February 3, 2015 – This is gourmandizing at its best. In one month, from March 5-8, guests will experience a pairing of premium food and wine prepared by some of the finest chefs and winemakers in the world. The second-annual Relais & Châteaux GourmetFest Carmel, hosted by L’Auberge Carmel, a Relais & Châteaux hotel, will welcome some 2,500 guests during the four-day festival, to sip, savor and socialize in venues both expansive and intimate.
A cadre of world-renowned chefs, plucked from their own Relais & Châteaux settings, will converge on Carmel to create an alchemy of textures and flavors that tango on the tongue, paired with wines selected to complement, heighten or ferret out flavor.
Launching more than a dozen events throughout the indulgent weekend is the Welcome Party, hosted on the evening of March 5, at La Playa Carmel. Guests will enjoy a strolling dinner among stations throughout the space, providing an introduction to the world-class chefs, vendors, wine estates and spirits makers, who will indulge them throughout the weekend. As the evening promises to be one of the largest and most expansive celebrations, guests are expected to come hungry, and dress as if they mean “business.”
Look for international superstar French chef Michel Bras, whose Restaurant Bras has maintained three Michelin stars since 1999. Master of “la cuisine de terroir,” Chef Bras is reportedly self-taught, self-determined, and committed to connecting his cuisine to nature, as he makes “simple ingredients taste extraordinary.”
Also in the house on opening night of the festival will be award-winning American chef Gary Danko, best known for his eponymous San Francisco restaurant, a six-time winner of the Mobil Travel Guide Five-Star rating, where he cooks up sophisticated contemporary cuisine.
Guests will have a chance to pair their dining selections with an array of exceptional wines, among them Ridge Winery, which began its commitment to the “natural process that transforms fresh grapes into wine” on 180 acres near the top of Monte Bello Ridge in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Also serving on opening night, Galante Vineyards, whose history on the Peninsula dates back more than 100 years to the founding fathers of Carmel, produces wine with a long-held philosophy; “grow the finest grapes possible, and let the fruit express itself in the wine.”
“Guests and chefs will come to Carmel from all over the world,” says Nicole Pahl, marketing manager, Mirabel Hotel & Restaurant Group. “We anticipate quite a stellar cast of chefs from our luxury Relais & Châteaux properties. Bringing in such topflight talent into town is an amazing accomplishment, and our guests will be treated to quite a variety of tastings, cooking demonstrations, and exceptional menus at every meal.”
Perhaps no chef is more excited to welcome the second-annual GourmetFest Carmel than host chef Justin Cogley of Aubergine at L’Auberge Carmel.
“It is always a huge responsibility when you have so many great chefs coming,” says chef Cogley. “Sourcing the products they want, in the sizes and quantities they need is a challenge. An example is chef Michel Bras, who wants only 60-gram endives that are just starting to come out of the ground. We actually have a local farmer who is going to do that for us seven days before the event. Chef Jason Balestrieri from Carmel’s Cantinetta Luca also plays a huge role in organizing and ordering product for GourmetFest. And I am cooking in five events, so it’s going to be busy!”
Based on the success of last year’s celebration of Relais & Châteaux’s 60th birthday, the event will welcome thousands of participants throughout the weekend. However, the more exclusive events, hosted in intimate venues, will accommodate no more than two dozen guests.
On Friday, March 6, guests may begin the day with a tour of Galante Vineyards deep in the Carmel Valley, followed by lunch overlooking the vines. Or, they may prefer to return to La Playa Hotel to study the Magic of Ridge Monte Bello with iconic winemaker Paul Draper, who has been at Ridge Vineyards since 1969. Draper will conduct an exciting vertical tasting of one of the most famous red wines made anywhere in the world, the Ridge Monte Bello.
Guests also may attend the Grand Women Chefs & Winemakers Luncheon & Cooking Demonstration at the Seventh & Dolores Event Center. The Friday morning event will begin with a cooking demonstration by 3-Star Michelin Italian chef Annie Féolde from Enoteca Pinchiorri in the Gaggenau Demo Kitchen, followed by a 4-course lunch by chef Annie Féolde, chef Lanshu Chen of Le Moût, chef Jennifer Backman from The Weekapaug Inn, and pastry chef Liz Williams from Blackberry Farm. The luncheon will feature the wines of Gaja and Spottswoode.
Friday afternoon, guests may learn about the terroir of Comte Georges de Vogüé Musigny. The philosophy at de Vogüé, which traces the roots of its vineyards back more than 500 years, blends tradition and modernity. Join sales director Jean-Luc Pepin, at La Playa Hotel for a tasting of the Grand Cru Musigny.
