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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Second Annual "Inside the Kitchen" at the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay

This coming weekend, the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay will once again be hosting its three-day food and wine extravaganza known as "Inside the Kitchen."   Like last year, the event will consist of several lectures, demonstrations and meals spread out from Friday to Sunday, with a number of prominent chefs and sommeliers taking part.   Unlike the last time, however, the resort is not requiring those who wish to attend the headlining dinners on Friday and Saturday to stay at the hotel overnight -- a welcome change to a policy that probably discouraged several people from attending last year.   Ten percent of all ticket proceeds will be donated to Meals on Wheels of San Francisco, Inc.   This, too, represents a change from 2005, when the resort donated a portion of the proceeds from only one of the events (i.e., the Opening Night Dinner) to the same charity.

The absolute highlight of the weekend, if not the entire year, has to be the Four Star Grand Cru Wine Dinner to be held on Saturday, October 28.   Now, it's no secret how much I enjoy fine dining, and even a casual review of this site quickly reveals the high esteem in which I hold the Bay Area's four-star chefs.   Indeed, I've even planned an entire dinner party around their cuisines, putting together a multi-course tasting menu with contributions and inspiration from them all.   So, you can imagine my excitement upon learning that the menu for the Grand Cru Wine Dinner at this year's "Inside the Kitchen" will be a collaborative effort by four of our 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.   To put it simply, this is an all-star event like no other -- a rare opportunity to see four accomplished chefs, each at the pinnacle of his career, working together to combine their cuisines into a single cohesive menu.   Add in wine pairings consisting of Grand Crus from Burgundy and first growth wines from Bordeaux, and you can see why I view this dinner as the event of the season.

The per person cost for the Four Star Grand Cru Wine Dinner is $300 (inclusive of wine pairing, tax, and gratuity).   While this is certainly a significant amount by any standard, a closer inspection suggests that the price is not really out of line from what one might expect to pay at a four-star restaurant.   To begin with, $30 from the total price (i.e., 10%) goes straight to the charity, so it really ought not to be considered in evaluating the cost of the meal.   From the remaining $270, we can subtract out amounts for tax (8.25%) and gratuity (20%) to arrive at an effective cost of the food and wine, which comes out to approximately $210.   Couple a tasting menu and an average wine pairing at a typical four-star restaurant, and you can easily find yourself paying $190 before tax and tip.   Given that this dinner will include Grand Cru and first growth wines and four outstanding chefs in the kitchen, $210 per person strikes me as a relatively fair price -- at least in the grand scheme of things.
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There's more...
There are several other events during the "Inside the Kitchen" weekend as well, such as the Opening Night Gala featuring six Las Vegas chefs (including Julian Serrano, Bradley Ogden, and Sylvain Portay) and five Master Sommeliers (including Larry Stone).   A variety of cooking classes are offered during the daytime on both Saturday and Sunday, including sessions taught by Elizabeth Falkner, Laurent Manrique, Gerald Hirigoyen, Bradley Ogden, Damien Dulas, Bruno Davaillon, Frederic Robert, Laurent Pillard, Kent Torrey, and Norman Love.   And the five wine classes offered on Saturday afternoon are all led by one or more Master Sommeliers.   Each of the food and wine classes lasts from 1 to 1.5 hours and costs $100 per person.

Like last year, the weekend will close on Sunday with the Chef's Challenge and Grand Tasting ($100 per person).   The first portion of this is an Iron Chef-type competition, in which two teams of chefs will have one hour to prepare a three-course meal using a secret ingredient.   This year's theme is a "battle of the sexes," with Melissa Perello from Fifth Floor and Elizabeth Falkner from Citizen Cake going up against Laurent Manrique from Aqua and Gerald Hirigoyen from Piperade.   The competition will be hosted by Liam Mayclem and judged by "experts" who have not yet been named.   Immediately afterward, guests will get to sample tastings from a wide variety of Bay Area restaurants, wineries, and purveyors.

I want to add a few words here directed toward providing full disclosure.   When I first read the details about this year's "Inside the Kitchen" weekend, there was one event -- the Four Star Grand Cru Wine Dinner -- that jumped off the page and caught my attention.   Accordingly, after checking with some friends, I took out my credit card and immediately purchased four tickets.   Nothing in that transaction indicated my affiliation with this blog.   A few days later, a publicist from the Ritz-Carlton coincidentally sent a message to my blog email account asking if I might be interested in "covering" the weekend's festivities.   If so, I was told, I was welcome to submit an application for a "media pass" that would give me free access to up to five of the weekend's events.   After a bit of investigation, I determined that this is the same application procedure that must be followed by those in the traditional media who want to report on the weekend, and the pass that I would receive (if approved) would be identical in every respect to that given to other media outlets.

After giving it considerable thought, I decided to go ahead and submit an application -- under the rationale that a pass would enable me to attend and report back on more events than I would otherwise be able to if I had to pay for everything out of my own pocket.   At the same time, I could not deny the possibility of my objectivity being compromised by the free access, even if only unconsciously or subtly.   For that reason, I decided that I would have to provide full disclosure of the circumstances in all of my postings about the weekend, so that readers could decide for themselves whether my evaluations and comments ought to be discounted in some fashion.   Now, I want to make perfectly clear that I have every intention of observing the events I attend with a critical eye and describing them here accurately and objectively -- just as I would if I were paying for everything out of my own bank account.   But because I want to ensure complete transparency when it comes to anything that may bear upon my credibility as a reviewer, I wanted to disclose all of the salient facts right up front.

As of this posting, I am planning to use a media pass to attend four cooking/wine classes on Saturday (valued at $100 each) and the Chef's Challenge and Grand Tasting on Sunday (also valued at $100).   The resort may also be providing me with a complimentary room on Sunday night, to enable me to attend and write about Sunday's activities without having to worry about driving home late that evening.   On the other hand, I am paying out of my own pocket to attend the Four Star Grand Cru Wine Dinner on Saturday, and I am also using my own funds to cover the cost of a hotel room on Saturday night (at a slightly discounted "media rate").   So, take from all of that what you will.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This sounds exciting, can't wait to hear what you have to say about this event! Enjoy!

October 28, 2006 10:46 PM  

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