Las Vegas has no shortage of celebrity chefs, but perhaps one of the biggest names throughout the culinary world is Chef Charlie Palmer. This renowned chef, restaurateur, author, and television host has collected a plethora of awards ranging from a James Beard award and coveted Michelin Guide, stars just to name a few. Recently we visited this iconic chef at his Michelin award winning restaurant Aureole in the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas. Charlie has been a fixture in this culinary epicenter for many years. Always keeping things fresh, he was in town to launch his new cookbook, Camp Cooking, and to show off the new “wine angel “ costumes that are pretty delightful, to say the least .
Arriving at Aureole, we were escorted to a private dining area where we were met by none other than the legend himself and settled into what would become an evening of signature dishes prepared by Charlie and a selection of wines that caused us to do some serious research on indigenous varietals from Spain, France, and Austria.
Chef Palmer has been known for years for his progressive American cuisine built on big flavors and surprising combinations with an infusion of classical French technique. Today, a big buzz word is farm to table cuisine, and chef Palmer explained that he was an early advocate of farm over factory food. In 1988, he made a commitment to creating dishes featuring regional American ingredients at his three-star Aureole Restaurant in New York City.
It was now time to enjoy some of this renowned cuisine prepared by Chef Charlie just for us. Our first course was a succulent Santa Barbara spot prawn duo paired with a 2012 Txomin Etaniz Txakoi, Hondarribi Zuri, Getariako Txakolina. Our second course featured a lovely seared loup de mer & stuffed calamri a la “Setoise” joined by a very nice 2011 Moulin de Gassac, Picpoul de Pinet. Keeping the culinary hits coming, Palmer delivered a perfectly prepared roasted Moulard duck breast with sautéed dandelion greens, bing cherries and muscat jus paired with a Schloss Gobelsburger , Zweigelt, Kamptal , Austria 2010 that was a perfect marriage of cuisine and wine.
Three courses of gastronomic artistry, and Palmer still had one more treat for us. A beautiful roasted Oregon Wagyu beef strip loin with braised beef cheeks, barley and porcini mushrooms and a 2007 Chene Bleu Heloise, Syrah/Grenache/Viognier. Pastry chef Megan fished off our evening with a rich roasted fig and goat cheese cake with chicory ice cream and a 1985 Toro Albala, Don PX Gran Reserva, Pedro Ximenez,Montilla-Moriles.
The evening was not just about great cuisine from Palmer and his kitchen but also about his new cookbook, Camp Cooking. This leather-bound book, complete with a Remington stamp, is all about cooking and eating outdoors and is a must for any lover of the great outdoors.
Charlie Palmer is always keeping things fresh and his “wine angels” are no exception. They have been soaring for years, overseeing almost 10,000 bottles of wine stored in the iconic tower. The “angels” ascend and descend the climate-controlled, stainless-steel columns on mechanical hoists fetching wine for their guests. They how have new uniforms that make them very hard to miss with new two-piece outfits outfitted with more than 100 LED bulbs. “We were often given feedback by our guests that they were hard to see in the tower, so we really wanted to make them shine,” Palmer told us. “Now they have a uniform that suits the excitement of their job.” The new uniforms are a creation of Las Vegas fashion designer Bunker Hill Bradley, who won a competition among local designers, and feature a progression of colors that symbolize the hues found in various wines .
Charlie Palmer’s new cookbook and new wine angel uniforms show that this iconic chef is not afraid of innovation or invention, which keeps him and his Charlie Palmer Group at the forefront of the culinary industry around the world.
Insider’s Guide: Unlock A Weekend in Vegas
It’s always a great time to head to Las Vegas. Whether you’re craving the bright lights and high-energy entertainment options, world-class dining and a chance to indulge in cuisine from award-winning chefs, or an opportunity to relax and unwind in the luxury surrounds of a hotel suite, there really are options to please every kind of traveler. For the ultimate weekend in town, we’ve curated some of our favorite spots to stay, dine, drink, and see during your stay.
Chef and Restaurateur Michael Mina ’89: Running a Restaurant Empire
Award winning chef and restaurateur Michael Mina ’89 heads up a successful restaurant group with 39 restaurants located in Arizona, Florida, Tennessee, Las Vegas, Hawaii, Washington DC, Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco Bay Area, Southern California, Boston, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and internationally in Dubai. “My philosophy of cooking is my philosophy of life: create balance and harmony,” says Mina. “I like to introduce unexpected flavors and accents, what I call complex simplicity. I have a deep belief that balance—care and attention to ingredients, beauty, and thoughtful service—will stand the test of time.”
