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Sunday, October 29, 2006

"Inside the Kitchen" At The Ritz: Four Star Grand Cru Wine Dinner


Last night was the marquee event at the "Inside the Kitchen" weekend, a Grand Cru Wine Dinner featuring a menu designed and prepared by four of the Bay Area's four-star chefs:   Ron Siegel from The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, David Kinch from Manresa, Hubert Keller from Fleur de Lys, and Roland Passot from La Folie.   In my last several posts, I suggested that this dinner held the promise, at least, to be the event of the season.   I can now say with certainty that this was the event of the year, a spectacular evening with outstanding food, great company, and an opportunity to interact directly with some of our most talented chefs.   I cannot possibly do justice to the evening by trying to describe it in the limited time I have before heading out to attend today's activities, but I will try to give you at least a small flavor through a few pictures and quick summaries.   I will then post more fully about the dinner in a later post.

Shortly after our cooking class with Frederic Robert ended, Amy and I were given an opportunity to go "behind the scenes" to witness the preparations already underway for the evening's elaborate affair.   As we were about to head into the inner sanctum of the hotel's kitchens, we heard some conversation emanating from the room that would later serve as our dining area.   Our guide peaked into the room and then summoned us to follow her.   There before us stood the entire wait staff for the evening, the four four-star chefs, the entire cast of supporting chefs, and Xavier Salomon -- Executive Chef for the resort and the mastermind who served to orchestrate and coordinate the culinary aspects of the evening.   We watched Chef Salomon describe the courses to the servers, explain to them which four-star chef was behind each, and provide other details regarding food and wine service for the night.   I have to confess that I found the scene to be rather awe-inspiring, these four chefs who have individually provided me with some of the best dining experiences of my life standing there together talking about the menu on which they had collaborated.

A few hours later, the pre-dinner reception began in a narrow hallway just outside the dining room.   There, three hors d'oeuvres stations served up tasty appetizers as a jazz trio played in the background.   Remarkably, all of the four-star chefs came out and mingled in the crowd, chatting casually with a comfort that seemed remarkable in light of the six-course meal that they would be preparing and serving to 72 guests just a few minutes later.   As the doors to the large ballroom opened from time to time, we were able to catch a glimpse of the extra cooking area that had been set up inside, as well as the long tables on which the cheese and mignardise plates would later be assembled.

Once the meal itself began, the area in which the reception was held was converted into a staging area -- with a long table manned on either side by significant number of chefs, each taking a prepared ingredient or two from the center of the table and adding it to the plate before passing it down the line.   All four of the featured chefs were on this line, stirring pots, adding garnishes as needed, and saucing plates.   This was, again, a remarkable sight -- not only for the precision that was brought to bear on the completion of each plate, but also because it afforded a rare opportunity to watch the four star chefs in action.   (I would later ask Ron Siegel how long it had been since he last stood over a pot stirring a sauce on the line, and his response was that it had been a very long time!)

After six wonderful courses (more on that later), the meal came to a close.   Each of the chefs then came through the dining room and stopped at each table, giving us yet another opportunity to chat with them about the wonderful meal.   All in all, this was a spectacular evening -- worth every penny of the price of admission!

Note: For purposes of full disclosure, I attended certain events during the "Inside the Kitchen" weekend on a media pass that gave me free access.   With regard to the dinner referenced above, however, I paid full price for my ticket using my own funds.   Please see the end of this post for additional details.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! that did sound like it was worth every penny! You were so blessed to be able to get that free pass too :)

October 30, 2006 12:23 AM  
Blogger Carter Lusher said...

Sounds like it was an interesting event. Do you know if they plan on holding the "3rd annual" next year?

October 31, 2006 4:36 AM  
Blogger NS said...

Kat: Given the excellent six-course meal, the high quality of the accompanying wines, and the opportunity to talk to the chefs throughout the evening, the $300 per ticket price tag was definitely well worth it. And on that point, I just want to make clear that I did not have a free pass to this dinner; I paid for it out of my own pocket, and I would gladly do it again in a heartbeat!

Carter: It's my understanding that the Ritz is, in fact, planning to host another "Inside the Kitchen" weekend next year, although I heard some rumors suggesting that it may be held a few weeks later (i.e., the second or third weekend in November). What I do not know, however, is whether the Saturday evening Grand Cru Wine Dinner will again feature such an impressive lineup of our top local chefs. Last year, the Grand Cru Wine Dinner was prepared by chefs from various Ritz properties around the country, a fact that resulted in the dinner having a bit less cachet than this year's offering. On the other hand, the Opening Night Gala -- prepared this year by top Las Vegas chefs -- last year involved Hubert Keller, Roland Passot, Michael Mina and Nancy Oakes. If local chefs are to be featured on only one night, though, I would much prefer that it be for the Grand Cru Wine Dinner, due to the intimacy of the setting and the opportunity to interact meaningfully with the chefs.

October 31, 2006 7:41 AM  
Anonymous Jennifer Jeffrey said...

Sounds almost like a dream... wow. So nice to read both you & Amy's posts on it.

The fact that there were only 72 guests at this dinner gave the setting a certain intimacy, I'm sure; do you think it might be quite a bit bigger next time?

November 01, 2006 7:50 AM  
Blogger NS said...

Jennifer: Excellent question, the answer to which I simply do not know. You're right that having only 72 guests made the evening more intimate, and it certainly gave us a more meaningful opportunity to chat with the chefs than would have been possible with a larger group. I also suspect that the quality of the meal would suffer with a larger group, as it would become logistically more difficult to get so many plates out at once. Needless to say, my personal hope is that the Ritz will keep the dinner at around the same size that it was this year!

November 04, 2006 2:25 PM  

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