What to Drink Now: Flavor! Napa Valley

Chef Jeffrey Jake, Chef Scott Contant, Charles Henning of the CIA at Greystone, Chef Cindy Pawlcyn and Chef Masaharu Morimoto

I just returned from the Thanksgiving holiday Napa Valley style.  I had traveled out to the picturesque Napa Valley on November 17th (on my own plane ticket) to start the holiday week at the inaugural Flavor! Napa Valley.  I was an invited guest of the festival, attending a few of the events throughout the weekend, which quickly established itself as being a celebration of big names and big wines, coming together to celebrate Napa Valley.

Chef Chiarello visits with guests after a wine tasting.

How did it come about?  A few years ago Chef Michael Chiarello posed the question to some of his friends and colleagues in the valley asking why do we travel to every other city in the country, and the world, for their food and wine festivals, but we don’t have anything in our own back yard?  Why is not there not a real food and wine festival celebrating Napa Valley.  Yes, Auction Napa Valley could be considered a food and wine festival, but that focus has always been more on the wine and the majority of participants are often locals; Chiarello wanted to bring people from around the country to Napa for a multi-day event featuring the best chefs from the valley giving demonstrations, holding dinners and often seen signing cookbooks, and then bring in the wine.

Chef Christopher Kostow

With that, Flavor! Napa Valley was born, and some of the best chefs in the valley agreeing to participate, like Thomas Keller, Cindy Pawlcyn, Masaharu Morimoto, Christopher Kostow and Tyler Florence.

They quickly partnered with the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and their Greystone Campus, which was the festival beneficiary, making the allowance that a chef could participate in the festival that was a CIA graduate, even if they didn’t have a restaurant in Napa Valley.  This brought in Celebrity Chefs Scott Contant and Richard Blais.  The other caveat, all wine had to be from Napa Valley….not a difficult one since some of the best wine in the country is produced in Napa, including festival participants like Staglin, Darioush, Lail Vineyards, Meander, Nickel & Nickel, Rocca Family Vineyards, Coquerel, Krupp Brothers and many, many more.

Chef Morimoto's first course.

The festival began with an opening night dinner hosted by Chandon and Newton wineries with Chefs Scott Contant, Masaharu Morimoto, Cindy Pawlcyn and Jeffrey Jake creating seasonal courses paired with various wine offerings at the host hotel of the event, The Silverado Resort and Spa.  As guests gathered, sipping Etoile Brut bubbly, an air of excitement could be felt as these foodie guests prepared for what was sure to be a delicious evening, and Flavor! Napa Valley delivered.  The night started with Morimoto and a fish course.  He noted that he always likes the first course of a dinner because everyone is always hungry.  Followed by offerings from Chefs Scott Contant, Cindy Pawlcyn and Jeffrey Jake.  I think my favorite visual of the night was watching a group of fascinated sous chefs with Chef Pawlcyn crowded around a door to the kitchen watching Morimoto plate his Pacific Goeduck with Kinmedai Snapper with Boca Farms Tomato and K&J Orchards Compressed Apple.

Chef Richard Blais creating horseradish pearls with liquid nitrogen.

Throughout the next two days chefs and wine pros led demonstrations and seminars discussing why Napa Valley is such an ideal place for grapes and showing eager attendees how to sous vide lamb, properly use liquid nitrogen and give helpful tips – like from Ken Frank who suggested that if you find yourself with a whole truffle (black or white) place it in a sealable jar with very fresh eggs in the refrigerator overnight.  The porous eggshell will absorb the truffle aroma, creating truffle eggs without ever cutting into the pristine fungi.

CIA Professors at The Appelation Trail Tasting

Friday night Flavor! shined with their Appellation Trail tasting throughout the halls of Greystone, which houses the CIA.  Room after room filled with tasty treats from restaurants throughout the valley and incredible wine to pair sectioned off into their sub-AVAs, like an area of all Rutherford wine, St. Helena wine, Oakville, Stag’s Leap, even Coombsville, though it hasn’t officially become a sub-AVA yet.

36 Hour Sous Vide then Grilled Lamb from Richard Blais
Chef Bob Hurley's Lettuce Wraps

Favorites included Duck Rillette with 15 hour Quince from Dean and DeLuca paired with Etude Chardonnay, Mumm Napa DVX Rose with a Carpaccio of Beet, Three Pumpkin and Skyhill Farmers’ Cheese from Restaurant Cuvee, Richard Blais’ 36 hour sous vide then Grilled Lamb Chops with St. Clement Vineyards Oroppas, Shallot and Pancetta Encrusted Salmon in a Lettuce cup from Chef Bob Hurley with Cakebread Reserve Chardonnay, a Thanksgiving offering from Chef Christopher Kostow of Whipped Sweet Potato Cake with Curried Marshmallow and Raisins pairing beautifully with the spicy and slightly smokey Rocca Family Vineyards Syrah, and a new wine for me – Spotted Owl on Mt. Veeder and their powerful, lush and nicely balanced Alexandria’s Cuvee with a Crostini of Ciccioli and Butternut Squash from the guys at Oenotri, known for their incredible charcuterie.

Sweet Onion Raviolo with Chrispy Chicken Skin from Farm
Mikhail Gishizky of Spotted Owl Vineyards
BBQ Sweet Shrimp from Bardessono

I wasn’t able to attend the $1000 a plate celebrity chef dinners on Saturday night, so I opted to head down to Napa proper and had an order of mushroom and bacon fried rice at Kitchen Door at Oxbow Market…a perfect end to a Flavor! Napa Valley story. The overall feeling of the inaugural festival was of great achievement as the almost completely sold out weekend went off with great success.  When you bring that much good wine together with such a talented group of chefs, it was bound to be good.  Add in the beauty of the valley post harvest, with the intoxicating smell of fermenting juice in the air and golden, red and orange leaves on the vines and it is impossible not to have a good time.  Definitely something to add to your get away list next year.

I stayed in the valley through the holiday though, so more to come on tasty wines from Napa and Sonoma, even Livermore, to enjoy through the holidays.

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