9th Annual Pebble Beach Food and Wine - The Chefs of the Lexus Grand Tasting

Without a doubt, the highlight of the 2016 Pebble Beach Food and Wine festival is the two day Lexus Grand Tasting event held under a massive 40,000 square foot tent at the Equestrian Center in Pebble Beach.  For an entry fee of $225 per day guests can meet and mingle with 65 world class chefs and taste their specially prepared dishes paired with some incredible wines from over 200 wineries from around the world.  In today's blog we're going to focus on just a sampling of the amazing chefs we got to see over our two mouth watering days, to give you a taste (pun absolutely intended) of some of the fun we had.

As we first enter the Lexus tent we are immediately struck with a cacophony of sights, sounds and smells.  

Handed our sampling wine glass we quickly hit the ground running to see (and taste) what there is to see. 

First up was Jonathan Waxman, a California native, Berkeley to be exact, who began his cooking career in 1979 in Santa Monica as Executive Chef at Michael's 

Today he is the chef and owner of Barbuto in Manhattan's West Village and Waxman's San Francisco

Chef Waxman served a very tasty super kale salad topped with a special anchovy dressing. Healthy and delicious?  At this point we're thinking that just might be able to stick to our diets after all.

Ah . . . nope.  As we walked up to  Executive Pastry Chef Chris Ford's (Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons) station and the display of his yummy BBQ waffle cream cone with salted caramel and milk mousse any hope that we'd be able to refrain from fully partaking in all the goodies over the two day event quickly fell by the wayside. 

Our taste buds were surprised and pleasantly confused by the sweet, salty and savory combination and it became clear why Chef Ford was named 2012 "People's Best New Pasty Chef."  We made sure to pocket the complementary jar of his PPJ featuring a chocolate ganache for later. [Editor's note - It did not disappoint.]

Chef Roy Hermann, Director of Culinary Operations for Sprout Restaurant Group in Los Angeles (Rivera, and Bestia) showed off his culinary expertise by torching his pulled pork to perfection. Its savory goodness literally melted in our mouths. 


For something a little different we stopped by Chef Vartan Abgaryan's (71 Above) booth. True to his philosophy that food should be both visually beautiful as well as tasty, he masterfully plated his dish of poached oysters with caviar, tarragon and champagne over a bed of sea rocks that appeared to have come right out of the ocean at Spanish Bay.  All we can say is "Wow"!


Next up, Chef Aaron Burns (The Bench at Pebble Beach) offered a salty and savory bite of his poached potato with lobster butter, smoked trout roe and ogo seaweed, elegantly served up as one bite wonders on artfully aligned rows of tasting spoons.

But as if that wasn't enough...
Chef Burns complimented that with a tart, yet sweet and savory cup of citrus salad with maple smoked ricotta, candied walnuts and kumquats. How do they think up these combinations? Not sure, but they worked.

Chef Giberto Galves of the Inn at Spanish Bay made an indescribably delicious Kobe beef tataki with celery root puree and yuzu emulsion. 

Trying to determine if he really liked the combination of beef, celery root and yuzu, my husband Mike consumed at least three plates (Editor's note - Actually, more like four; it was really that good.) Conclusion - he might need to taste one more sample "just to be sure".


As we continued to make our way down the aisle, we next came across a cutting board piled high with pounds and pounds of sliced bacon. So of course we had to investigate. 

Chef Tony Baker of Baker's Bacon started his career in England, later moving to the United States in 1994, where he thereafter earned numerous awards and accolades including Edible Magazine's Chef of the Year - Monterey. 

Today Chef Baker was turning the virtual mountain of bacon into a very tasty dish of braised Bakers Bacon with bitter chocolate over crispy potato and hazelnut crunch. An incredibly popular dish with the crowd, the mountain of bacon very quickly became little more than a mole hill.

Without question, one of the more popular, and certainly more unique displays over the two day event was presented by one of our very own local chefs, Executive Chef John Cox of Sierra Mar restaurant at Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur. Chef Cox pulled out all the stops with a booth elaborately decorated with every conceivable variety of edible macrofungi (mushrooms to us laymen). 

Even showcasing a completely functional and quite sturdy sitting chair and side table made entirely of mushroom components. 

We were so taken by the amazingly creative display that we failed to write down the name of the wonderful dish he was serving.  We can assure you though, whatever it was, it was VERY GOOD. 

Only one left?  Don't mind if I do. 


