Dinners featuring star chefs are not as rare as they used to be, but the Masters of Food and Wine demonstrated again this year that it lifts the multichef format to an art form. Food and wine lovers from across the United States, plus a few from Europe and the Southern Hemisphere, made the pilgrimage to Carmel, Calif., for four days of serious wine tastings, cooking classes and a series of elaborate meals that showcased the dishes of 30 chefs.
"We had a very successful weekend," said Andrew Davidson, general manager of the Highlands Inn, Park Hyatt Carmel, the host of the annual event. The 19th Masters, which was sponsored by Wine Spectator and ran from Feb. 17—20, sold-out its meals and commanded higher prices than last year, with lunches costing $150 and dinners priced at $250 to $350.
|Servers line up to present Charlie Palmer's pork with sweet potatoes at a Masters lunch|
"We're trying to stay out of the way of these great wines," said Gérard Boyer, who headed Michelin three-star Les Crayères in Champagne until he retired in 2003. He seemed to be speaking for most of the chefs, but some among the five to eight assigned to each menu managed to serve dazzling creations that still paired well with the wines.
Highlights included two dishes that perfectly set up New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs. Oringer's rich, spanking-fresh sea urchin casolette was catnip to Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc Martinborough Te Muna Road Vineyard 2003. And Charles Phan of the Slanted Door in San Francisco served up Maryland black sea bass in a chile pepper-infused consommé with pork belly and Napa cabbage that brought out the latent fruit in Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2004.
As if it's not challenging enough to turn out top-notch food for crowds of up to 250, some of the chefs were operating under more pressure than others, notably Bradley Ogden, whose eponymous restaurant is among the best in Las Vegas, and Rick Bayless, known for his serious Mexican cuisine at Topolobampo in Chicago.
|Bradley Ogden overcame adversity to turn out a delicate dish for the Friday lunch.|
Bayless almost didn't make it at all. Torrential rains in southern California meant he could not change planes in Los Angeles for the final leg to Monterey, so the Park Hyatt sent a car to drive him overnight to Carmel Highlands. He arrived at 8 a.m. and turned out flawless racks of lamb rubbed with dark pasilla chile, a magnificent match with Jim Barry Shiraz Clare Valley The Armagh 2001 from Australia. After Friday's lunch, Bayless had to leave immediately because he learned that his 13-year-old daughter had been hospitalized in Chicago.
Topping off the Masters was Saturday's Grand Finale dinner, where the lineup of chefs held a total of eight Michelin stars. Aduriz, the one-star Spanish sensation, made a dazzling composed salad of salsify, truffles and hazelnuts, with a snowy sheet of daikon radish draped over it all, for the lightly sweet Dr. Loosen Riesling Spätlese Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Erdener Treppchen 2002. And Angela Hartnett of the one-star Connaught in London braised halibut with wild mushrooms to show off Bouchard Meursault Genevrières 1999.
Boyer created a dish called a wild duck tajine, but it looked like a roasted duck breast with tajine-style braised vegetables on the side--a fine complement to the star wine of the night, Château Lafite Rothschild 1995. Philippe Legendre of three-star Le Cinq at the George V in Paris gently roasted a simple serving of sweetbreads with morel mushrooms to go with Henschke Shiraz Eden Valley Mount Edelstone 2001 from Australia.
|The Palmer 1961, Pétrus 1945 and Margaux 1928 poured at the Rarities Dinner showed the ups and downs of older wines.|
Aduriz roasted foie gras for an extraordinary series of red Burgundies from 1978, 1942 and 1934. All three bottles were in perfect condition, including a gloriously youthful and complete Barolet Corton 1934, a stunningly delicate Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche 1942 and a Jayer Richebourg 1978 that seemed infused with raspberries. A similar series of Bordeaux fared less well. A magnum of Pétrus 1945 was corky, and the Margaux 1928 was on its last legs, but the Palmer 1961 was complex and magnificently rich in texture, a nice complement to Legendre's roast lamb with a mild harissa.
Separate wine tastings over the weekend included verticals of Henschke's Hill of Grace and Mount Edelstone bottlings from Australia, Bouchard Montrachet from Burgundy, Dom Pérignon from Champagne and Peter Michael Chardonnay from California. Easily the liveliest discussion took place at a vertical of Château Lafite Rothschild. With no representative from the château present, sommelier Fred Dame and Bordeaux trade representative Robyn Kelly O'Connor gleefully trashed vintages such as 1975 and (less virulently) 1976 and 1980 before ooh-ing and aah-ing over 1982, 1985 and 1996. Comments were mixed on 2000, 1990 and 1978, three highly regarded vintages.
At one point, the discussion swerved into serious wine wonk territory, sparking an argument over the coffee flavors many tasters perceive in older Bordeaux. One member of the audience insisted it was from new oak barrels used in aging, but Dame countered that the Lafite 1947 had the coffee character in abundance but, being made in cash-strapped post-war years, saw no new oak at all.
Interesting information, but for most of those in Carmel for the weekend, such talk was trumped by the chance to taste some of the best food and wine in the world.
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