From Egypt to Washington
Born in Cairo, Egypt, Chef Mina’s family moved to Ellensburg, WA when he was two years old. “My mother cooked Middle Eastern dishes and I learned a lot through all those spices. My mother’s falafel is one of the greatest food memories I have from my childhood. Dining was always an event and we spent many hours around the table enjoying meals as a group,” he recalls. Chef Mina’s culinary journey began at the age of 15 as garde manger for a small French restaurant in his hometown. “I was a dishwasher, bus boy, prep cook, and just really gravitated toward the kitchen,” Mina says. “I started coming in on my own time, all the while learning more and more. It was then that I decided I wanted to be a chef.”
Connecting with Alumni
As a CIA student, Chef Mina spent his weekends in New York City working for Charlie Palmer ’79 at the renowned Aureole. After earning his degree, he accepted a position with Chef George Morrone ’83 in the kitchen of the Hotel Bel Air in Los Angeles, where he had previously taken his CIA internship. Within six months, chefs Mina and Morrone were developing the concept and menu for a high-end seafood restaurant in San Francisco. The result, Aqua, opened in 1991 to immediate acclaim. Beginning as chef de cuisine, Chef Mina quickly advanced to the executive chef position, which he held from 1993 to 2002.
The Mina Group“I enjoy having a big hand in a person’s pleasurable experience of an evening. I thrive on the intensity of the fast pace and the pressure in the kitchen. And I adore the challenge to be creative and produce reliable results.”
In December 2002, Chef Mina split from the Aqua Development Corporation. He founded Mina Group with partner and tennis great Andre Agassi and began opening up restaurant concepts across seven states and Washington, DC. In November 2006, Chef Mina released Michael Mina: The Cookbook, which won the 2007 James Beard Foundation Award for photography.
Cook Taste Eat
Chef Mina had been approached several times to do television shows and knew he wanted his first program to be an educational show, a place where he could demonstrate his philosophies of cooking. Cook Taste Eat is a 365 day-a-year video series that features two- to four-minute videos comprising a whole meal, dish-by-dish. “In this day and age, I’d rather have the cookbook on video,” he says. “I think it’s more fun and you can reach so many more people.” Cook Taste Eat is available on AOL and YouTube and features guest chefs like Charles Phan, Tyler Florence, and Traci des Jardins.
The Mina Test Kitchen
In late June 2015, Chef Mina turned the idea of a restaurant on its head in San Francisco when he announced the creation of The Mina Test Kitchen, a pop-up that would allow his team of toques to experiment with different culinary concepts. “The Test Kitchen is an ever-evolving and exciting concept, allowing us to both test out possible restaurant concepts and dishes, as well as showcase our amazing culinary and beverage talent,” Chef Mina says.
In additions to his restaurants, Chef Mina has developed the Michael Mina Wine Club. Curated by the Mina Group, members receive carefully selected wines quarterly accompanied by recipes from Chef Mina. A die-hard San Francisco 49ers fan and season ticket holder, Chef Mina’s Bourbon Pub in the new Levi Stadium is the site of an elaborate tailgate party during football season.
Technology in the Kitchen
Technology is an essential tool for Chef Mina to oversee all of his entities. He stays connected to every dish at every restaurant through the company’s online database. Every new dish proposal must be submitted to Chef Mina through the database, called Recipe Exchange. If a cook has an idea for a dish, he or she sends Chef Mina a photo of it, the recipe, and the dish it replaces. If Chef Mina approves, the cook adds a demo video, cost analysis, recipe notes, menu description, beverage pairing, possible allergies, silverware markings, and the exact wording a server should use to describe the dish to diners. Everything is recorded. It’s a painstakingly detailed system but has allowed Chef Mina to maintain tight control on his empire with the use of an iPad.
Chef Mina’s talents have been recognized by the foodservice industry with some of its most prestigious honors. He won three James Beard Awards—for Rising Star Chef in 1997, Best California Chef in 2002, and Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in 2013. He has earned Bon Appétit’s Chef of the Year in 2006, Restaurant & Hospitality magazine’s Richard Melman Award in 2009, Food Arts magazine’s Silver Spoon Award in 2011, and Wine Enthusiast magazine’s Restaurateur of the Year in 2012.
The true beauty of Chef Mina’s success is in the sum of all its different elements. “I love to cook. I am truly curious to learn more about food every day,” he explains. “I enjoy having a big hand in a person’s pleasurable experience of an evening. I thrive on the intensity of the fast pace and the pressure in the kitchen. And I adore the challenge to be creative and produce reliable results.”
Chef Michael Mina majored in culinary arts at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. He is an executive chef and restaurateur leading The Mina Group.
