Saturday, January 29, 2011

Naples Winter Wine Festival Vintner Dinner 2011

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Winter Wine Festival Trustees Terry and Bob Edwards and Judith Liegeois and John Scot Mueller hosted an elegant Vintner Dinner at the Edwards modern home.
Terry and Bob Edwards,  John Scot Mueller and Judith Liegeois
Nationally renowned Executive Chef Lee Hefter, honored as Chef de Cuisine of the 2011 Festival, prepared an elegant five course dining experience for twenty four guests. Spago, his flagship Beverly Hills restaurant, earned two Michelin stars (out of a possible, and very rare three stars).
Executive Chef Lee Hefter
 Noted vintners Shari and Garen Staglin of Napa Valley’s Staglin Family Vineyard matched his cuisine with a treasure trove of fine 100% organic wines.
The Staglins have raised over $120 million through their International Mental Health Research Organization.

“Artists in Residence” was the evening’s theme. The Edwards, passionate about painting and sculpture, have unique pieces ranging from six to perhaps 3o feet tall. Their collection covers the gamut of modern art. The Staglins, also passionate art collectors, readily identified the sculptors of quite a few of the Edwards collection.
Festival attendees meet and bond with each other at vintner dinners, affirming the primary reason they are gathered…to bid high to assist Collier County’s children in need.
Mr. Mueller talked passionately about the various childrens programs in place such as The Hunger Initiative, Boys and Girls Club, Eden Initiative, Foster Care Council and some new projects. He said “These dinners are the kickoff for the auction tomorrow, and it’s a thank you to all the people who are here (at the Festival) to support the things we do for our kids... We have a partnership with twenty five agencies. We provide the funding, but they are in the trenches with the problems everyday; dealing with the abused kids, the abandoned kids, and the hungry kids. They are the real heroes. We are proud to be a part of that process to help turn their lives around and make a big difference.”

This was the Edwards’ first year as trustees and first time hosting a dinner. Bob Edwards said, “Your eyes will well up when you meet these kids and your hear their stories...The key is watching all these people come together to make something really change.” The Edwards upped the auction ante; they donated their beloved bright red fully restored 1956 Chevrolet Corvette.
Bob noted, “ It was the fastest car in the world at that time. I got to enjoy it, and now it’s going for a great cause. I’ll ship the car to California as there’s a wonderful trip in Napa Valley attached to the purchase.”
The guests moved in and around the spacious kitchen. Chef Hefter is remarkably down to earth for someone whose cuisine is “for the angels.” Powerfully built, with a gleaming shaved scalp and a good rapport with people, he trimmed racks of veal, seared scallops and personally cooked every dish of every course with apparent ease. His hors d’oeuvres included bite sized spicy big eye tuna tartar in sesame miso cones,
 foie gras mousse tarts, American Osetra caviar tarts
 and Prime New York sirloin sliders.  The bold sliders were a hit with aged sirloin and Kobe beef, shallot and onion marmalade, and melted California Gouda cheese on brioche buns.

Guests mingled.
Chef Hefter’s deft sautéing transformed the first course of seared Maine diver scallops into “the best scallops I’ve ever had,” per one lady’s awed palate.
 The butter-tender scallops were paired with French langoustine with a pear-anise soubise, micro peppercress and a fennel-yuzu kosho emulsion.

From drying the scallops before searing to zesting the yuzu, Chef Hefter’s culinary artistry amazed the guests. As executive chef of Spago Beverly Hills and managing partner and executive corporate chef of the Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining and Catering Groups, he presides over an armada of eighteen restaurants.

Earlier, I asked Chef Hefter what comfort food he cooked at home, and he replied “pasta.” Italian chestnut “Agnolotti” pasta with shaved French black truffles was the second course, and the guests raved about the sauce’s heavenly flavors. When every plate came back, not a drop of sauce remained. You can bet his pasta at home doesn’t taste like ours! If he bottled his pasta sauces-I’d buy the first caseload.
The modestly sized portions and relaxed pacing of the meal left guests well fed, not overfed. Each course was paired with one of the Staglin’s fine Chardonnay, Cabernet, Sangiovese, Salus Estate and Ineo wines, which have been rated up to 98 points by wine experts.

Third course featured roasted rack of organic veal and its “Marrow custard” served in trimmed bones for an unusual presentation. It was accompanied by a parsnip puree, black trumpet mushrooms, baby carrots with a Sauce Perigourdine, reflecting Chef Heftner’s experiences while in France’s finest restaurants. The sauce is a sublime marriage of demi-glace, foie gras, Madeira wine and truffles.

One guest said of the veal, “Tender is not the word, you could cut this with a glance!”

The trio of musicians played a spirited medley of favorites on acoustic guitar, drums and flute.
 Meanwhile, a duet of American Wagyu beef and Angus “Kobe Style” beef was accompanied by cippolini mushrooms, baby turnips, salsify and a wasabi-shiso Hollandaise. On the left of the plate are slow cooked short ribs paired with a hearty rutabaga puree and Armagnac-yuzu sauce.
The low and slow cooked short ribs melted in one’s mouth, and the layers and layers of rich beef flavors in a highly reduced sauce was “food for the gods!” Guests said the Staglin Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 and 2006 brought out even more levels of taste, if that can be imagined. Just book me a table for the evening at Spago so I can savor Chef Hefter’s two Michelin star cuisine.

During the meal, guests visited the kitchen to see a professional chef and top sous chefs make a gourmet meal’s preparation almost look doable for a home cook.
Top chefs have a slight advantage over home cooks with sous vide equipment, mind-reading sous chefs and the best ingredients!
 Similar recipes from Spago are online for you to try out at: http://www.wolfgangpuck.com/recipes

Dessert followed the hosts’ words from the heart, encouraging guests to be ardent bidders the next day. Their words were heeded. Individual Earl Grey “Baked Alaska” with white chocolate-buttermilk cake was paired on the plate with melting chocolate truffle cake, enhanced with a Tahitian vanilla crème anglaise and salted caramel ice cream.
Some guests stayed late, and had a bonus of aged Ports, and Chateau d’Yquem ’86 paired with fine cigars, served on the now chilly lanai. Much of the USA experienced record blizzards, stranding thousands of passengers.
 The trio of musicians gamely came out to play, however the unusually chilly February weather soon numbed the guitarist’s fingers and the flutist’s lips.

The hour was getting late, and I wondered if the three musicians from Fort Pierce would drive home or stay at a local hotel. Via a chance conversation, they mentioned that the Edwards had prepared beds for them in their home. That’s genuine kindness and thoughtfulness.
So how did the vintage red Corvette do at auction? It brought $300,000!
The 2009 auction brought $5 million, and the 2010 saw $8.1 million dollars. This 2011 auction raised an amazing $12 million dollars for the Winter Wine Festival and the children, uncorking a wonderful new decade in their lives.

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