Carmel Valley Holiday

Chef Cal Stamenov designs a menu both comforting and refined

From the Nov 30, 2013, issue

Wine Spectator Menu

Portobello Mushroom Soup With Goat Cheese and Black Truffle
Bernardus Pinot Noir Carmel Valley Ingrid's Vineyard 2010

Venison With Chanterelles, Sweet Potatoes, Black Currant-Mustard Jus
A. Clape Cornas 2005

Chestnut Soufflé With Spiced Cider Drink, Satsuma Orange
Château Guiraud Sauternes 2005

For chef Cal Stamenov of Marinus at Bernardus Lodge in Carmel Valley, Calif., the winter holidays do not necessarily evoke hearth and home: "I've probably cooked a turkey at home twice in my life," he says. But having provided so many such meals over decades he understands the required themes and permissible variations, and how to create a meal that is both sophisticated and comforting.

He also cooks for wine; most of the restaurants he has worked in hold a Wine Spectator Grand Award, including Pacific's Edge at the Highlands Inn just down the coast and Louis XV in the Hotel de Paris in Monaco. Bernardus wine director Mark Buzan oversees a list of nearly 1,500 selections, including Old World beauties as well as locals—especially the produce of Bernardus Winery, including Ingrid's Vineyard just downhill from the lodge.

The property is the creation of Bernardus "Ben" Pon, a Dutch race car driver and skeet shooter turned winery owner and hotelier. Job titles seem beyond the point, however; Pon seems dedicated to sharing his approach to living well.

Stamenov projects the kind of confidence borne of years learning in the great kitchens of Europe and working in American restaurants, including Jean-Louis at the Watergate in Washington, D.C., and Manhattan's Four Seasons. He was the first chef at Marinus, which Pon opened in 1999.

He has two main approaches to the great produce of the gardens on the property and nearby. The first draws on his French training, and packs ingredients full of flavor and depth through reduction of wine and stock and aromatics, rendering a deceptively direct dish. The second is more in the California mold, and shows that he knows when to stand back and show off the ingredients, while deftly knitting them together.

The mushroom soup is a model of the first mode, and has become something of a signature of his. "The soup is probably 20 years old," he explains. "Jean-Louis Palladin did a cèpe mushroom daube, with prosciutto and foie gras. And I had worked with a chef in Switzerland who would use all the leftover wine in soup. One day I was making the daube and used wine to thin it out. It was really good."

It is also seriously hearty, earthy and rich, which is where the tart goat cheese comes in. Accompaniments vary with the season. Buzan matches to primary flavors and texture: "This soup is all saturation; you could stick a fork in it. And with any dish that speaks of the earth, the wine should too." He pulls a bottle of Bernardus Pinot Noir Carmel Valley Ingrid's Vineyard 2010. "Valley" is the crucial word here. The town of Carmel stays fairly cool, but up 11 miles of winding roads in the valley it can get quite warm, making for more extracted, full-bodied wines. The wine is substantial enough for the dish, and has abundant, refreshing concentrated cherry notes, all on an earthy frame that mirrors the mushrooms.

The venison dish is more New World, a what-you-see-is-what-you-get preparation in perfect balance with a simple and essential addition. Earthy, lean venison loin is napped with a sweet potato puree and chanterelles—all simply prepared and crying out "late autumn." A bracing mustard-infused sauce enlivens the dish with sparkly acidity and pretty fruit. While his job requires roast turkey on the holidays ("We did a ballotine once ... it didn't go over well," he recalls), he also serves a lot of game.

One vital factor is location. "Holiday food in California is not as indulgent and rich, so you want lighter food, more acid, smaller proteins," he explains. To match the venison, the wine needs heft but also fruit and acid to weather the mustard. Crucially, Stamenov points out, "High alcohol would kill this sauce." Buzan selects the A. Clape Cornas 2005. "I like game on game," he says, so Syrah was a natural choice, but not a big one with a lot of body. Though the wine is dense it also has sturdy tannins. The primary fruit when tasting with the dish mirrors the currants on the plate, and the sage brings out a pleasant licorice note in the wine. The wine also brings the desired earthiness: "It smells like a hunting lodge," Buzan says.

Dessert could not be more evocative: an elegant and subtle chestnut soufflé with a spicy mulled cider. The soufflé is straightforward and barely sweet; the cider bright and tangy. It is another recipe of long standing in Stamenov's repertoire. Its origins are a clear memory: "I was living in Bern, Switzerland, and in the winter you'd buy a mandarin to eat and hot chestnuts to put in your pockets." The dessert uses those flavors, and has a warming effect, and once again acid is vital.

Both the cider and the Château Guiraud Sauternes 2005 are great seasonal matches. Serve the cider with the dessert as they do at the restaurant. Open the wine after, and stretch the day out while you sip and talk about what next year might bring. Sauternes this good is practically a holiday by itself.

Portobello Mushroom Soup With Goat Cheese

2 slices apple wood-smoked bacon, cut into 1⁄2-inch pieces
5 shallots, peeled and minced
1 1⁄2 heads garlic
1⁄2 medium leek, cleaned, cut into 1⁄2-inch slices
5 portobello caps, cut into 1⁄2-inch cubes (porcini or chanterelle mushrooms may be substituted)
1⁄2 bottle Pinot Noir
1 1⁄2 quarts chicken stock
2 cups cream
1 1⁄2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons goat cheese
1 tablespoon chives, finely chopped
2 tablespoons prosciutto, finely diced
1 tablespoon black truffle, diced

1. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, sweat the bacon, shallots, garlic and leeks until transparent, about 20 minutes. (Add a teaspoon olive oil if needed.)