Chef Hubert Keller has visited countries around the world, and he&rsquos brought the tastiest dishes back to Las Vegas. His Mandalay Bay restaurant features small plate treats, perfect for a light dinner or a lingering evening meal shared with friends.
With master mixologists and a menu with traditional Japanese and Korean dishes, Kumi is the perfect place for a sophisticated night out. Chef Akira Back has appeared on Iron Chef America and won other numerous accolades.
Meals of Fortune
I telephoned Danny Meyer, all-knowing New York restaurateur, and told him I had a question about Las Vegas.
Before I could continue, he cut me off.
“The answer is money,“ he said. “What’s the question?“
It would have been this: Why can’t chefs say no?
Today, everybody goes to Las Vegas to gamble, except chefs, who go there with their fortunes guaranteed. Name a chef who has published a cookbook (good), won a James Beard Award (better), regularly appears on television (best), or has his own cooking show (jackpot), and somebody from Vegas will be calling. The new motto of the Vegas hotel mob: Kill ’em with cash.
Before Vegas hotel ecutives discovered the awesome profit potential of food, I loved eating there. Not at the buffets, those feedlots for the human race. I’m talking about an earlier time, when every hotel had three kinds of restaurants—no more, no less. They spoke of the city in the same way that the Brown Derby spoke of Hollywood, and now they’re gone.
The coffee shops were community centers, hubs of political, social, and sometimes even family life. The best was at Caesars Palace, where I had Thanksgiving dinner in 1968 with the hotel’s head of gambling, an old family friend. He wanted to give me a nice send-off before I left for Vietnam, so he had a couple of tables pushed together, and I ate turkey and stuffing with his family. Afterward, his wife loaned me her pink Pontiac convertible to drive around town, and he loaned me a showgirl for when I wasn’t driving around town.
The casino showrooms weren’t just for ogling career girls gone astray. They also provided regal dining (usually on prime rib) before Steve and Eydie took the stage. Now showroom seating is almost always theater-style, and you won’t get a free performance with dinner unless you’re in the mood for jousting at King Arthur’s Arena (Invading armies! Dancing maidens!). The gourmet rooms were for high rollers—they weren’t called whales yet. Almost everybody was comped, a practice that held firm until the ’90s. The gourmet rooms generally featured the gaudiest possible gastronomy plus first-growth Bordeaux from bad years. They had wonderful names: Sultan’s Table at the Dunes the Regency Room at the Sands Palace Court at Caesars Palace House of Lords at the Sahara and the Candlelight Room at the Flamingo.
If you’ve been to Vegas in the past few years, you probably think it has become a great restaurant city. You may be right. It just isn’t a very good food city. The hotel restaurants—nobody cares about the other kinds—are all the same, cavernous and expensive. They have no significant differences except for their decorations, which can be pretty astonishing, everything from Limoges china to swan-filled lagoons. Still, when every restaurant costs $6 million to $10 million to build, similarities exceed distinctions. It’s the curse of the overly affluent: There are just so many places a person with unlimited money can shop.
Fine dining in Vegas is about the glittery and the new. It’s high-end corporate cuisine for the masses. It’s about seating a lot of people and quickly moving them along to the casinos and the showrooms. Most customers plow through their tasting menus in ninety minutes, but all you have to do is ask and the food will come even faster. Size isn’t limited to square footage. Cubic feet count for a lot, too. Restaurants not only have to be wide, they also need to be high—forty-two feet in the case of Aureole. Is everybody happy? I’m afraid so.
Here’s a bulletin: These new restaurants are not just changing the city. They are also changing fine dining in America. That’s big news. Vegas is up to 40 million wide-eyed visitors per year, and their only mandatory recreational activity, besides acting silly, is eating. Vegas is now the template where lessons on eating well are being imprinted on the collective consciousness of America.
Inexperienced customers are finding out that luxurious restaurants offer sensory overindulgence combined with gastronomic uniformity. Were they spending their money in San Francisco or New York, they might learn something different, but they aren’t going to those cities to become accomplished diners, not anymore. Their schoolrooms are restaurants geared to conventions, expense accounts, and blowout vacations, establishments without history or traditions, restaurants that didn’t exist ten years ago.
Here’s the first troubling message: They’re being taught that a restaurant can be great even if it has no past, no personality, and no uniqueness. America invented food standardization in order to sell fifteen-cent hamburgers, and now the monster is loose.
Visitors to Vegas believe that dining at chef Guy Savoy’s restaurant in Caesars Palace is no different from dining at his restaurant in Paris, and that dining at Daniel Boulud Brasserie in Vegas is the same as dining at Daniel in New York. (Guy Savoy in Vegas is indeed intended to be a culinary replica, but Boulud’s somewhat casual place in the Wynn differs considerably from the New York flagship.) To average Americans—absolutely satisfied with adaptations and too indifferent or too blasé to care about experiencing originals—Vegas has become the real thing.
