Napa Valley is a beautiful place all year round. However, the spring season is especially unique because the surrounding hillsides are all very, very green from the rainfall during the winter. According to the locals, the grass on the hills are pretty dry and brown most of the year. However, this time of year everything is especially verdant and just really, really lush and beautiful.
A wonderful way to experience the region is by bike! There are some really nice, virtually car-free roads on which you can ride. It's so relaxing to just be outside, drinking in the surrounded views of vineyards and hills.
On Sunday morning, the guests who were attending the Almost Famous Chef Competition road our bikes out to Trefethen Vineyards for a fun and educational morning leaning about food from our celebrity chef judges.
Here we are in Yountville, gearing up for our bike ride!
The bike ride was a smooth pavement road most of the way, although at the end we actually road through the vineyard!! It was a bit bumpy and definitely took a bit of effort!
John and Hayley Trefethen
When we arrived, we were greeted warmly by The Trefethen family! Here's dad (John) and daughter (Hailey) on top of their truck giving a welcoming speech.
"Did you know this vineyard has been here since the 1800's?"
Interestingly, back in the late eighteen hundreds there were over a hundred vineyards in the area. After Prohibition, however, the numbers reduced drastically. This particular vineyard survived Prohibition by producing sacramental wine. It fell into disarray by the 1940's, and it wasn't until 1968 that the Trefethen family (John's parents) purchased the land, completely cleaned it up, and made it a working winery again.
For the remainder of the morning, we wandered around the vineyard visiting various "stations," each of which offered a unique educational perspective on a food topic.
Chef Rick Moonen (RM Seafood in Las Vegas)
Chef Moonen is passionate about sustainable seafood. In his demonstration, he taught us how to shuck an oyster as well as how to make ceviche. He had participants taste oysters from different bodies of water, showing the vast difference in flavor that the water can make on the raw oyster.
Chef Tony Mantuano (Spiaggia in Chicago)
Chef Mantuano gave a pasta making demonstration. He showed us how to make ricotta raviolis from scratch. He also provided different types of ricotta samples that people could try.
Chef Jean Joho (Everest, Chicago)
Chef Joho talked about honey and how the source can make such a difference in the flavor. We tried several different honeys and it was amazing how different they each tasted.
He also worked together with 2010 winner Luis Young to demonstrate how to make mozzarella cheese from scratch. Chef Joho emphasized the importance of enjoying mozzarella when it's fresh. "When you order it at a restaurant or buy it in the supermarket, you have NO IDEA how old it is. This is why it's better to make it yourself!"
This super fresh mozzarella was absolutely delicious! Chef Joho also told us there is NO NEED for balsamic vinegar on really good mozzarella. Just high quality olive oil and a dash of sea salt is all you really need. It was seriously really really good. I really want to try making some at home!
Chef Michel Richard (Citronelle, Washington DC)
Chef Richard provided samples of chocolates that were different % cocoa to show how the cocoa and sugar ratio really affect the flavor. He also made a really interesting little bite - chocolate truffle covered grapes!
These were interesting. Some people loved them while others, like myself, found them to be a bit unusual. Not my favorite, but it's definitely a healthier way of enjoying truffles. 🙂
Bob Hurley (Hurley's Restaurant, Yountville)
Chef Hurley gave us samples of normal pork and wild boar just to demonstrate the differences in flavor. He talked about how there were many wild boars roaming the hills of California, but due to USDA regulations, he's actually not allowed to serve the meat from those boars. The flavors were definitely different, with the wild boar having a much gamier and earthier taste.
These two British folks from Calistoga Roastery were super friendly and definitely brewed an absolutely delicious cup of joe. Clive Richardson left The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf back in 1992 to start his own coffee company. He was obsessed about perfecting the flavors that are extracted from coffee, and thus started Calistoga as a way to completely control every step of the the coffee making process (from green beans to the final cup).
I must agree, this coffee is fantastic and I very much enjoyed my perfect cappuccino.
Chef Gary Danko (Gary Danko in San Francisco) and Chef Brooke McDougall (Bymark, Toronto)
I stopped by Gary Danko's station first, where he taught me all about various olive oils and balsamic vinegars. I had a chance to try several different kinds, and it was definitely fascinating to see what a difference terroir can make. I actually sampled the same olive grown in different regions, and you could definitely taste a difference.
Chef McDougall had us taste wild watercress and hydroponically-grown watercress. Even though the hydroponically-grown watercress was much prettier, I actually preferred the taste of the wild watercress, which was a little sweeter and less strikingly spicy/peppery. I thought that the wild one also had much richer flavors. Chef McDougall agreed that he also liked the wild one better for flavor, although he often used the hydroponically-grown watercress as a garnish since it is a lot prettier.
Family Style Outdoor Lunch
We then sat down in the Trefethen's lovely outdoor eating area and enjoyed a delicious, family-style lunch.
There were endless amounts of delicious food, lively conversation, and overall fun times.
This dessert reminds me of my favorite chocolate doughnut from Bouchon Bakery. I loved the crunchy cocoa covered topping, which sat on top of light chocolate mousse and an edible chocolate bowl!
Chef posing with Mrs. Janet Trefethen, who flew all the way back from Dallas just to see us!
Chef Joho arrived late in style.
Thanks to all the celebrity chefs for helping to make this Vineyard experience so educational, fun, and unique! Of course, thanks to S. Pellegrino and the wonderful staff at Salt Communications for setting up this fantastic event!
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