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Food & Wine Festival
Lunch and Learn
Sunday, October 10, 2004
Author of Cat Cora's Kitchen
Host of Kitchen Accomplished
Sapphire Hill Winery
Root Soup with Black Truffled Haloumi Cheese
Wine: Sapphire Hill Chardonnay 2001
Wine: Sapphire Hill Pinot Noir 2002
Chops with Alma's Fruit Mustard
Wine: Sapphire Hill Syrah, Estate 2002
Wine: Sapphire Hill Zinfandel 2001
Editor-in-Chief, ALL EARS®
I had such a great time at the 2003 Lunch and Learn event I attended, that it was on my list of things to get tickets for in 2004. I was not disappointed. Just like last year, the three-hour event featured a winemaker and an acclaimed chef, who would prepare a four-course lunch. So on October 10 we "Lunched and Learned" with chef Cat Cora and John Hall from the Sapphire Hill winery.
I was a bit apprehensive initially because the event moved from a small intimate setting to the Odyssey pavilion. However, my concern was quickly diminished when I learned that only 35 persons would be attending the lunch.
It was a hot and humid morning as we waited outside the Odyssey for the event to begin. I met an ALL EARS® fan while we waited outside -- Karen (moseycat), who I had traded pins with before -- so it was nice to meet in person.
Promptly at 10:30 a.m. the doors opened and we walked into the dining area. Tables were set up for six persons each, everyone facing the stage. Each setting had four wine glasses, a glass of ice water and a booklet, which included the menu and recipes that would be prepared.
Pam Smith hosted the event and introduced our special guests, who each shared with us their background and what brought them to the Food and Wine Festival.
Warm, personable and energetic, Cat Cora quickly got the attention of all attendees by setting a very informal and relaxed tone for our time together. Cat encouraged folks to speak up whenever they had a question and also invited everyone to come onstage and see up close and personal how the food was prepared. I don't know whether it was her Greek heritage or her Southern accent and charm, but her rapport with the audience made for a very educational as well as enjoyable experience. She made cooking fun and easy to relate to!
Our meal began with Celery Root Soup with Black Truffled Haloumi Cheese, which was paired with a Sapphire Hill Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, 2001 ($22.50/bottle). Cat no sooner began "sweating" the onions when a hand went up and asked the difference between sweating and caramelizing. She explained that the difference really had to do with presentation. For the celery root soup she wanted a clean pure color; if she were making a beef dish or one in which she wanted more color, the caramelized onions would have done that.
The soup was served with a toasted bread round that was topped with the Black Truffled Haloumi cheese and garnished with chervil. Throughout the morning, Cat related the ingredients and cooking to things we could buy and do back home. This made the discussion livelier and engaged the audience more fully.
John Hill talked about the chardonnay we were tasting, noting that 50%-75% was aged in stainless steel and the remainder in oak, and it was then blended for a more fruitful wine. I'm not much of a white wine drinker, but the chardonnay went well with the soup.
The soup was very tasty and a clear winner with everyone at our table. I had never had Haloumi cheese before and felt it complemented the soup. It's a white cheese from Greece, made from 100% sheep's milk. If you wanted to make the soup at home, Cat suggested that any grateable sheep cheese would be an acceptable substitute.
The second course was a Shrimp Salad, Garidesalata. Since I have a shellfish allergy, I passed on this course. Looking at the plates around the table, I could see this was another favorite, as just about everyone finished the entire serving. The shrimp were served on cherry tomatoes that had been sliced in half and topped with several delicate field greens. The dressing included red wine vinegar and lemon juice. Cat discussed how citrus and red wine have such different complexities that they usually go very well together with food. One person at the table said the shrimp was grilled to perfection and the flavors were all delicate, allowing the shrimp to take center stage on the taste buds. The Sapphire Hill Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, 2002 ($38/bottle), accompanied the shrimp salad. It was aged in French oak and was a light pinot noir, but in my opinion, not at all worth the price.
As the kitchen area was cleared to prepare for making the third course, Cat asked if there was anyone in the audience who didn't care for lamb. Several people raised their hands, but said they'd give it a try. She then asked the assistant chef if there was something else in the kitchen that could be prepared in case they didn't like the lamb. The chef visited each person after the lamb was served to see if they wanted something else. I thought that was very kind.
The wine selection was a Sapphire Hill Syrah, Estate Grown 2002 ($28/bottle). It was not filtered; I know because the sediment was all in my glass. I asked for a new glass of wine and was told there was no more. Someone needs to be more careful with unfiltered wines! From what I was able to taste, the Syrah wasn't something I cared for.
The Lamb Chops with Alma's Fruited Mustard, on the other hand, were outstanding. Even two of the non-lamb lovers at our table thought it was excellent. For me, the incredible cherry mustard made the dish. The lamb chop was from New Zealand and was accompanied by roasted vegetables (green beans, baby carrots, fennel) with a sprig of rosemary garnish.
Last, but not least, was the Milk Pie. I admit that when I saw this on the menu, I thought, "What's a milk pie?" Let me tell you, it was an awesome semolina custard between layers of filo dough, which provided a light crunchy top and bottom. It melted in your mouth and was the perfect ending to a great meal! The wine selection was the Sapphire Hill Zinfandel, Tom Feeney Ranch 2001 ($28/bottle). While I love red wines and have been known to drink them for all dinner courses including desserts, I didn't feel this one paired well with the milk pie. The zinfandel overpowered the dessert.
When all the food and wine were gone, Cat thanked everyone who helped out and even brought the chefs from the kitchen on stage. Everyone applauded heartily for a job well done. Afterwards, Cat signed books and posed for photographs. It seemed as though most everyone in attendance stayed around for this portion of the event.
All in all, it was a wonderful time and WELL worth the $75 per person. If you have the opportunity to attend a Lunch and Learn, I recommend it!