I’m not even sure what the names attached to restaurants mean anymore. Do Daniel Boulud and Guy Savoy represent real people to those eating at their restaurants, or are they merely logos? Maybe Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse are perceived as flesh and blood because they’re seen on TV. Everybody else is a trademark. To neophyte diners, chefs are no longer people who cook.
The culprit here is branding, which is mindless replication. Charlie Palmer, a chef with two Vegas restaurants, is planning a condo-hotel, the next (but surely not final) step in creating a comprehensive Charlie Palmer lifestyle. This is occurring in the name of our two great American ambitions, making money and having fun.
Fundamental to the essential breakdown of the fine-dining experience is the nonappearance of famous chefs. I went to thirteen restaurants in Vegas, and only three chefs were present: Paul Bartolotta of Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare in the Wynn Guy Savoy, in town for the opening of his restaurant at Caesars Palace and Tom Colicchio, who runs Craftsteak in the MGM Grand. Colicchio happened to be in the city taping an episode of Top Chef for Bravo, not to suggest he wasn’t toiling in the kitchen between takes. Chefs with restaurants in Vegas are likely to earn $300,000 to $750,000 a year, basically for the use of their name. A few who come to work regularly can earn additional bonuses for showing up.
Most Vegas restaurants, regardless of cost, are high-end franchises. They have big names, big budgets, and little else. They are knockoffs. This is tragic, because franchising destroys creativity. It halts the development of chefs. It deludes customers. Established restaurant owners, for the most part, disagree with me.
I asked Drew Nieporent, the famed New York restaurateur, whether he thought a replica of a cherished establishment was superior to an original from an unheralded chef, and he replied, “The knockoff is better.“ He opened a branch of Nobu in the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino—when I was in Vegas, it was the most difficult reservation to obtain. He says, “These big developers would rather call somebody like me than create something new and original. It’s easy, and it’s packed. In fact, it’s off the charts. They think it’s effortless, and for somebody with money, it is.“ Adds Charlie Trotter, who had an unsuccessful restaurant in Vegas in the ’90s and is expected to try again next year, “Let’s say Spago in Las Vegas isn’t as good as Spago in Beverly Hills. I don’t know if it is, but isn’t a Spago that’s 85 percent as good as the original better than a hotel operator opening a restaurant?“
I’ve eaten at Nobu in New York and in Vegas. The same for Spago in Beverly Hills and in Vegas. The problem is that they’re not 85 percent. I’d give 60 percent to Nobu in Vegas, partly because the ecution is sloppy and partly because the joint is chaotic. Spago in Vegas drops under 50 percent because it’s not nearly as ambitious as the estimable Spago in Beverly Hills and because the food seems to be ecuted mechanically—the famous Chinese chicken salad looked and tasted as though it had been assembled in a Cuisinart.
Trotter is correct in principle: If those restaurants were at 85 percent, they might be acceptable, but they’re not close. They lack animation and spirit. Most are classy looking, but they look like the creations of hotel corporations, not restaurateurs, and the most exciting day for a hotel ecutive is the one in which a chandelier salesman stops by. There are no adventures in dining in Las Vegas. Missing are independent-minded restaurants, such as Montrachet in New York and Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago, the places that launched the careers of Nieporent and Trotter.
Visitors to Vegas are getting the message that restaurants aren’t worth patronizing if they haven’t made a name for themselves somewhere else.
Even before Las Vegas ecutives created their new economic prototype—hotels, casinos, and restaurants as revenue partners—hotel dining in America had undergone a revival. Owners realized that restaurants could bring life, as well as customers, to the terrible void that was their lobbies and bars. And if they brought in restaurants with the right names, the seats were practically presold. Only beloved old Broadway musicals are more of a sure thing. Vegas gets no credit for ending the terrible ennui that was hotel dining. What it has done brilliantly is work out a particular ambience problem. It created a perverse form of alfresco dining, seating areas open not to the air but to the noise and lights of the casino. To some guests, this constitutes entertainment. At the very least, the clatter is an excuse for people dining together to engage in no conversation whatsoever.
Hotel planners follow systems, like card counters at blackjack tables. The architect David Rockwell, who designed the interior of the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, calls the climactic design element at every Vegas hotel the Big Weenie. He explains, “It can be a lake, a volcano, a sphinx, a pyramid.“
There are Restaurant Weenies, too. The most famous is Aureole’s four-story wine tower, which features “wine angels“ soaring up and down on wires—they have a lot more in common with rappelling Army Rangers to me. The ultimate Restaurant Weenies are at Alain Ducasse’s Mix in Las Vegas, on the sixty-fourth floor of the Hotel at Mandalay Bay. Above the bar, suspended from the ceiling, is an intimate seating area my showgirl-quality waitress described as “a strawberry that’s landed in the dessert.“ In the dining room is a huge white amorphous blob, a kind of space platform, possibly representing a champagne bubble. Celebrities canoodle in both the berry and the bubble.
