Jun 23 2010

Wining and Dining in Napa

Published by at 7:40 pm under Cooking Classes

My Assistant and Me

One of the biggest perks of living in San Francisco is being so close to all of the cool events that go down in wine country, which are typically as much about the food as they are the wine. And although my dad’s the one who’s actually a member of wine clubs, I’m often the family representative who actually gets to attend them. Props to sheer proximity!

Example: The winery Jessup Cellars in Napa hosted a cooking class for their club members this month, and my father generously offered to send my assistant and me. Naturally I jumped at the opportunity, not only because I got to cook in a kitchen five times the size of my own, but because the menu sounded sensational. And way over my head.

Halibut Ceviche with Compressed Pineapple Salsa; Tuna Poke on Tempura Nori with Chili Aioli

MENU:

Halibut Ceviche with Compressed Pineapple Salsa

Tuna Poke on Tempura Nori with Chili Aioli

Pork Tenderloin with Spatzle, Mustard Emulsion and Pumpkinseed Oil

New York Striploin with Ginger Rice Cake, Woodear Scallion Salad, Ponzu and Crispy Egg Yolk

Cornbread Olive Oil Cake with Balsamic Caramel, Strawberries and Coffee Foam

So my culinary education continues, little by little. This class was vastly different from the last one I took at Chef Joe’s Culinary Salon; it was held in a gorgeous B&B instead of a San Francisco storefront, the dishes were fancier and guests felt much more pampered up in Napa. Jessup wines were poured generously all night, and half of our class was part of a bachelorette party. Enough said.

The Cedar Gables Inn

The event took place in the kitchen of the Cedar Gables Inn, which was built in 1892. It’s currently run by a couple named Ken and Susie, who are living the good life better than anyone I’ve ever seen. Susie used to run her own culinary school before they bought the inn, but she loves cooking so much that she decided to host occasional classes at the Cedar Gables for guests. They invite renowned chefs from the area to demonstrate in classes, everyone takes home a copy of the recipes and it’s a fun night for all.

Our celebrity chef was Gary Penir, who, I learned, worked at Cyrus in Healdsburg when I ate there a few years ago. It’s one of those wildly expensive and decadent restaurants with 10-course meals, wine pairings and waiters who move in synchronicity. And it’s heavenly.

Penir is in his early 30s, and I couldn’t help admiring how relaxed he was the whole time, while a bunch of slightly tipsy amateurs tried to recreate his dishes — which we actually all ate at the dining room table together, after class. So understandably, major damage control had to be done, but he handled it with ease.

He’s very knowledgeable but unpretentious, and he patiently answered every question hurled at him (there were many; a few were relevant). He doesn’t work in restaurants anymore, but instead runs his own company, Cuisine GP. Penir included in our menu something he considers to be a “signature dish” of sorts since he discovered it with his buddies: a crispy egg yolk. Hint: You have to freeze the yolks to make this work.

New York Striploin with Ginger Rice Cake, Woodear Scallion Salad, Ponzu and Crispy Egg Yolk

My assistant and I were the youngest people in the class by at least a decade, but we were surprised by how much we enjoyed the company of our classmates. The atmosphere is definitely more “wine and dine” than Top Chef-style¬†cutthroat, so naturally everyone was having a good time.

Typically in these sorts of settings, I shy away from being in charge of the main dishes. In our class with Chef Joe, I meekly agreed to oversee the soup, even though I really wanted to know the ins and outs of Boeuf Bourgignon. This time, I decided not to take the backseat, and my assistant and I pounced on the pork tenderloin dish. I’m not including any recipes here since they’re not my own, but trust that it was delicious in my totally unbiased opinion, and that it wasn’t difficult to make. Since pork tenderloin is pretty affordable in these parts, my assistant and I are looking forward to impressing our friends with this one.

Pork Tenderloin with Spatzle, Mustard Emulsion and Pumpkinseed Oil

And in the meantime, I’ll just be saving up money to buy an inn in Napa. No big deal.

Cornbread Olive Oil Cake with Balsamic Caramel, Strawberries and Coffee Foam

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Wining and Dining in Napa”

  1. Christion 05 Jul 2010 at 4:33 pm

    Just the idea of wining and dining in Napa is heavenly….but that menu sounds scrumptious….what a great looking as well as talented team you and your assistant make!

  2. Livon 06 Jul 2010 at 9:57 am

    I’ll whip you up some fancy pork next time I’m in town!