I stared blankly at the e-mail in my inbox, wondering how on earth she found me. Me, one of the rare unicorns who do not drive in Los Angeles. Yet there it was in my inbox. Buick. As in the oldest American automotive company still in production. Inviting me to the Food & Wine Buick Discovery Tour! Shriek!
I thought I was going to have to break our hearts and say no, no, I couldn’t possibly go to your event – but wait. What was that, Buick? You teamed up with Food & Wine Magazine to tour across the nation together with three top chefs who will be demoing their amazing, award winning food? Plus wine? At the Four Seasons? Well…all right. Time to zip along and give the 2013 Buick Discovery Tour a test drive!
You really twisted my arm there, Buick.
Buick’s first commercial car: The 1904 Model-B
Pond & Waterfall – Four Seasons Westlake Village
The event itself took place in the far reaches of the San Fernando Valley, which I struggled to grasp why at first; upon realizing it was the Four Seasons, though, I understood perfectly. The above photo was taken in their majestic backyard.
We arrived with just enough time to register and grab a plate of appetizers: cheese, crackers, fruits and meat. The day was divvied up into three rotating, 30-minute modules for three separate groups, organized by color. My group, Team Grey, was the first to be taken out to the Buick Test Drive.
Now, long time readers of Glass of Win know that your beloved hostess does not drive. I’d warrant to say most of you even know I do not, nor have I ever, possessed a driver’s license. I break out into hives and hyperventilate if I am put in the driver’s seat of a car. Any car. Hence, my lovely assistant and car enthusiast, mom. Mom and I are very close and half of our positive mother/daughter bonding during my childhood came from road trips. Being born with a chronic illness, it is all too easy to grow up with memories of ones parents exclusively associated with time spent at hospitals; thankfully, though, I have these road trip memories to balance that out.
Mom and I spent many hours going from central California to her little hometown in Southern California, then the big move across America had mom going warp speed down America’s great highway with her elderly mother, my older brother and my bratty 6 year old self. When it was time to say goodbye to New England, my mom refused to go without first taking a long, leisure camping road trip up and down the New England states – plus Washington D.C. for good measure. Our biggest road trip of all soon followed: three weeks trekking across the U.S.A. Just mom, a preteen me and my cat, Mr. Destiny. It was amazing and made our life living back east come full circle. We drove into Pennsylvania, and we drove out.
Mom test driving her first Buick
Between the Verano and LaCrosse, mom enjoyed the LaCrosse. She described it as being an effortlessly smooth drive, “zippy” like a sports car but still practical and a good size. She was especially smitten with all of the technology going on on the dashboard. All right, mom, I know it’s called the Buick Discovery Tour and you want to drive off into the sunset, but we have to get going to the modules in my wheelhouse!
The Olive Orchard
As we waited for the next session to empty and be set up for our group, The Olive Orchard was demoing several of their flavored olive oils. My favorite was actually the hot pepper flavored olive oil. Yum!
Chef Raphael Lunetta of JiRaffe
Our first demo was provided by chef Raphael Lunetta, owner and chef at JiRaffe Restaurant in Santa Monica. You may recognize him as a guest judge on Bravo channel’s Top Chef. “The Surfing Chef” as he is known in some circles, is also a native Southern Californian, growing up in the same area as his restaurant now resides. As we’re always proud of our own, mom insists a trip to JiRaffe is in the near future. OK, the press kit she was eyeballing for the rest of the day might have influenced her declaration just a tad.
Filet of Beef with potato & pear gratin
red flame grapes, sautéed swiss chard, julienne hearts of palm, Madeira reduction
Working with limited space, 25 minutes and even a blackout, Chef Lunetta proved his mutton as he whipped up this amazing dish. The aroma of garlic, butter, shallots and Madeira was making my mouth water; the trays circulating the individual sampling’s arrived in just the nick of time! The message Chef instilled upon the audience was that good, quality and impressive food does need not take all day to prepare. He was able to take a couple of questions before our time was up, and I found this one to be worthy of passing on:
Q: Does meat need to be room temperature before cooking?
