As a foodie, one of my favorite annual festivals on the Monterey Peninsula is Pebble Beach Food & Wine. From live cooking demos and grand tastings with celebrity chefs to 250 of the world’s best wineries and spirits’ brands, to call this mega-fest anything but decadent would be an understatement.
In addition to attending the glamorous Opening Night Reception (held at The Inn at Spanish Bay in Pebble Beach, California) and popular Lexus Grand Tasting, for this year’s coverage on Inspirations & Celebrations, I was inspired to discover entertaining tips and party-planning advice from the pros.
From cooking and grilling advice to wine pairing ideas, here’s a taste of what we learned at the 2019 PBFW.
One of the notable experts I caught up with during the 12th Annual Pebble Beach Food & Wine event was Hunter Lewis, the Editor-in-Chief of Food & Wine magazine. As one of the long-standing title sponsors of the 4-day gourmet festival, Food & Wine has been an integral part of the event since its inception.
Hosted in Pebble Beach Resorts, Hunter views this prestigious location as an idyllic place for the convergence of culinary excellence and top-notch wineries. He calls it “a magical space for the event due to the natural beauty of California’s coastline and its uniquely located position which makes it easy for winemakers and chefs to get to.”
Having participated in two of the most recent festivals, Hunter says he was “pleased with the execution of this year’s impressive event, the caliber of the chefs and wineries, and the sophistication of the consumers there. Plus one of the highlights was the sheer amount of caviar everywhere!”.
[Photo Credit: Mike Steelman Photography]
Assuming he’s seen it all, I was curious to learn about the cooking trends he’s witnessed popping up over the past year. Surprisingly, he said that the counter-culture of “ugly food” has been on the rise lately.
While we’re all familiar with those beautiful “Instagrammable” shots of food, more recently Hunter has noticed the predominance of “soul and taste trump(ing) beauty”.
In addition to which, he’s also noticed trends like “large format cocktails (like pre-bottled Martinis and Manhattans), the promotion and use of plant-based foods, and featuring meat as a seasoning” are quickly gaining popularity.
When he mentioned plant-based foods, it inspired me to ask if and how recent food trends (like keto, vegan, and gluten-free diets) have influenced how Food & Wine plans its editorial content.
In response, he explained that while they’ll publish an article about one of these topics, they mostly focus on “classic and durable” culinary styles. While they “don’t want to get caught up in trends”, he recognizes that “it takes ingenuity to turn raw vegetables into a piece of art”, which is “the mark of great talent”.
One of the exciting highlights of this year’s Pebble Beach Food & Wine festival was the live cooking competition. During the Opening Night Reception, Barilla hosted the live USA Qualifier for the Pasta World Championship.
Since Hunter was one of the judges for the competition (as pictured above), I inquired about the techniques or expertise was he looking for from the chefs that evening. In reply, he said he evaluated them based on “a combination of technique, experimentation, quality, and soul”. He noted that the winning chef created a Spring Pesto that “had an explosion of flavor and spring color”.
To help you elevate your home entertaining skills, Hunter shares the following tips:
- “Keep things simple and don’t feel you have to impress everyone.”
- High/low pairings (like fried chicken and Champagne)” are always a hit because “they’re unexpected yet comfortable”.
- “When entertaining, it’s all about prepping ahead – making dishes” before the event.
- Don’t “get hung up on the menu and the minutiae”. Instead, be “more interested in having a good time”.
- “Make a statement-making centerpiece dish, like smoked chicken or fish.”
- For beverages, he recommends always having “cold wines and bubbles” on hand.
- Plus, “a big tossed salad” and “roasted vegetables” are some of his must-have side dishes.
Another highlight of this year’s Pebble Beach Food & Wine festival was catching up with Colombian-born chef Andrés Dangond (pictured above), who’s the Director of Culinary Development & Executive Chef for Lynx Grills – the preeminent luxury grill on the market.
During the Lexus Grand Tasting tent on Saturday, he served mouth-watering Tacos de Pork, a garlic braised pork taco with garlic crema and crispy plantains with some Smoked Mamey Punch. During his cooking demo, he showed us how he prepares perfectly-cooked meat with the new high-tech 36″ Lynx Professional All Trident Grill (which features groundbreaking technology).
To inspire you to become the ultimate Grillmaster this season, here’s Andrés’ entertaining advice:
- “Don’t be afraid of heat and salt. A lot of people are conservative with their salt, but I think that’s a mistake. I think you should get comfortable with salt and learn what a difference is between one-pinch, two-pinches, three-pinches, etc. Learn and discover that salt is your friend. Just start experimenting.”
- “Let your grill pre-heat properly. If you have a charcoal or wood-fired grill, you’ll probably need an hour. With Lynx, this shouldn’t take more than 5-10 minutes.”
