineapple with Pineapple Sorbet and Green Apple, and Citrus Ravioli with Fresh Passionfruit and Lemongrass Juice.   The Roasted Pineapple was my favorite by far, but the other two were also tasty -- and the instruction once again provided some useful techniques and tips.   A particularly nice touch here was that Chef Robert handed out copies of the pertinent recipes from his cookbook.

I have more to say about the classes, but that will have to wait for a later post.   Right now, I'm running late for what promises to be the highlight of the weekend -- a six-course Grand Cru Wine Dinner prepared by four of the Bay Area's best chefs:   Ron Siegel, David Kinch, Hubert Keller, and Roland Passot.   Stay tuned for more posts from "Inside the Kitchen" throughout the weekend, and be sure to check out the play by play commentary of my good friend, outstanding food blogger, and fellow "Inside the Kitchen" attendee Amy from Cooking With Amy!

Note: For purposes of full disclosure, I attended the various classes referenced above on a media pass that gave me free access.   Please see the end of this post for additional details.


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