Two dinners will be hosted Friday night, the exclusive Rarities Dinner at Aubergine in L’Auberge Carmel, and the Cuisines & Wines of the World Dinner, held at the Event Center at Seventh & Dolores in Carmel.
At an exclusive $5,500 per culinary connoisseur, the intimate Rarities Dinner will feature Richard Geoffroy of Dom Pérignon, Jean-Luc Pepin of Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé and Paul Draper from Ridge Vineyards in a spectacular dinner paired with rare wines directly from the Domaine cellars. The 10-course meal will be prepared by Relais & Châteaux Michelin 3-star chef Michel Bras of Bras, chef Justin Cogley of Aubergine, chef Olivier Roellinger of Les Maisons de Bricourt, chef Tetsuya of Tetsuya, and Aubergine pastry chef Ron Mendoza. Caviar will be provided by Graham Gaspard of Black River Caviar.
The Cuisines & Wines of the World Dinner will transport guests on a tasting tour across the globe, with food prepared by chef Gary Danko of Gary Danko, chef Diego Muñoz of Astrid & Gaston Casa Moreyra, and chef Colin Bedford of Fearrington House.
Saturday, March 7 will dawn with a Wild Mushroom Hunt & Lunch at Santa Lucia Preserve. Former Point Lobos ranger Chuck Bancroft will guide guests through the pristine 20,000-acre Santa Lucia Preserve. Following the hunt a wild mushroom lunch will be served, prepared by Preserve host chef Jerry Regester and Relais & Châteaux chef Jacob Jasinski from Ocean House, with accompanying wines. Perhaps guests will prefer take a Journey through the terroir and vineyard of Barbaresco with one of Italy’s greatest grape producers Gaia Gaja.
Those interested in a Taste of France are invited to attend a cooking demonstration and lunch that celebrates the food and wine of France. A pre-lunch Cooking Demo will feature chef Olivier Roellinger of Les Maisons de Bricourt in the Gaggenau Demo Kitchen. The four-course lunch will be prepared by chef Olivier Roellinger, and Michelin 3-star chef Michel Bras of Bras.
Caviar connoisseurs wishing to attend the intimate Dom Pérignon & Black River Caviar lunch, at an exclusive $1,495 per person, may join Richard Geoffroy of Dom Pérignon, and Graham Gaspard of Black River Caviar for a caviar-and-champagne luncheon, featuring an ultra-rare Dom Pérignon Oenothèque 1973 Magnum. The four-course, all-caviar lunch will be prepared by chef Justin Cogley of Aubergine, chef Gary Danko of Gary Danko, chef Tetsuya of Tetsuya, and Aubergine pastry chef Ron Mendoza.
Saturday afternoon, March 7, guests may return to La Play Hotel to experience The Star of the Mosel wine tasting presented by Dr. Ernst Loosen, whose estate has been in the same family for more than 200 years. Dr. Loosen’s Mosel vineyards include vines that are well over 120 years old.
The Saturday evening Relais & Châteaux Grand Chef Dinner will crown the festival with a dinner pairing wine from renowned estates with flavorful creations by chef Annie Féolde from Enoteca Pinchiorri, chef Justin Cogley of Aubergine at L’Auberge Carmel, chef Colin Bedford from Fearrington House, chef Diego Muñoz of Astrid & Gaston Casa Moreyra, and chef Lanshu Chen of Le Moût. Toast the evening with a glass of Dom Pérignon champagne.
Guests will toast a weekend of gourmandizing on Sunday morning, March 8, with The Plentitude of Dom Pérignon, as they take a tasting tour through the cellars of one of champagne’s finest winemakers, Richard Geoffrey, featuring the rare vintages of Dom Pérignon. Then return to La Playa Hotel, for what promises to be one of the liveliest events of the festival weekend, a Seafood Grill, featuring Relais & Châteaux chef stations, paired with fine wine and live music.
A fifth-generation Northern Californian, Lisa Crawford Watson has enjoyed a diverse career in business, education and writing. She lives with her family on the Monterey Peninsula, where her grandmother once lived and wrote. An adjunct writing instructor for CSU Monterey Bay and Monterey Peninsula College, Lisa is also a free-lance writer, who specializes in the genres of art & architecture, health & lifestyle, food & wine. She has published various books and thousands of feature articles and columns in local and national newspapers and magazines.