- “Prep as much as you can before your guests arrive, so you have time to enjoy your guests. Leave the little things to do while your guests are there. Maybe your meat is already brined or marinated, all you have to do is just grill it for a few minutes and you’ll be fine.”
- “Don’t try a new recipe for the first time when you’re hosting, because you might not understand the recipe, or you might discover a few things while you’re making the recipe. Always make it a few times before you invite guests over.”
- “Sometimes things don’t go as planned with a recipe or with food. But, most times, your guests won’t notice. So don’t apologize for the food or don’t point it out to them. They probably won’t notice; they’ll just enjoy your party and be grateful that you’re serving them.”
- “Leave as much time as you can to enjoy the party with your guests.”
Another notable chef we caught up with at PBFW was Executive Chef Jason Prendergast (pictured above) of FIG Restaurant Santa Monica (located in the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows). He wowed guests with his delicious Baja Kanpachi with strawberries, Fresno chiles, and fennel at the Lexus Grand Tasting.
During the event, we chatted about the dish he was making, the style of food prepared at FIG (which is a farm-to-table restaurant that serves fresh, seasonal cuisine), and even his favorite entertaining and party-planning tips.
Here are Jason’s entertaining tips to help you create a successful soirée:
- “For me, entertaining can be very stressful as guests are expecting a wow factor when coming over to a Chef’s house. Do as much prep as possible the day before… make sure you clean your kitchen as you go so you never get overwhelmed in the party planning process.”
- “Plan your menu to be small bites and simple appetizers since having lots of people over there is never enough room to sit down to enjoy a full meal.”
- “Give yourself a prep list and a timeline so you can keep track and ensure you are seeing the party to success, always allowing yourself time to get ready & tidy up a bit more before guests arrive, along with tasting the beverages to ensure they are guest worthy.”
- “Finger food is always my go to whether that is a crudités all simply prepped with the market bounty or a simple crudo from your local fisherman or seafood market, olive oil, citrus, and salt go a long way to making something simple into amazing.”
At another station, we met up with celebrity chef Antonia Lofaso (shown above), who has appeared on hit TV shows like Top Chef, Chopped, Cutthroat Kitchen and Restaurant Startup, and more. She owns Black Market Liquor Bar, Antonia Lofaso Catering, The Local Peasant, Dama, and Scopa Italian Roots in Los Angeles, California. Plus she’s also the author of The Busy Mom’s Cookbook: 100 Recipes for Quick, Delicious, Home-cooked Meal.
One of the highlights of PBFW for her was “The setting! The Pebble Beach area is one of the most beautiful locations that both compliments and enhances the variety of food and experiences that are offered all weekend at PBFW!”. She continued by explaining that she “served a Smoked Ocean Trout Escabeche with Brazilian hot vinegar aioli, pickled carrots & celery leaves and Churros with cinnamon sugar, which were both inspired by my new restaurant, DAMA in Los Angeles and my travels Mexico, South America, and Colombia.”
When we asked her advice on how to elevate our home entertaining efforts, she said, “Serve your dishes family style and choose dishes that can be served room temperature (i.e. smoked fish dips, Brussels sprouts salad, grilled meats) so that you can enjoy life with your guests!”.
When it comes to wine tastings at PBFW, there’s no shortage of great wineries pouring, ranging from Napa Valley and Monterey County to France and beyond. A few of my favorite wines on hand were Dolce (otherwise known as “Liquid Gold”) and their sister brand, Far Niente.
During this year’s festival, we caught up with Terrie Bancroft, who is the Northern California Regional Manager for Far Niente. She sums up the extravaganza by saying “Pebble Beach Food & Wine is bringing together the best of food and wine in one of the most beautiful locations in the world. I love meeting new people and seeing friends of the winery all while showing off our (elegant) wines.”
When entertaining at home, one of the things to think about is your food and wine pairings. If you plan to serve Chardonnay (which is always a popular varietal), Far Niente recommends pairing their Napa Valley Estate Bottled Chardonnay with dishes like Wild Mushroom Crostini with Herbed Goat Cheese, Butternut Squash & Parmesan Risotto, or even Grilled Sea Scallops with Saffron Cream Sauce, to name a few.
As you can see, Pebble Beach Food & Wine is one of the most exquisite and exciting places to meet celebrity chefs, learn their inspiring entertaining tips, and indulge in the best food and wine pairings you could imagine. If you’re hungry to discover more, check out past years’ coverage of PBFW on Inspirations & Celebrations.
Be sure to visit the Special Events section on I&C to learn about other fabulous events.
[Photo and video credits: Inspirations & Celebrations and James Michael N°3.]