The most normal-looking restaurant I visited was Michael Mina’s. It has low ceilings, an open kitchen, and simplicity of design. I never ate in one similar to it. The overly colorful Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare is a tribute to a time-honored fishing technique—toss a stick of dynamite into a lake and splatter bits and pieces of things everywhere. The room has several centerpieces, Mini-Weenies, huge urns that appear to serve no apparent purpose, although they are large enough to hide the bodies that the Mob used to bury in the desert. Oddly, this restaurant also offers one of the most serene and attractive dining options in Vegas, cabana-style tables circling an artificial lake. Such a wacky indoor-outdoor contrast could exist only in the mind of a Vegas entrepreneur.
Absent from Vegas restaurants are women. Don’t expect hatcheck girls. There are none. Don’t look for female celebrity chefs. Not represented. Mother Nature doesn’t get much respect, either. In Vegas, the natural world exists only in bogus form. Hotel owners love ordering up artificial lakes or indoor gardens, and most are predictably calming, an exception being Wynn’s Lake of Dreams. I found it unsettling to eat while staring out at a bunch of semi-immersed statues that seemed to represent naked gamblers drowning themselves after losing their shirts. At Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare, just as the chef was telling me that he wanted his restaurant to feel as though it were on the coast of Italy with speedboats roaring by, along came a vacuum-cleaning machine about the size of a Zamboni, noisily sweeping the carpet outside his front door.
Noticeably missing from Vegas restaurants are smells, which are sucked away with uncanny efficiency. Hotels are continually invaded by tourist bodies sweaty from walking up and down the Strip. Once a magical string of lights, the Strip has been transformed into a garish indoor-outdoor mall with a scorching pedestrian walkway. Walkers walk in. Walkers cool off. Walkers walk out. The coefficient of perspiration—my term—must be stupendous. Without gigantic ventilation systems, hotels would ripen. Think of the crew quarters on nuclear submarines. Still, something is lost when restaurants become as sterile as operating rooms.
Another lesson: The natural world never wins in Vegas.
Las Vegas is essentially artificial, a cubic zirconium. The hotels shimmer in the desert, one part Imax, one part simulacrum, one part mirage. The city offers one great experience that no other major city on earth can match, free parking for one and all. (You can upgrade to valet parking at no additional charge.) The restaurants are the apex of American extravagance. They have the tallest ceilings, the biggest rooms, the largest portions, and the maximum prices. This, by the way, is good news for struggling chefs across the country. The people who visit Las Vegas are learning to pay staggering prices for food.
Surf and turf at Michael Mina’s goes for $85. Rack of lamb at Joël Robuchon’s L’Atelier, $55. Colicchio’s ten-ounce Kobe filet, $110. My meal for two at the newly opened Guy Savoy was about $500 without wine. The last man I knew who operated an all-comp room was Trotter. He opened at the MGM Grand in 1994 and was out of business a little more than a year later. A nonrival restaurateur said of Trotter’s failure, “He did tasting menus, the same as he was doing in Chicago. That’s just what a person who has lost $50,000 gambling wants to eat—minuscule portions for four hours.“
Chile Rubbed Steak
Ram’s Gate Winery, Sonoma
Usually indulgent recipes like this are delegated to weekends when time is less of an issue, but now that the evening commute is a non-issue evenings are suddenly wide open for meal prep and restaurant-quality dishes like this one.
16 oz skirt steak, bone-in ribeye or New York
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp Rub Mixture
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp golden brown sugar
1 tbsp pasilla powder
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp espresso powder
2 tbsp kosher salt
2 tsp ground black pepper
1. Combine 2 tablespoons of the rub mixture and 1 tablespoon olive oil.
2. Coat steak and refrigerate overnight. (If you own a circulator, circulate marinated steak at 128 degrees for 1 hour).
3. Pull steak out of refrigerator and let it come to right below room temperature. Heat grill or pan. Sear and cook to desired temperature, we recommend medium rare, and enjoy.
4. Rub Mixture: mix dry ingredients together, store in an airtight container. Use for meat and veggies.
5. Serve this delicious steak with white cheesy grits, roasted potatoes and carrots or a nice spring mix salad with blue cheese vinaigrette.
