E X T R A: F O O D F O R T H O U G H T
By Alan Kerr
There is something wildly enticing about cooking with locally produced food in California, especially in the spring. Food really tastes like food should taste. Crops in California are harvested in their peak of ripeness. What we get at this time of the year in Ontario is usually plucked green and tasteless, destined to spend the last few days of its life trying to ripen in a cardboard box en route to purveyors in the north.
While in California for Ridge fiesta, the gang had the chance to sharpen our knives, work together and go to town with all of the wonderful foods available to us. Kim Adams and I were of course under the direct supervision of Senior Chef of the weekend, Mr. Allan Bree.
For the Geyserville happening, Bree had a menu affixed in his mind.
However when George and Mary Palmer arrived at the door with a monster chunk of fresh duck Foie Gras (photo at left by George Palmer) and said "have fun with this guys, we scrambled through the well-stocked cupboards of Bree’s kitchen to see what we could find to cook it with. We quickly pan seared tiny slivers of the fattened liver and placed them on croutons that were browned in duck fat. On top were caramelized apples browned with a little sugar and apple balsamic vinegar. On my pillage through Bree’s expansive inventory I came across a can of home duck stock. Go figure huh? Who has homemade duck stock in their cupboards? Well, never look a gift horse in the mouth. It was soon reduced to a glaze, seasoned with the apple balsamic and thickened with a little fresh butter. It was rich and decadent but so were the two bottles of Beringer Nightengale that accompanied it.
We prepared globe artichokes stuffed with
red onion that had first been sautéed, then reduced with white wine and
orange juice, panko breadcrumbs and garlic. The accompanying mayonnaise
bolstered with orange zest and fresh tarragon made this the dish of the
night for me.
Saturday was to be a "bring your own butty" (that's UK lingo for what you colonials refer to as a sandwich) affair, but Bree suggested we make a salad or two to give folks something with more structure to consume. Bree laboured and toiled over this coleslaw that was supposed to mirror that of KFC’s rendition. My first thought was why not just head to a KFC and buy the wretched stuff. I must confess however, after an apprehensive sample, I concluded that this was in fact very good. Not the usual green neon mush one would expect, it was crispy, well flavoured and held the right balance between sweet and salt.
We also bound about 20 pounds of mini baked redskins with some homemade mayo, and with anything and everything living in Bree’s fridge. It was good potato salad.
Cooking Sunday’s lunch was a first for me, as the fine array of open bottles on Russell’s kitchen counter was too tempting to pass up. Consequently I tried a sip of the 99 Chateau Latour but it was frightfully tannic. Then I discovered, much to my delight, a 90 Ch Pape Clement that was a so brilliant to sip while preparing brunch. En route to Bevan’s, we had stopped at a roadside market and picked up whatever took our fancy. This was to be a simple affair that featured a nicely marbled slab of strip loin courtesy of Russell and Victoria.
As Bree had worked his arse off to organize this entire weekend, we figured he deserved a day away from the kitchen to relax, enjoy his wines and savour the moment. Kim and I figured we could handle lunch without him.
We served the roasted beef with a Chateau Montelena infused jus, herb-laden ratatouille and garlic-mashed potatoes. And much to the delight of Kim, Saturday’s potato salad made a yet another appearance.
Mr. Bevan made note of Allan’s kindness by presenting him, at the conclusion of the Monte Bello tasting, with a wonderfully decorated cake. I can’t finish this tale without making note of the generosity shown by Allan Bree. Not only is he a gracious host, he is also a talented and skillful cook, as many of his friends have witnessed. This weekend was a testament to true friendship and I can never thank him enough for putting it all together. It truly was an event that I will cherish for the rest of my life.