Blessed. Honored. Appreciative. Grateful. Humbled.
Words that I will undoubtly use over and over again as I continue on the R.C. Kopf Scholarship/Trip. I think I speak on behalf of the group when I say that we are overwhelmed by the generosity of others and thankful for their thoughtful hospitality. We are truly honored to learn from food and beverage industry leaders, as we develop both personally and professionally. It is inspiring and encouraging.
Our first stop in Napa was at Cakebread Cellars. The Cakebread family kindly invited us to participate in their 27th American Harvest Workshop– a celebration of artistry within the food and beverage industry. Chefs, purveyors, teachers, writers, winemakers and other craftsman gather for four days to learn from each other and share their work. From grape picking to pottery making, participants have the opportunity to “taste” every spectrum of the industry. Through this workshop, my appreciation was heightened and my perspectives altered. It was amazing to see and understand the relationship between the farmers, suppliers, chefs and winemakers. Alone, each have a passion. United, they thrive and celebrate hard work, dedication and workmanship. A winemaker without great grapes is just a winemaker. A chef without beautiful produce is just a chef. A beautifully prepared meal without a harmonious wine (*shutter thinking about it*) feels lack-luster and incomplete. They rely on each other, respect each other and succeed by their symbiotic relationships.
At the American Harvest Workshop I had a “bunches to bottle” experience. We began our morning bright and early at 6am. A light breakfast of Bellweather Sheeps Milk Yogurt (incredible stuff FYI. If you find it at your local grocery store, treat yourself to this!) Granola, Fruit and Peet's Coffee was served and off to the vineyard we went! We were given a pair of gloves, a knife and a bucket, along with a demonstration on how to pick grapes. I was surprised how much muscle I had to put into cutting the clusters. Slow at first, I quickly developed a rhythm. Our group of 30 was only asked to pick 2 tons of Chardonnay– a seemingly small amount to the seasoned professional, yet I found myself tired. Grape pickers are often paid by the ton, and called to duty in the dark night/early morning hours. Certainly not a job for the faint of heart. They are an integral part to the winemaking process and I respect them tremendously.
Later in the afternoon we had a production tour at Cakebread with Julianne Laks, Brian Lee and Stephanie Alstott. We toured the facility and the labs, and even had the opportunity to see sauvignon blanc fermenting and taste a sample of it at around 6 brix!
Coupled with my passion for food and wine, is my passion for photography. I am constantly snapping photos and trying to figure out best layouts. My favorite 'canvas' for food is pottery. It is beautiful and unique. If the expression: “we eat with our eyes” is true, then it is essential to have a delicious presentation, right? We were excited to have the opportunity to attend a pottery class at Napa Valley Potters Studio to see how it's done and try it ourselves. Unfortunately, I did not come away with any showpieces, but I did have lots of fun playing with clay. I'll leave the art of pottery to the pros, and give thanks to them every time I see their work make food SHINE.
Lunch that afternoon was simple and beautiful. A meal that was ingredient driven, prepared by the staff and crew of the Cakebread kitchen, using vegetables from their garden and other local producers. I enjoyed a little bit of everything: Spiced Mixed Beans, Heirloom Tomato, Basil & Cucumber Salad, Roasted Fingerling Potatoes, Maitake Mushrooms and Pork Loin with Mostarda. Dessert was an unexpected, plated treat of Bellweather Farm Ricotta, Roasted Strawberries with Black Pepper, Marshall's Farm Natural Orange Blossom Honey and Almond Biscotti.
After lunch, the collaboration began. The chefs and winemaker sat down to discuss their menu for the Harvest Celebration Dinner that evening. Each chef randomly selected a course and ingredient from one of the purveyors. It was then their job to do the items justice and showcase their hard work to create superior products. The winemaker and my professor, Michael Weiss from the Culinary Institute of America, provided preparation advice and lead a discussion of what to pair and why. It was incredible to see the wealth of knowledge and shared thoughts at the table. I could have listened to them for hours.
We returned to the Cakebread kitchen later that afternoon to assist the chefs with preparation and plating. It was interesting to me to see them interact with purveyors in the kitchen, and understand what they thought about how the wine and food enhanced each other. We were able to taste each course as we were working. My favorite pairing of the night was Chef Eric Haugen's main course. Chef Eric had selected Broken Arrow Ranch Antelope to use.
And BOY did he do that antelope justice. He rubbed the meat with a mixture of Whole Spice Company's Dukkah, Coffee, Black Pepper and Salt and served it simply with a veal, cabernet and bittersweet chocolate reduction, wood-ovensmoked figs and pan roasted cippolini onions. It was amazing for me to taste this dish with the representative from Broken Arrow Ranch and see his face as he tasted his product prepared so thoughtfully and elegantly by Chef Eric. The relationship between chef and purveyor became all too real for me, and I could see their gratitude and pride. It was a beautiful thing.
Paired with the luscious, dark fruit forward 2003 Dancing Bear Reseve from Howell Mountain. The wine was delicious on its own, full of dried cherries, figs, dark currants and dried blueberries. The coffee and coco nib components of the wine were complemented by the rub and sauce, and the rich dried berry notes were amplified. It was all around a harmonious pair, bite after bite. My mouth is watering as I type this.
To simply say 'thank you' to Jack, Dolores, Dennis & Bruce Cakebread does not seem like enough. Words alone cannot describe the positive impact you've made on our lives. It was an honor to participate in the American Harvest Celebration this year and we look forward to sharing your vision and wines in the future!