August 18 – 21 dozens of chefs, journalists and food and wine lovers escape to picturesque Napa Valley for a few days of learning about and celebrating local products, great wine and incredible company at the Cakebread Wineries American Harvest Workshop, a multi-day event designed to teach participants the glory of using seasonal, fresh ingredients paired with stellar wine. This year celebrates 25 years of bringing some of the best chefs from around the country, and world, together to experience the farm to table way of cooking, with the Cakebread team taking guest chefs out to local farms to personally make cheese at Point Reyes, or harvest oysters with the Hog Island Oyster Company, and dig in the garden of Cakebread matriarch, Delores Cakebread, whose 3/4 acre garden, planted in prime Rutherford soil, provides veggies and fruits year round.
Delores grabed this piece of land early on when Cakebrea winery was being developed to make sure she was always able to feed her family and friends local produce farmed right in their back yard. This idea really defines what Cakebread winery is, and the idea behind starting the workshop. The family run, almost 40 year old Cakebread winery maintains the commitment to founders Jack and Dolores’ belief ”that wine and food elevate each other and in turn, make any meal or occasion even better.” And with that the American Harvest Workshop was created to celebrate local products to make great food to pair with their award winning wine.
And the list of chefs who have participated over the years is impressive, all chosen by the Cakebreads and Culinary Director Brian Streeter, who constantly travel around the country, eating at up and coming restaurants and meeting the best chefs in any given city to find their yearly group. The inaugural year included Chefs Bradley Ogden, Robert Del Grande, Mark Miller, and our own Dean Fearing, with Chefs Hubert Keller, Alan Wong, Charlie Trotter, and so many more attending. Other Dallas chefs have included Chefs Marc Cassel, Daniel Custer, Jim Miles, Joanne Bondy, George Brown and Scott Gottlich. Chefs Gottlich, Brown and Bondy return this year for the 25th Anniversary.
I sat down with Chef Scott Gottlich, owner of Bijoux and Second Floor Bistro, recently to talk about the experience and what to expect this week. Chef Gottlich was a part of the 2009 group to attend and when I asked how he was invited, with a laugh, he said he didn’t really know but was glad he was. When I asked what the real take away was, he said it was special to be a true part of the wine process, and see how wine is made and then relate that to food. It gave him an appreciation for the work that goes into making a bottle of wine. If a chef messes up a sauce, or a dish doesn’t come out just right they know within an hour (or a minute) and can easily change it; for a vintner and winemaker, they spend years growing grapes, harvest, fermenting, aging and bottling so years have gone by before the final product is done, and there are so many opportunities for failure along the way, especially with Mother Nature that you really can not control. He loved the hands on experience and working with other chefs to create lavish meals, to pair with Cakebread wine, using products they had just found that day. He has always followed the belief in using local products, but stands beside the idea that you should use the best product, and if it is local, that is even better.
When I spoke with Bruce Cakebread, former winemaker and now President and COO, he said they tell chefs to be ready to work; bring only their knives and great creativity. This year will be a bit different from the past with a series of seminars on local products, then a lot of fun with Bruce and his brother Dennis, Director of Sales, taking chefs and media golfing or kayaking, and the anniversary group of 50+ chefs creating lunches, hors de vours for a walk around tasting and dinners for guests. I am attending this year so more on the events to come.
If you would like to experience a little of the workshop but are unable to make it out to Napa, check out their new cookbook celebrating their 25th anniversary. August 16th the American Harvest Cookbook with be released celebrating food, wine and friends in Napa Valley with much of the content coming from recipes created by the guest chefs during the previous 25 years of workshops. The book is beautiful, divided into seasons, in true farm to table spirit, with approachable recipes even though many were created by James Beard Award nominated and winning chefs, using seasonal produce, and highlighted by stunning photography with a touching forward by Jack and Delores on why the winery, their family, the workshop and the legacy of Cakebread is so important to them. For wine lovers, cookbook enthusiasts and foodies this is a must have.