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Yountville: New American Cookery, Keller and Olney

Tonight we are celebrating a legacy created by such people as Paul Bocuse, Alice Waters, Kermit Lynch and Richard Olney. For me, the most important American chef is Thomas Keller. I have lived under the shadow of Mr. Keller my whole working life. The French Laundry has always been there, and it has always been the best. He is the Emily Post of kitchen etiquette, like a “North Star” of right and wrong. Any question can be answered decisively with a

reference to his books. After I received my sommelier certification, I made a pilgrimage to Yountville just to see it, even though I was nowhere close to being able to afford it. To this day, The French Laundry is like an elusive Grand Cru that I have read and studied everything about, and I can tell you anything about its soil and micro climates though I have never once tasted. In a way, we all have tasted Mr. Keller’s influence on American Restaurants, as we are all his disciples, but I believe this legacy of New American Cookery goes all the way to Lyon, France, to a recently deceased chef: Mr. Paul Bocuse. Like Mr. Keller, I cannot remember a time back when I did not know about Mr. Paul Bocuse. He is most closely associated with nouvelle cuisine, but I always knew about him from the insanely high quality of his restaurants and this crazy way of looking at food, especially vegetables, as platforms to do other crazy things that you could only afford to do with a lifetime of Michelin Stars, which he had in abundance. I love the fact that Mr. Bocuse was born, lived and died in the same apartment, right above his three Michelin Star restaurant in Lyon. As an interesting side note, Mr. Bocuse also shared his bed above the restaurant with two women his whole life, he once joked that he had spent over 120 years of marital bliss in his life there. Mr. Bocuse had a humble respect for the vegetable and created this whole movement toward lighter sauces and fresh preparations that made their way over the pond and into the bay area in the 1970’s with Alice Waters of Chez Panisse. Alice was totally inexperienced but incredibly passionate about food and wine. Her menus were simple but with the absolute best ingredients. Next thing you know, Kermit Lynch started importing the most amazing wines from France and opened up his wine shop down the street, Alice met Richard Olney and before long she was hanging out in France cooking dinner with Lulu at Domaine Tempier. There is this whole mythology here about these people and those times and what they created. Most of the movement has become assimilated into our culture, and tonight is a little Easter homage to these very special people who taught me about that “gastronomic aesthetic”.

Tonight we begin with the simple “cheeky” snacks that are such a part of New American

Cookery, paired with one of my personal favorite sparkling wines, Scharffenberger Brut from Mendocino County. Next up, we are going to pair avocados and crab with arguably one of the most famous of California’s Chardonnays, Chateau Montelena, who 41 years ago, changed the future of winemaking in California when this wine beat out the Grand Cru’s of Burgundy in the infamous Paris Tasting of 1976, and was awarded the best in show. After our French Laundry classic of green beans, tomato tartare, crème fraiche and vinegar, we pair a simple seared scallop with a wine worlds away from Chateau Montelena’s fame and prestige. Forlorn Hope is a most quixotic of wineries. These guys are the outsiders, the lost cause of an idealist winemaker going up against the juggernauts of the California wine industry. They found this particular micro climate in an abandoned corner of wine country and are growing an obscure Austrian varietal that no one in the real world even knows about. Following a peach and white balsamic sorbet, we once again pay homage and offer the single best cut of beef we could find, preparing it simply in a pan and presenting it with a textbook California Cabernet; Chappellet “Mountain Cuvee”. It is important to remember that Napa Valley has hundreds of micro climates that are each suited to a particular grape, and believe it or not, it can produce a wine to suit almost every palate if you look hard enough. We will finish out this evening’s dinner and pay homage to one of our own favorite Bistro cocktails, the espresso martini, only its semifreddo style. Yum!

Once again, thank you all so much for your continued support and patronage on our adventure around the continent! Happy Easter and April Fool’s Day! J

*Photo 1: the infamous “Blue Door”, the entrance to the French Laundry in Yountville, CA. *Photo 2: “Judgement of Paris”; The Paris tasting of 1976

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