It seemed like every longtime attendee of the Masters of Food and Wine was asking each other what they thought on opening night Thursday of the new Pebble Beach Food and Wine event, its successor. The new event is bigger and more sprawling, and there were plenty of hot wineries pouring samples and famous chefs dishing up tasty creations. I saw a lot of smiles. Pebble Beach was off to a good start. Opening night at the Inn at Spanish Bay sold out and the quality of the food and wine impressed me.
I tasted wines from Shafer, Opus One, Chappellet, Kosta-Browne, Bergström, Beaux Frères, Domaine Serene, and a bunch of California wineries I never heard of. Inman? Blue Rock? Those are from my colleague Jim Laube's bailiwick, and according our wine database, he hasn't weighed in on them either.
Chefs who were at the first Masters event in 1987 served up food. Jean Joho from Chicago put squares of tête de cochon on little spoons. Jacques Pépin from New York introduced his new pressed caviar, and Mark Miller from Santa Fe made yummy scallops in a white chocolate and habañero chile sauce. Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park made a creamy crab cappuccino, Gina dePalma from Babbo whipped up zabaglione and Joel Huff from Silks in San Francisco combined tuna sashimi with foie gras. They manned stations scattered amongst the wine tables that sprawled through the ballrooms, the lobbies and four restaurants of the Inn at Spanish Bay.
For 21 years the Masters was held at the Highlands Inn in Carmel Highlands, a much more intimate environment. In recent years opening night has been a crowded scene. It was often hard to get up to the food tables for a sample, with lines snaking in all directions. There seemed to be more elbow room at Spanish Bay, and a much longer cast of characters.
And, truth be told, the quality of the food and wine was comparable to the opening night events at the Masters. But these kinds of events, where the chefs work in their own setups with their own crews to make one dish all night, are easier to get right than the lunches and dinners coming up next. In those, four to six chefs are responsible each for one course. They must serve 400 people at the same time.
At the Masters it always seemed a miracle they could produce exquisite fare, and it really was, for 175 to 250 people. The larger scale of the Pebble Beach crowds will present a bigger challenge. I'll blog later on how it all comes out.