- ASIN : B0048ELCQA
- Publisher : Ten Speed Press (March 1, 2004)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 240 pages
- Item Weight : 3.55 pounds
- Dimensions : 9.3 x 1 x 12.05 inches
Top reviews from the United States
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I didn't listen to other reviewers who panned this booked before I bought it. I've eaten at Aureole in New York and was wowed by its commitment to excellence. Surely the cookbook maintains those standards. Sadly it does not.
First, every page of the book is white on black. Images of the dishes (if that's what they are since they are nearly impossible to make out) are in negative. Completely unappetizing. The text of the recipes is at 45 degree angles on the page and not easy to read or follow.
Was this an experiment that failed horribly? I think so. The most ironic is the word "art" in the title which is not what you find inside the book.
I wonder if a lot of people assume that cookbooks are specifically written for the home cook? Some are and some are clearly not. Do people assume that an average person (not trained as a chef) could get a cook book from a four star restaurant and simply replicate the food at home with ease? Would that really make any sense? Shouldn't a restaurant of this caliber have a difficult cookbook? And wouldn't that be an injustice to simplify the cuisine on the assumption that most people don't have the equipment or the technique to execute the recipes? I feel that the answer is that yes there are people out there that work in the industry and thrive on cookbooks like this one. Myself included. Why does it seem odd that a number of cookbooks are geared towards cooks and chefs? There must be, what, thousands. if not millions of us out there cooking your dinner tonight. Where do we get some of our inspiration from? Cookbooks.
I think the layout is very original. Part A. - a two page colour photo showing the dish. Part B. - a two page black and white recipe. If anybody cared to delve a litter deeper they might understand the rational behind the layout. Chef Palmer's food is layed out across the plate horizontally and others on angels. It's not vertical food. The layout of the recipes mimics the layout of the food.
I've cooked out of this cookbook, albeit at my bistro, and the recipes do work and do taste great. It's the closet I can get, short of working at Aureole, to Chef Palmer's cuisine. It's a treasure of culinary tricks and techniques that take years to formulate and perfect.
Local’s Guide to Napa Valley
Napa Valley is in a class by itself among America’s wine regions. There are some 500 wineries in the 16 subappellations that make up the 30-mile-long, 5-mile-wide valley. They include the historic, such as Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, whose Cabernet Sauvignon demolished an array of French Bordeaux in the 1976 Judgment of Paris, thereby putting Napa firmly on the world wine map. They include the very luxe: A few of the wines produced here can go for $1,500 a bottle.
Napa’s popularity and those prices can make the valley seem intimidating to people who just want to spend a fun day tasting wine. The crowds are real—try turning left onto Highway 29 on a busy weekend. And at times, the pretensions have been too. But recent forays have revealed a new Napa—still serious about wine but willing to cut loose a little.
Learn to navigate the valley, and you’ll realize that it’s still the best place in the world to fall in love—deeply, lastingly in love—with wine. Visit, sip, savor. You’ll make your own wine memories, potent and pleasurable.
Mr. Oɼonnell likes New York delis, especially the Carnegie on Seventh Avenue and 55th Street, where he orders "a sandwich so tall I can't get it in my mouth," thick with corned beef or pastrami. Wherever he has lunch, he drinks iced tea, even if he has to brew it himself. He particularly craves that drink when traveling in England and France. "They think you're not supposed to have it, so I want it that much more," he said.
However basic their breakfast and lunch, the chefs invariably find themselves fantasizing about the meal to come as evening draws near. Many favor relatively simple local restaurants. "This is where you find the real soul of a region," said Alain Ducasse of Le Louis XV in Monte Carlo.
If you travel to one city often, Charlie Trotter of Charlie Trotter's in Chicago says becoming a regular patron of a restaurant will pay dividends. "They will begin to look out for you," he said. "You can call at the last minute."
Visiting local markets to study what chefs are buying is a must for many chefs, including Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, who is famous for her devotion to locally grown organic foods. "I ask people at the farmers' market what restaurant is buying that beautiful stuff," she said.
For a sure bet, Mr. Puck's simple advice is to dine in the best upscale restaurants, which are easy to find by consulting restaurant guides, Web sites and food magazines.
How often to eat can also be an issue. Mr. Trotter, for one, limits the number of evening meals on his travels to one, but 15 years ago, he said, he would pack away "three full dinners -- I don't mean grazing -- just to see what's going on."
"When you're young, you can do it, " Mr. Trotter, now 45, says. "I would eat for two hours at 5:30, for an hour and a half at 8 p.m., and then Iɽ eat again. Iɽ be with two or three other people, and weɽ order six appetizers and eight entrees. I was like an eating machine."