Creativity of menu and presentation were everywhere on display at the Lexus Grand Tasting event. One booth that we particularly enjoyed was manned by Chef Rogelio Garcia, executive Chef of the French country restaurant Angéle in Napa. His foie gras lollipop golfballs were literally "teed up" on a neatly manicured lawn of wheat grass. With its incredible smooth texture, each bite simply melted in your mouth and was gone all too soon.


Right up there on the creativity scale was our very own Chef Todd Fisher of Tarpy's Roadhouse in Monterey and his "Symposium of Skin" creation featuring goat al pastor on crisp pig skin, cured and crispy salmon and chocorones. It was truly a work of art.


Fresh from his individual showcase demonstration earlier that morning over at the Inn at Spanish Bay (much more on that fun event in a later blog) Chef Graham Elliot of Iron Chef and Top Chef fame and the owner of Graham Elliot Bistro in Chicago, arrived at his station on center stage decked out in his best Michael Jackson attire, sans his trademark white horn-rimmed glasses (he left them in his car back home). 

Admittedly "working blind" Chef Elliot was still able to knock us out with his smoked sturgeon on cabbage slaw with pumpernickel crumble. There were so many different tastes and textures with each bite we couldn't keep track of them all -- though we had no trouble finding our way back for seconds.


Chef Manny Haider, Division Chef and Center of the Plate Specialist for US Foods, one of America's top 10 food-service distributors brought four chefs with him to plate a tantalizing one bite wonder of lobster cake over stone ground grit with bone marrow aioli and micro citrus.   


Chef Yousef Ghalaini (FIG Restaurant) tempted us with the first of many meatballs we would be served that afternoon, combining wood roasted lamb meatballs with aji amarillo on watermelon radish salad with whipped feta.


Searching for something a little on the wild side we were drawn to Chef Isaac Bancaco's table. Born and raised in Maui, Hawaii, Chef Bancaco is deeply rooted in Hawaiian culture and cuisine and it showed in everything he served.

As Executive Chef of the Ka'ana Kitchen at the Andaz Maui Hyatt Resort, Banaco sources the best locally grown ingredients for his menus. At the grand tasting we enjoyed poke Hawaiian he'e (squid) with limu kohu (red algae) and wild boar. It tasted even better than it looks. And it looks great!


For the even more adventurous, James Beard Award finalist for Best Chef: Midwest in 2014, Chef Kevin Nashan of St. Louis Sidney Street Cafe offered his dish of octopus confit and brandade with salsa verde and swiss chard. Though we're not typically big octopus (octopi?) fans, Chef Nashan's dish sure made us believers.


Did we mention that we tasted more than a few meatballs over the two day event?  Well if you're fond of meatballs there was no better booth to be than at Chef Daniel Holzman's. Chef Holzman began his cooking career at the age of 15 at Le Bernard in in New York City.  In 2010, he teamed up with his childhood friend and opened The Meatball Shop on New York City's Lower East Side (now expanded to 6 locations). 

The "balls" he was showing off today were his spicy pork meatballs with spicy meat sauce on polenta. They were delizioso! If you're interested you can find his recipe for this delightful dish off The Meatball Shop website. Sorry the picture is blurry we were both reaching for the ball at the same time.


While we were there we just had to go visit the booth of Carmel-by-the-Sea's very own Chef Ron Mendoza, Executive Pastry Chef for Aubergine, located at L'Auberge Carmel

Chef Mendoza and his team were lightening-fast in plating their cool puff pastry filled with blueberries and eucalyptus cream.  Light, fluffy and oh so delicious. 


And now for something completely different.  The brioche donuts with brown butter glaze and cinnamon-caramel plated by by Chef Steven Fretz (The Church Key-West Hollywood) were both sweet and savory and single-handedly put our diets back a few weeks.  But boy was it worth it.  


After moving to San Francisco in 2013 and taking the position of Executive Chef and Partner at RN74, Chef Adam Sobel, served as a guest judge on Food Network's cooking show, Chopped and was crowned the "King of Pork" at the Grand Cochon, in Aspen, Colorado.

Unfortunately we missed out on his Middle Eastern inspired sweet pea and haloumi sambusik with pickled red onions shaved radish and green garlic schug.  Word on the street from those who were lucky enough to get there in time was that, and we quote here, "it was divine".  

Our diets now in shambles and our taste buds on full overload it was now time to call it a day. We are so thankful for the opportunity to take part in this year's Lexus Grand Tasting.  With so many talented chefs to meet and so many great dishes to enjoy we can't wait to see what Pebble Beach Food & Wine has in store for us next year. 

Until next time - Happy Adventures!!!!! 

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