A: Chef Lunetta said this was an “essential” method for French cooking, and to be done especially if you intend your meat to be rare in the center.
Ben Roche of Baume and Brix
Time to move on to our third module: Progressive Pastry with Ben Roche. Oh, Ben. Ben. Ben. Ben. Firstly, I had the luxury of a front row seat and all I could do was resist the urge to banish my mother to the back of the room with a temperamental, “You’re cramping my style, mom!” and make moon eyes at the man on stage. Then he said something about being from Chicago, my heart was broken and I bravely soldiered on. Oh, well. At least there was going to be dessert to drown my sorrows in, right? OK, back to professional mode. Ben was the pastry chef at the famous (infamous?) Moto, known for its avant-garde molecular gastronomy as well as co-wrote and co-starred in “Future Food” on Discovery’s Planet Green network. His latest endeavor with colleague Thomas Elliot Bowman is the savory/sweet culinary adventure, Baume & Brix in Chicago.
coconut rice pudding, caraway ice cream
I think there is something of a mad scientist inside all innovative pastry chefs; baking is indeed the edible side of chemistry and I think I caught a whisper of Dr. Jekyll in Chef Roche as his recipe began to spring to life. It was an instant crowd pleaser; I think I caught a few distinguished looking middle aged Asian women licking their plates. Just sayin’.
Favorite quotes from Chef Ben include:
“Don’t pour hot sugar in a high molten lava speed spinning bowl of death.”
“You use a candy thermometer. I have robot eyes. I can tell when it’s done.”
“If you happen to have liquid nitrogen just lying around…”
“If you need a big fire for a small amount of time, light up [some] rice noodles.”
Wine Demo with Michael Green
I don’t know how to adequately describe Michael Green. To say he is a connoisseur of wine would be an understatement. He is Bacchus himself: jovial, bombastic and utterly zealous about wine.
White Wine from Rodney Strong Vineyards
With his unique grandiose charisma, Michael taught the audience the “Six S’s of Wine Tasting”: see, swirl, smell, sip, swish and spit. He broke down the intimidating barriers of wine, delving into the nitty gritty of the glorious libation; making it fun and accessible even to the most timid of wine novices. We played with the ways food can influence the taste wine, using a lemon to enhance the sweetness of a Chardonnay and a nibble of high cacao chocolate to bring out the woodiness of the red. It was all very scientific, really. Of course, since this was a no spitting kind of demonstration, we had no choice but to enjoy our wine as the demonstration moved out to our final speaker.
Chef Michael Psilakis of Kefi | FishTag | MP Taverna | No Kitchen Required (TV)
The eldest first generation son in a traditional Greek family on Long Island New York, the self-proclaimed “Philosophical Chef” Michael Psilakis took us on a journey to help us appreciate his approach to food and life. Chef Michael had a pyramid of priorities that went something akin to: Food. Restaurant. Family. The food and work came first. All of the hard work, the accolades, the success – what more could he want? Then his father, the man who inspired him the most, dies and Chef sat down to write down his memories. Upon reflection, Chef realized that everything important his father ever said, advised or bonded with him was over food. His father used food as the catalyst to plant the seed for memories. Food is life.
As Chef Michael prepared his sampling, my eyes were continually drawn to this television monitor with the camera angled over the demonstration space. That way the audience could see what Chef was doing as he did it. Clever.
Gyro Spiced Slider
Tsatziki sauce, cornichons to garnish
My mother’s eyes lit up as this beauty was served. She is a nut for Greek food, while I am a little more reserved about it. After taking a bite of this tender morsel, however, I wouldn’t hesitate to let Chef Michael steer me in the direction of more dishes from his father’s homeland. Simply delicious and unique enough to mix up the usual BBQ fare. Perfect to serve at a summer barbecue.
Yours truly with How to Roast a Lamb by Michael Psilakis
As a surprise, Chef Michael gifted everyone in the audience with a signed copy of his book, How to Roast a Lamb. Over 300 pages of gorgeous Mediterranean food to try at home!
Definitely not a terrible way to spend a Sunday. If you find yourself able to hop on the Buick Discovery Tour, I say take that ride.