Ms. Waters recalled a dinner at the Cà del Re Restaurant at the Castello di Verduno, in Verduno, Italy, that she shared last October with 19 others, including Prince Charles. The menu included an herb omelet cooked in the fireplace roasted local Carmagnola yellow peppers with a bagna cauda sauce, which is made from anchovies and garlic homemade tajarin egg noodles served with a sauce made of veal, butter and mint pollo alla cacciatore, local farmyard chicken roasted with tomatoes and onions and served with grilled polenta three local cheeses torta di nocciole, a hazelnut cake made from a family recipe and panna cotta, which is an Italian pudding, with stewed Madernassa pears. This was washed down with three wines: two local -- a 2002 Verduno Basadone and a 1997 Barbaresco Rabajà Riserva -- and a Moscato dɺsti, produced by Elio Perrone.
Ms. Waters said the dinner took place in a "very relaxed, casual atmosphere." Prince Charles, who she said is not supposed to eat garlic, "did not seem to enjoy the bagna cauda very much," though "he did try the three wines and took a couple of bottles with him."
Mr. Trotter said his favorite meal on a business trip was personally prepared for him by the celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse in New Orleans five years ago. An old friend, Mr. Lagasse prepared a nine-course, five-hour meal featuring wild mushroom gumbo, barbecued shrimp with langoustines, quail stuffed with cornbread, generous servings of Rhône wine and the "all-time greatest banana cream pie."
Is there anything these chefs will not eat? Yes. Jean-Georges Vongerichten of JoJo in Manhattan and other restaurants will not touch what he calls "zoo food," like alligator or elephant meat. Charlie Palmer of Aureole in Manhattan and Las Vegas steers clear of very spicy food. And Mr. Boulud rejects bananas and warm porridge.
They all have their favorite restaurants for dining out on the road, but they also confess that they often cannot wait to return to the comfort of their own kitchens. "When I am home working, I eat in better balance," Mr. Boulud said. "When I travel, it's very frustrating. People are very nice to you and they give you too much to eat."
California Wineries Bring Virtual Wine Experiences to Consumers
Virtual vineyard and winery tours, dinner-and-wine kits, video cooking demonstrations and more are being offered by California wineries. Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash.
SAN FRANCISCO — With winery tasting rooms temporarily closed due to California’s statewide shelter-in-place order, wine lovers are looking for new ways to connect with their favorite wineries without leaving home. Golden State winemakers have responded with a variety of fun, creative offerings to bring California wine country to consumers across the country. Along with putting innovative and educational twists on “virtual tastings,” many are now offering takeout dinners, meal kits, stay-at-home pantry boxes and more.
Following are some of the unique offerings from California wineries across the state. To see all 80 virtual experiences, go to: Discover California Wines. Check back often as new experiences are being added daily.
MEAL KITS, CARE PACKAGES & COOKING DEMOS
On April 23, Stacey Combs, executive chef at Sonoma’s Ram’s Gate Winery, will lead a virtual cooking demonstration of Braised Short Ribs with Creamy Polenta. See here to register for the Zoom session and get an advance list of ingredients and wine pairing suggestions.
On April 24, join Kendall-Jackson Winemaster Randy Ullom and Executive Chef Justin Wangler for an interactive virtual tasting (participants are invited to purchase the wines in advance) and cooking demonstration of recipes from the Sonoma County winery’s cookbook.
Join Napa Valley’s Cakebread Cellars each week in April for live Cooking with Cakebread demonstrations on Facebook Live. Learn how to make comforting dishes like the winery chef’s Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Point Reyes Farmstead Toma Cheese, Pickled Golden Beet Slaw & Whole Grain Mustard.
Clif Family Wines in the Napa Valley is offering Stay-at-Home-Pantry Kits featuring four different wines, plus Clif Family gourmet goodies including apple butter, barbecued nuts, porcini spice blend, and dark chocolate sea salt almonds.
Tune in to Instagram Live and click on “Events” every Sunday for a live cooking demonstration with J Vineyards & Winery in Sonoma County, featuring the winery’s executive chef, Carl Shelton.
Along with virtual tastings with cheese pairings each Wednesday via Zoom and Facebook Live, Le Vigne Winery in Paso Robles is shipping Shelter-in-Place Care Packages filled with wine, charcuterie, cheeses and crackers.
Mendocino County’s Pennyroyal Farm is offering a Wine + Cheese Combo Pack for shipping across the U.S., featuring Pennyroyal’s own farmstead cheeses and wines.
Join chefs Charlie Palmer and Scott Romano every Thursday on Instagram Live for the Pigs & Pinot Tutorial Series. Each week, the chefs host a live cooking demonstration with wine pairings from a rotating lineup of Sonoma County winemakers.
