The Lure of the Top Chefs

From Lisa Barnes

When did chefs become so popular and get notoriety like rock stars? Don’t get me wrong, I get caught up in the hype too. And I am usually more nourished and fulfilled by an amazing meal than a great song. But cooking, eating and food overall as entertainment seems to be a phenomena of the last 10 years. I don’t remember knowing names of chefs or watching them on T.V. when I was a kid. Now I have many friends whose children love to watch cooking shows and can tell you the names of the Iron Chefs, like a baseball line-up.

A few months ago I saw the advertisements for the Pebble Beach Food and Wine event and saw the list of chefs, food discussions and meals – and I began salivating. I bought tickets for my husband and me. I was not in a position to splurge for a weekend package or even more than one event, but that didn’t matter. We opted for the grand tasting. How could “grand” not be anything but wonderful?

We got there on a cool gray day and went into the tents, which were enormous. At first all we saw was Lexus advertisements and we wondered what we got ourselves into. Then we got the lay of the land (tent) and saw that all the chefs were around the perimeter. There were lines of foodies (although not too long) waiting to compliment the chef and taste their offering. However for each chef there were probably 20 wineries offering wine. Many more organic wines than I had ever heard of, which was nice to see and learn about.

In the center of the tent there were presentations and book signings. We immediately saw Chef Jacques Pepin was up first. Thinking there would be a big line waiting we headed towards the center. There was no one there but us and Jacques. He was a delight, and we took a picture (above). But it was kind of sad that he didn’t have a bigger following. Everyone was more interested in Trey from the last season of Top Chef. Don’t get me wrong… it’s one of the few shows I watch on T.V. (See below) But let’s show some respect to a pioneer and forefather.

Later in the day a crowd of people was trying to get a look at Top Chef Judge Tom Colicchio and a man was pushed into my husband. My husband helped the stumbling man and it was poor Jacques!

O.K. yes I like Top Chef. The biggest surprise was how nice Judge Gale Simmons was. I think she gets edited as the picky and hardest to please. In person she is very likable and seemed genuinely happy to hear about what I was writing for this blog and my philosophy about feeding children. We even swapped a Food and Wine Cookbook for a Petit Appetit Cookbook.

So as far as the food, some was great and some was unimpressive. My husband and I thought we were Top Chef Judges the way we picked apart and praised the food. Surprisingly some local S.F. favorites like Elizabeth Faulkner of Citizen Cake (a strange pudding shot with tasteless cookie) and Charles Phan of Slanted Door (a ho-hum wonton) were a disappointment. Our favorite savory offering was a duck and seared fois gras dish from Cal Stamenov at Marinus Restaurant at the Bernardus Lodge in Carmel Valley. At the other end of the tent was an amazing dessert table with carrot cake cookie sandwiches and “ocean” chocolate truffles (unlike anything I’d tasted) and that too turned out to be from Marinus. So guess where I want to go?

One thing I found missing at the event was signage. There are so many people with food allergies and intolerances and very few of the tables had a sign even saying the name of the dish/food item let alone the ingredients and where they came from. I thought this was remiss. Having a food allergy I didn’t like having to ask if something was hidden in food that may cause me to go to the hospital. A few chefs told exactly what was in the dish and where the ingredients were grown. Call me crazy but I expect to know (and don’t think we should assume) that the peas are organic and were grown locally when at an event such as this.

So what about children? Yes, there were a few in attendance. We even talked about how much our foodie son would’ve enjoyed some of the chocolate and seafood dishes. But then remembering the ticket price and the fact that this was a real weekend get-a-way date with my husband I was very happy he was home with grandma and grandpa.
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See also Lisa’s I Met Alice Waters
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Lisa Barnes is author of The Petit Appetit Cookbook: Easy, Organic Recipes to Nurture Your Baby and Toddler and lives in Sausalito, California.
Image Credit: Lone Pine at Pebble Beach, WikiPedia Commons
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