There's a prevailing thought: If the view is good, the food is not.
Last month, the Monterey County Convention & Vistors Bureau was in Seattle to debunk that myth.
The plan? Take two chefs and an accomplished sommalier, invite a group of Seattle meeting planners for luminaries like Google, Starbucks, Amazon, and Boeing, add local celebrity chef Tom Douglas in the mix...and you've got an evening to remember.
But first. Let's talk about Monterey County, one of my favorite travel destinations. When the traffic gods are with you, it's roughly a 3 hour drive from LA or San Francisco. Take Highway 101 for the jaw dropping views and you'll be in 'vacation mode' long before arrive. Even better if someone else does the driving so you can take in the rocky cliffs, and Pacific Ocean crashing against the bluff below.
Until recently, food was not the reason you went to Monterey. But that is changing, in a big way. In a move that reverberated across the national food scene, Jason Franey, the lauded chef of Canlis Restaurant (with more James Beard nominations than I can count) left for Monterey. While Canlis conducts a nation-wide search to replace him, Jason has taken the helm at Restaurant 1833, whose parent company also includes the prestigous Pebble Beach Food & Wine Classic. No doubt, 1833 will be a destination-worthy restaurant in the coming months.
Lured by year-round California produce out of the Salinas Valley, a day boat fishing industry where 'catch of the day' means something, and a world class wine region with in reach, no wonder chefs are making the move to Monterey. And with that, a renewed focus on a dining scene to match those enviable views.
Matt's style is deeply rooted in New Orleans, and Italy, thanks to a stint working there. With those influences comes a culinary sensibility that includes bold flavors, but enough restraint to let the ingredients shine.
On his visit to Seattle, he prepared two dishes showcasing that famous Monterey bounty. The first, a shrimp ceviche, made with spot prawns transported live. "We nearly missed the flight! The boat arrived with our prawns...40 minutes from departure."
With his second dish, Pacific-harvested albacore tuna, confit in local rice bran oil, as opposed to the Italian tradition of olive oil. A hush fell over the room when this dish was served. The woman seated next to me, let out an unguarded moan. I know exactly what she meant. Rustic yet refined, it was simple perfection. In the days that followed, this dish much on my mind. I had just been schooled, and made a mental note. "I want to cook like that."
Catching up with Matt before dinner, I asked him about the Monterey food scene. "For a long time, Monterey was a strategic spot in our national defense, with a military focus. That has shifted. There's the Monterey Institute of Studies and with it, a large academic faculty and student base. The city's demographic is younger, vibrant and exciting."
"And the food?"
"Classics are always classics, and that's great. You'll always be able to get fried calamari, but there's a hot new food market. The collard greens on my menu come from a farm 10 minutes away. And you can't get fresher seafood. For the past two years, we've had a drought in California. That stresses out the grapes, which deepens the flavor. The local wines being produced are world class."
Blending New Oreleans with a California twist, Matt tells me, "My entire opening menu was written at the top of a mountain overlooking the ocean with humpback whales, and New Orleans music on my iPod."
Adding another perspective to the mix, chef Jeffrey Weiss is at the helm of Jeninni Kitchen + Wine Bar. Southern Mediterranean-focused, his menu draws on inspiration from Spain, Morocco, and the Middle East. Training under James Beard award-winning chefs José Andrés, April Bloomfield, and Spanish-based chefs Daní Garcia and Adolfo Muñoz, Weiss melds his many influences into an opinionated culinary point. Author of the 460 page, Charcuteria of Spain, released earlier this year, his first dish, reflected a synthesis of Spain and Monterey. A delicate smoked trout and artichoke terrine, showcased lush fish, artichoke, Meyer lemon, and Cypress Grove's goat milk fromage blanc. Yeah. That's a 'take no prisoner' kind of dish.
Throwing down the guantlet, Weiss' second dish was a dessert marvel billed as a "Lebanese Yogurt Cake with Pomegranate and Pistachio." Call it a 'cake' if you will, but it bears little resemblance to what we commonly know as cake. As part of the evening events, chefs demonstrated how to make a recipe. This dish owes it's custard-like texture to 8 eggs and the barest amount of flour (50 grams) give it a sliceable structure. The finishing touch? Topped with a swirl of pomegranate molasses and a dusting of pomegranate seeds and pistachios.
A night like this, in the presence of two great chefs, elevates the concept of "local." Two decidedly different culinary influences, drawing on the bounty of the Pacific. The result is memorable, intriguing and frankly, I want more. Monterey in 2015? For a dining destination? Yes!
On with the photos....
But first, a quick note. My camera was acting up and I was able to get images from Seattle photographer, Eva Claire Mrak Blumberg. Hat tip to Eva and her generous use of these photos. Okay, photos. Here we go!
Opening cocktails centered around this ice sculpture. Perched atop are 3 different chilled appetizers, with others being passed and served.
Those fresh of the boat and flown to Seattle spot prawns, used in a ceviche with white soy-cured roe and shiso.
Tea-smoked trout with finger lime segments and a strip of scallion
Chef Jeffrey Weiss serving up his smoked trout and artichoke terrine.
A closer look at that terrine, and my favorite dish of the night.
Event planner from Liberty Mutual and Dan Newman
Sommalier Ted Glennon
This looks promising!
Sommalier-selected wines for the evening, brought up from Monterey.
Chef Matt Glazer demonstrating his pasta dish. His black food-grade gloves are new to me.
And here we all are. Seats are facing Top Stove Society demo kitchen (there's a prep space behind us and an open dry storage/pantry off camera to the right. While it's difficult to see the cooking demonstration, those camera monitors come in handy.
Ready to slice some fish? Herschell Taghap from Hot Stove Society.
During the cooking demo, Chef Weiss and crew plate the next course.
All hands on deck!
Course has been plated and served, with a moment before the next step. Chef Jeffrey Weiss and Matt Glazer.
Hot Stove Society Director, Bridget Charters, prepared a stuffed and salt-crusted baked fish for Chef Tom Douglas.
Once the fish has cooked, Bridget breaks through the salt crust, and the fish is prepared for presentation.
Serving the fish is a little tricky, portioning it (working around the bones) and serving it table side.
Chef Jeffrey Weiss between courses.
Check out this row of ovens! This is the prep area opposite the demonstration station. Chef Matt Glazer preps his next dish.
Chef Tom Douglas prepares duck for service.
Between courses. Sommalier Ted Glennon.
And the final dish of the night. Chef Matt Glazer plates a trio of desserts: mini portions of Tom Douglas' famous coconut cream pie, a luscious quinelle of chocolate sorbet, and Chef Weiss' Lebanese cake with pomegranate and pistachio.
And...it's a wrap! Sommalier Ted Glennon, Hot Stove Society's Jon Price, and Bridget Charters, Monterey chefs Matt Glazer and Jeffrey Weiss, and Hot Stove's Herschell Taghap