Join Amelia and Dalia Ceja of Ceja Vineyards for Taco Tuesday, Vino y Más in Los Carneros in Napa, streaming on Facebook Live every Tuesday through May 12 at 6:30 p.m. PST to learn about classic and contemporary dishes and fun wine pairings.
SEMINARS & VIRTUAL TASTINGS WITH A TWIST
For virtual tastings that focus on specific wines, participants are invited to purchase the featured selections in advance so they can taste along.
On April 21, Join Napa Valley’s Groth Vineyards & Winery for a Happy (Half) Hour Virtual Concert featuring Justin Diaz on Instagram Live. Sip wine while enjoying an uplifting 30-minute set of classic pop, rock, soul and blues.
On April 24, join Napa Valley’s Alpha Omega for Final Final Friday on Instagram Live, when Winemaker Henrik Poulsen and Vineyard Manager Joel Antonio will recap the week in the cellar and vineyards.
On April 24, Knights Bridge Winery in Calistoga will lead a Pairing Wines With Glassware session Facebook Live to show participants how a serving vessel’s shape and size can affect a wine’s taste.
April 28, Merryvale Vineyards will host Tasty Tuesday, a virtual tour on Facebook Live of the winery’s Profile Estate Vineyard and a virtual tasting of the wines exclusively sourced from the vineyard site.
On May 2, the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association is organizing a free Zoom seminar on the region’s history, terroir and wines. Moderated by local sommelier Corrina Strauss, the session will feature vintner Allan Green, wine writer Thom Elkjer and Evan Hufford, formerly of Single Thread Farm Restaurant.
Ampelos Cellars in the Sta. Rita Hills is hosting educational virtual tastings on Zoom every Friday through April 24 that cover topics such as biodynamic farming, sustainable practices, vine anatomy, flowering, and harvest decisions.
Belden Barns is hosting weekly Wine & Wishes virtual tastings that explore bottlings from the Sonoma County winery’s portfolio. Winemakers will explore how the wines’ flavors change when paired with random items from their pantry—from beans to peanut butter to boxed macaroni and cheese.
Join DAOU Family Estates in Paso Robles for Instagram Live Happy Hour Fridays through April 25. Hosted by Katherine Daou, each virtual event features a particular wine and a special guest—such as DJ and music producer Morgan Page—announced the Monday before the session.
El Dorado Wines presents El Dorado Edge virtual tastings each Monday evening on Facebook Live, with each episode taking an edgy dive into a different sub-region of the Sierra Foothills AVA (American Viticultural Area).
Law Estate Wines in Paso Robles is offering interactive tastings on Facebook Live, Events, with winemaker Philip Pfunder every Friday through May 8. Each week he will provide a recipe to make at home and feature a local restaurant offering a take-out special that pairs perfectly with the featured wines.
Each Wednesday via Instagram Live, Tablas Creek Vineyard provides an inside look into what is happening in the Paso Robles producer’s vineyard and winery through interviews with staff members and celebrities.
Tolosa Winery in San Luis Obispo presents Technical Thursdays via Instagram Live or Facebook Live each week, where winemaker Frederic Delivert takes virtual guests to the vineyard and winery to explore their farming and production methods. Wednesdays through May 6, the winery will also host free Yoga Sessions with virtual vineyard views, finishing with a toast.
Join Francis Ford Coppola Winery for its virtual tastings and educational series with winemaking, culinary and gardening experts every Friday at 5:30 pm PST through May 1. View on IGTV or Facebook.
Ram’s Gate Winery in Los Carneros has launched Ram’s Gate in Your Kitchen, a food and wine pairing dinner kit delivery service for local delivery and pickup. Weekly-changing kits include a two-course menu featuring local produce and cheeses, with Ram’s Gate wines.
Bricoleur Vineyards in Windsor, Sonoma County, is offering Quarantine Kitchen pasta kits with wine for pickup and local delivery, such as Black Pepper Strozzapreti Arrabiata with a bottle of Pinot Noir.
Participants who pick up their wines for Broken Earth Winery’s Inophile Virtual Tasting, weekly, through April, can also take home a grab-and-go meal prepared by the Paso Robles winery’s executive chef.
Mendocino County’s Pennyroyal Farm is offering a Farm Box for pickup, filled with farmstead cheeses, free-range eggs, and fresh produce.
Established in 1934, Wine Institute is the public policy advocacy group of 1,000 California wineries and affiliated businesses that initiates and advocates state, federal and international public policy to enhance the environment for the responsible production, consumption and enjoyment of wine. The organization works to enhance the economic and environmental vitality of the state through its leadership in sustainable winegrowing and a partnership with Visit California to showcase California’s wine and food offerings.
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