Pebble Beach Food & Wine is perhaps the glitziest of the gadjillion or so culinary festivals in the United States right now. Every year for the past five years and counting, the event has borrowed the inimitable Inn at Spanish Bay for a spring weekend; draping itself across the grounds like a glittering evening dress you can’t afford or a royal picnic blanket most people only get to feast on in pictures.
Thanks to Lexus – a major sponsor of the event – from April 28 to May 1, 2011, sleek luxury cars navigated from the resort to neighboring Carmel and beyond, and back again. The right event pass earned attendants carriage service from sun-up ’til long after sundown; either the beginning of the day or the end of it, depending on which side of the table celebrants stood on.
And which was the better side of the table? In a sea of food and wine luminaries, that’s hard to say. It would’ve been great to be a guest; but lucky diners, servers and sommeliers alike, got to share space (and Lexus rides) with the likes of Jacques Pepin, Charlie Trotter, Thomas Keller, Tom Colicchio, Roy Yamaguchi, Graham Elliot, Daniel Boulud, Michel Richard and Stephan Pyles – 100 chefs, in total, pulled out their knives for the gala. While an elite team of wine professionals (many were specially invited, based on knowledge and reputation), slaved away for 16+ hours/day, what they had the pleasure of pouring was, literally, without equal: The very best of Burgundy, Premier Cru Bordeaux, Cult Cabernet, a flight of prestige Champagnes from 1990, and a Port vertical dating back to 1880, to name just a few.
Attendees selected seminars, dinners and tastings before the celebration as part of event packages ($995 to $4,750) and add-ons ($150 to $2000). With a little time off between indulgences, there was golf (of course). Shopping, horseback riding. Some of us learned the hard way that the food festival’s only sustenance was served during specific events (chef demos, meals or pairing workshops, the Lexus Grand Tasting). We Dwellers of the Lower Tax Bracket and Woefully Unprepared Seat-of-Pants Fliers survived between sessions on water, crackers and a fruit-and-cheese basket thankfully left in our ocean-view press room the first night, at the ultra-luxurious Monterey Plaza Hotel (a little far from the festival, but worth a weekend in its own right).
And then there were cocktails. After a long day of foie gras, king crab, caviar and Grand Marque Champagne, chefs, sommeliers and civilians gathered on the same piece of real estate to cleanse their palates with scotch and stogies. A lone bagpipe player serenaded the 18th hole as strangers became friends over Rob Roys and margaritas, and the rolling ocean caught and cast back the last, dying rays of sunlight. Although the crowds dispersed for dinner, they came together again for the after parties. The music pulsed as a new line up of chefs served small bits to beautiful people. Bartenders came out of hiding to mix caipirinhas, tin cups and an unpalatable combination of root beer liquor, club soda and whipped cream. New friends embraced or ignored each other and the night poured on.
And then, the next morning, bacon sizzled, corks popped, and hangovers were artfully hidden behind Prada sunglasses or a perfectly pressed suit and tie, and everyone took their places and did everything all over again.