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Thomas Keller in the kitchen of CIA at Greystone's Debaun kitchen auditorium, stirring a pot of melted Swiss chard

This guest-post comes to us from Mira Advani Honeycutt, author of California’s Central Coast, The Ultimate Winery Guide: From Santa Barbara to Paso Robles.  She frequently contributes wine and travel pieces to the Good Food Blog.

It’s surprising that Napa Valley, California’s culinary capital did not have its very own food and wine festival. But that changed last week, with the first annual FLAVOR! NAPA VALLEY. Over 120 wineries and 30 restaurants laid out the very best to showcase Napa’s bounty at various lunches/dinners and at the Appellation Trail staged at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone (CIA).

The concept was born when Food Network chef Michael Chiarello (Napa Style and Bottega) realised the need to raise funds for scholarships at CIA. He then collaborated with Napa vintners, chefs, CIA and
Napa Valley Destination Council (NVDC).

The four day celebration kicked off with an intimate lunch at Staglin Family Vineyard where guests gathered on the terrace surrounded by vineyards awash with fall’s golden colors. I met up with Clay Gregory, president of NVDC, who explained  that this celebration is part of the six month-long “Cabernet Season,” the November to April period when the region is relatively quiet. “You can enjoy Cabernet with hearty winter food,” Gregory said over a glass of Chandon champagne. Harvest is over, and vintners can spend time with visitors, offering barrel tastings and blending sessions, he added. “And in February’s mustard season, the best view is from CIA,” said Charles Henning, the institute’s managing director . 

If you are a foodie, this is as close to heaven as you will get. First off, there was the welcome dinner at the Silverado Resort prepared by three chefs: Masaharu Morimoto who burst into a Japanese song as he introduced his first course of Pacifc Geoduck with Kinmedai Snapper. This was a hard act to follow for Scott Conant, but his Rabbit Agnolotti with Foei Gras Emulsion was delicious.The meal continued with Cindy Pawlcyn’s Bachelor’s Lamb Tagine and ended with Jeffrey Jake’s Miile Feuille.

Thomas Keller's slow-poached milk-fed poularde with honey-poached cranberries, spiced pumpkin balls and melted Swiss chard. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Then there were culinary demonstrations at CIA by Napa masters: Thomas Keller’s one hour session on “Poaching: The Art of Gentle Cooking” was truly a feast for the eyes. The Four Story Hills Farm milk-fed Poularde was cooked sous vide with seasonal vegetables from the French Laundry garden. Keller prepared the flavorful sauce from the bird’s trimmings that was skillfully dissected by his assistant Devlin. When it comes to sharing his tips, the master chef is entertaining and the ultimate pro. Cooking is all about ingredients and execution, he says. Support our local farmers, fishermen and foragers and get the best equipment and tools. “In order to master your basic skills you have to do it over and over, again” says Keller, whose culinary mantra is “repetition.”

At the Appellation Trail, Masaharu Morimoto holding a bowl of Congee clam chowder with kabocha, Nuoc Chom and Applewood smoked bacon. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Other demonstrations ranged from Morimoto’s sushi and sashimi session to Ken Frank’s tips on “What To Do If Someone Gives You a Truffle” and an interactive lunch with Chiarello. Wine expert Karen McNeil  and chef David Funaro indulged in a hedonistic challenge of pairing Godiva chocolate with wine, Andrea Robinson conducted a blind wine tasting, chefs Richard Blais reinterpreted California Cuisine and Christopher Kostow dug into Mouthfeel: the textural art in food.

Napa’s toniest restaurants from French Laundry and Farm to Bouchon and Brix hosted dinners on Satudray night and FLAVOR! ended on a high note with a Terroir to Table Brunch on Sunday at the Silverado Resort.