February 9, 2016 – So much about Relais & Châteaux’s GourmetFest in Carmel sounds like hyperbole—but it really isn’t. Many food events call themselves “world-class,” but when you’re talking about a gathering of more than 15 chefs—who create gastronomic masterpieces at acclaimed restaurants around the globe—there’s no doubt about the level of expertise.
Everything from a foraged mushroom lunch to vineyard tours to a sumptuous rare wines dinner will be crammed into four days from February 25 to 28, with 15 events in all.
Hosted by Relais & Châteaux hotel L’Auberge Carmel, the event encompasses the crème de la crème of food, wine, and luxury lifestyle vendors, with some 2,500 dedicated foodies expected to attend.
Even local chefs can find themselves star-struck by the talent heading to GourmetFest this year. Executive chef Justin Cogley and executive pastry chef Ron Mendoza of Aubergine host this year’s chefs, and Cogley says he’s especially looking forward to meeting the father-and-son chef teams: Michel and Cesar Troisgros of France’s La Maison Troisgros; and Olivier and Hugo Roellinger of Les Maison de Bricourt.
“Especially for anyone who grew up in my culinary era, we revere French cuisine,” says Cogley, himself no lightweight—he and his Aubergine team earned three James Beard Foundation nominations last year. “To be in the same kitchen with them will be amazing.”
The père-fils pairings will show their skills at the Fathers & Sons Lunch on February 27, celebrating the legacy of France’s grand kitchens and passing of the culinary torch from one generation to the next.
Cogley and Mendoza will work with an all-star lineup of chefs on multiple events, including the Feburary 26 Rarities Dinner, which includes Michelin three-star chefs David Kinch (Manresa, Los Gatos), Joshua Skenes (Saison, San Francisco) and Michel Troisgois; and at the Rarities of the Sea Lunch on February 27 with two more three-star chefs, Hiroshi Nakamichi (Restaurant Molière, Sapporo, Japan) and Skenes well as chef Mark Lundgaard (Kong Hans Kaelder, Copenhagen, Denmark).
“It will be a huge honor to have all these three-star chefs in little Carmel,” says Cogley.
The gourmet extravaganza this year also includes chefs Brian Etheredge and Chris Kajioka (Hotel Wailea, Maui), Loic Leperlier (The Point Resort, New York), Nathan Rich (Twin Farms, Vermont), Hans Sauter (Post Hotel & Spa, Alberta, Canada), and Matt Zubrod (The Little Nell, Aspen).
Now in its third year, GourmetFest grew from the ashes of the beloved Masters of Food & Wine, which ran for 14 years. L’Auberge Carmel proprietor David Fink, who founded the Masters in 1987, was determined to bring a luxury food event back to the Monterey Peninsula, and persuaded Relais & Châteaux to partner on the new festival.
And the festival isn’t just about indulgence—it’s doing good as well. An online auction of stays at some of Relais & Châteaux’s most extraordinary resorts is raising money for the Carmel Chamber of Commerce, the CSU-Monterey Bay hospitality program, and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
Kicking off GourmetFest is the Welcome Party opening night celebration, a strolling dinner that highlights Relais & Châteaux chefs at stations paired with prestigious local wine estates, beer and spirits producers, and luxury partners. Cogley said this is one of his favorite events: “It’s very tastefully done,” he says, and also allows people to mingle and enjoy food and wine in a relaxed atmosphere.
Things shift into high gear the following day, with a Santa Lucia Highlands vineyard tour that highlights the families behind Roar Wines & Pisoni Vineyards, followed by a Taittinger Champagne Reception and a lunch featuring rare wines and four courses by chefs Kajioka and Leperlier. Also slated is a Grand Crus Vertical Tasting with Domaine Leflaive fourth-generation proprietor Brice de La Morandiere, with help from legendary sommeliers and Burgundy experts Larry Stone and Raj Parr.
Other choice events include a Farmers Market Lunch and cooking demonstration by Kinch at a state-of-the-art Gaggenau demo kitchen in the courtyard of La Playa Carmel, with a four-course lunch prepared by Kinch, Stephanie Prida, Nakamichi and Rich; and a vertical tasting of Rochioli wines and panel to discuss the Russian River appellation.
That evening features two once-in-a-lifetime repasts. At the Rarities Dinner, wines to be poured include older vintages from Taittinger Comtes de Champagne, Chateau Latour 1990 en Magnum, Masseto 1997 en Magnum, and an extremely rare 1996 Montrachet from Domaine Leflaive en Magnum.
Cogley personally sourced the truffles for the Black Truffle Dinner, which will be prepared by chefs Lundgaard, Zubrod, Sauter, and Relais & Chateaux master chef and global president of chefs Olivier Roellinger, with dessert by Manresa’s Prida, winner of Food & Wine’s 2013 Best New Pastry Chefs award.
The February 27 lineup begins with a wild mushroom hunt led by retired Point Lobos ranger Chuck Bancroft and his team of mycologists at Santa Lucia Preserve in upper Carmel Valley. Following the hunt will be a lunch using the foraged mushrooms, prepared by the Preserve’s host chef Jerry Register and Zubrod of The Little Nell with accompanying wineries pouring rare vintages from Galante Vineyards and Dawn’s Dream.
Wine lovers can learn more about highly collectible Masseto merlots at a discussion and vertical tasting with Alessandro Lunardi, and the Fathers & Sons Lunch is also slated, with a pre-lunch cooking demonstration by Danish chef Mark Lundgaard at the Gaggenau kitchen and Taittinger Champagne reception before lunch. Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger himself will be on hand for the Rarities of the Sea Lunch to present Taittinger library selections paired with seafood courses.
An afternoon vertical tasting of famed Chateau Latour Bordeaux wines offers an discussion by master sommelier Larry Stone accompanied by Aubergine restaurant manager Melody Lewis, and then the finishing touch on the weekend comes with the final dinner, six courses paired with famed wine estates, and featuring chefs Cogley, Mendoza, Rich, Leperlier and Kajioka.
Wrapping things up on February 28 are a vertical tasting of four vintages each of Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blanc and Comtes de Champagne Rosé, and the concluding Taste of the World from 12-3 p.m. at Carmel Plaza, a strolling Route du Bonheur that offers a last goodbye to the weekend, with bites paired to outstanding wines, many from local Monterey County wine estates.
Tickets and more information: gourmetfestcarmel.com.
Kathryn McKenzie, who grew up in Santa Cruz and now lives on a Christmas
tree farm in north Monterey County, writes about sustainable living,
home design and health for numerous publications and websites.