2. Add portobello mushrooms and continue to sweat until most of the moisture is removed from the mushrooms.

3. Add Pinot Noir and reduce wine by three-fourths.

4. Cover mushrooms with chicken stock and reduce to a slow simmer, cooking for about 45 minutes.

5. Add cream and bring to a boil. Puree in batches in a blender, gradually adding butter. Season well and pass through a medium sieve. Adjust thickness with hot chicken stock (if needed) and season to liking. Keep warm.

6. Divide among 4 bowls. Garnish with crumbled goat cheese, chives, prosciutto and truffle. Serves 4.

Venison With Chanterelles, Sweet Potatoes, Black Currant-Mustard Jus

To Make the Black Currant-Mustard Jus

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons Sherry wine vinegar
1 1⁄2 cups brown stock (beef stock, chicken stock or venison stock)
1 1⁄2 tablespoons black currant mustard

Combine olive oil and onion over medium heat in a saucepan. Sauté onions slowly, until caramelized. Deglaze the pan by adding the Sherry wine vinegar and stir until absorbed. Add the broth and adjust to low-medium heat. Simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and strain. Whisk in mustard and olive oil. Reserve.

To Make the Sweet Potato Puree

1 sweet potato
1 yam
4 ounces butter
1⁄2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon honey

Roast sweet potato and yam with skin in 350° F oven for 1 hour, until tender. Remove skin and discard. Puree vegetables with butter, nutmeg and honey. Add salt and pepper to taste. Reserve warm.

To Prepare the Chanterelles

1 pound chanterelles, cleaned
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely minced

Cut chanterelles in large chunks to maintain natural shape of mushroom. Sauté over high heat in olive oil, until liquid is cooked out and mushrooms are becoming caramelized. At that point, add the garlic and salt and pepper to taste, being careful not to burn the garlic. Reserve and set aside.

To Prepare the Venison

1 pound venison loin, cut into 4 portions
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
4 springs fresh thyme

Preheat the oven to 400° F. Season venison with salt and pepper to taste and sauté quickly in olive oil, until brown on both sides. Roast in the oven with herbs until medium-rare, approximately 8 minutes.

To Assemble the Dish

Spread a quarter of the sweet potato puree in a semicircle on each of 4 plates. Place a quarter of the chanterelles in the center. Slice venison and place portions alongside vegetables. Top with the jus and garnish with the herbs. Serves 4.

Roasted Chestnut Soufflé With Spiced Cider, Satsuma Orange

To Make the Chestnut Soufflé

8 ounces fresh chestnuts, shelled and scored
1 1⁄2 cups half-and-half
1⁄2 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 vanilla bean, scraped
1 ounce Cognac or brandy
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
5 teaspoons turbinado sugar
3 egg yolks
6 egg whites
1⁄2 teaspoon lemon juice

1. In a 350° F oven, roast chestnuts for 10 minutes or until shell can be removed easily. Place chestnut meat into a small saucepot and cover with half-and-half, 1/2 cup sugar, vanilla bean and Cognac or brandy. Cook slowly until chestnuts are soft. Puree in blender while still hot, then reserve. The puree may be made a day ahead and stored in the refrigerator. It should be firm when chilled.

2. Grease 4 soufflé dishes (3-inch-by-3 1/2-inch) with butter and a layer of turbinado sugar, leaving the top 1/4-inch of the dish clean. (Wipe rim with paper towel if needed.)

3. Preheat an oven to 400° F. Mix 1 cup of the chestnut mixture and 3 egg yolks in a bowl until smooth. Beat egg whites on medium speed and gradually add remaining sugar and lemon juice. The egg whites should form a soft peak. Fold a quarter of the egg whites into the chestnut mixture, then fold in remaining egg whites. Fill dishes up to the sugar line of each dish. Remove any mix from hanging over edge of dish. Bake about 13 minutes, or until golden. (Soufflé should be soft on the inside.) Serve calmly from oven.

To Make the Spiced Cider

4 cups fresh Gravenstein apple juice
2 cinnamon sticks
4 cloves
4 2- to 3-inch lengths of satsuma or tangerine zest
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated

Bring all of the ingredients to a boil, remove from heat and steep for at least 20 minutes. Serves 4.

Cooking Recipes

You Might Also Like

8 & $20: Cheesy Pesto-Chicken Meatballs with Vermentino

8 & $20: Cheesy Pesto-Chicken Meatballs with Vermentino

Mixed with a basil-based sauce, these juicy meatballs are blanketed in melty mozzarella and …

Jan 12, 2021
5 Favorite Recipes for Intimate Winter Celebrations

5 Favorite Recipes for Intimate Winter Celebrations

Our food editor’s personal picks offer casual sophistication for hearth and home

Dec 23, 2020
Yotam Ottolenghi’s Celebratory Butternut Galette for the New Year

Yotam Ottolenghi’s Celebratory Butternut Galette for the New Year

From the new Ottolenghi Flavor cookbook, the Israeli chef and Ixta Belfrage share recipes …

Dec 18, 2020
Revisiting a Hanukkah Tradition: Goose with Apples and Onions

Revisiting a Hanukkah Tradition: Goose with Apples and Onions

This one-pan holiday feast from Jewish food venture Gefilteria is inspired by Ashkenazi …

Dec 11, 2020
A Comforting Christmas Feast by Way of India

A Comforting Christmas Feast by Way of India

Chef Manish Mehrotra, owner of Indian Accent in New Delhi and New York, turns a rice-based …

Dec 4, 2020
Fish and Chips with Champagne

Fish and Chips with Champagne

RPM Seafood’s recipe for crispy Dover sole, served with potato wedges and tartar sauce, is …

Dec 15, 2020