This is the New Irish Food: Celeb Chef Offers Glimpse Into Ireland's Culinary Revival

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 3/14/19


UPDATE March 20: Catherine Fulvio was nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award for her 6-part "A Taste of Ireland" series that aired on Recipe.TV. Also in her category: Giada de Laurentis, Valerie Bertinelli, Molly Yeh and Pati Jinich. The awards are handed out May 5th in Pasadena, California. Good luck, Catherine! Read the Irish Times article here.


My visit w/Catherine Fulvio at Ballyknocken in February 2019
“You come here, you experience Ireland in one fell swoop.”

Chef Catherine Fulvio is talking about Ballyknocken, her childhood home in Ireland’s County Wicklow and, today, one of the island nation’s premier culinary destinations.

“When we welcome guests,” she continues, “it gives us a chance to share our passion for all things Irish – our culture, our home, our food.”

Mrs. Fulvio is a well-known personality in Ireland, a bona fide celebrity chef, with six Irish TV series and six cookbooks to her name; American audiences will recognize her from Netflix’s popular cooking show, “Lords and Ladles.” Her celebrity, certainly, has bolstered Ballyknocken’s success as a place to stay – a sprawling 280-acre estate less than 40 miles south of Dublin that’s embraced by the undulating Wicklow Mountains and a rippling green landscape as far as the eye can see.

But the appeal of Ballyknocken – home to a seven-room bed-&-breakfast and Chef Fulvio’s popular cooking school, or cookery school, as the Irish call it – may lay more with the genuine experience it offers its visitors, who come here from all over Ireland and all over the world.

“This is personal for us because it is our home, and I’m caring for it for the next generation,” says the mother of a 16-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son. “So guests who come from America are blown away with the experience because they get to see inside a real Irish home: the loud fire burning, the vintage furniture and, of course, the meals. It’s just part of that Irish hospitality. We have a great curiosity for people, and we love making a connection with them.”

The word, “ballyknocken,” stems from Gaelic and means, “home on the little hill.” Chef Fulvio’s family estate sits at the foot of Carrick Hill and was founded 50 years ago by Mrs. Fulvio’s mother – one of the first B&Bs in Ireland, set in a Victorian farmhouse that dates back to the 1850s. The chef remembers her as “a real entrepreneur” who was the first in Ireland to specialize in “hill-walking holidays” and who wrote her own book on walks across the surrounding countryside. Today, Ballyknocken still offers packages – from one to seven nights – that include picnics and treks across the Wicklow Mountains, where views include neighboring Wales and the picturesque Irish Sea.

Mrs. Fulvio’s mother was also her first gastronomic influence. “I grew up cooking with my mum, who cooked three meals a day for guests,” recalls the chef who, at age six, would be tasked with picking fruits, gathering eggs, milking cows and making butter. “We were always food producers,” she says, “who understood where food came from and what good, quality food is all about.”

Ballyknocken
That connection from the farm to the plate remains an integral part of the Ballyknocken persona. Right outside Mrs. Fulvio’s cookery school, once her father’s milking barn that’s now a demonstration kitchen flanked by various student stations, the garden blooms year-round. Rhubarb, rainbow chard, kale, broccoli, beans, artichokes, zucchini and squash grow seasonally. Herbs range from lemon verbena and cilantro to rosemary and sage. Edible flowers in a cavalcade of color abound. And in the greenhouse she erected just last summer, heirloom tomatoes, chilies, eggplants and even bananas grow undeterred. Sheep and cows graze along the hills. Trout swim the rivers nearby.

Chef Fulvio's Beef & Stout Pies w/Potato Pastry Topping
“Ireland has always been an agricultural nation,” says Chef Fulvio. A blend of rain and sun create a lengthy growing season, produce flourishes, grass thrives and animals feed in the great, wide open. “You need to understand how Ireland operates as an agricultural nation to appreciate how good the food is.

“But,” she continues, “perhaps we’ve been slow to get the message out. For so long, we have told story of our famine and emigrants, and Irish stew and soda bread – don’t get me wrong, I love them! But we are so much more than that in Ireland!”

Leveraging her notoriety, Chef Fulvio is among a new generation of Irish culinarians who are, indeed, getting the message out. A culinary revival is afoot in Ireland, and places like Ballyknocken have become ground zero. Customized, food-centric vacations for groups small and large take place year-round. And cooking classes, scheduled around Mrs. Fulvio’s traveling and filming schedule and offered to both B&B guests and drop-ins, are hands-on. Usually held on Saturdays and Sundays, they’re priced at €140 (about $157), last four hours and include a sit-down meal and a treasure trove of recipes. The current spring schedule includes themes like “Mastering Fish and Sauces,” “Fabulous Mains and Desserts” and, inspired by the chef’s husband’s roots, “Southern Italian Kitchen.”

I made this with Chef Fulvio, and it was awesome: Chocolate Beetroot Guinness Cake w/Ganache & Raspberries
Click here for the recipe!
Chef Fulvio incorporates a lot of her own family history into her classes and demos, including recipes that have been passed down for five generations. “Old, traditional recipes of baking and cooking to be sure,” she says. “And yet at the same time, it’s fresh and modern. This is what we’re producing now. This is the new Irish food.”

For more information, visit ballyknocken.ie.

Check out Chef Fulvio's recipes at catherinefulvio.com/recipes.


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Dinner Is the Show: At The Silver Bough, Culinary Theatrics Create Santa Barbara’s Most Expensive -- and Special -- Dining Experience

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo,
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 2/28/19
 
You don’t make reservations for dinner at The Silver Bough. You buy tickets. This is, after all – from the intimate seating to the multiple acts to the stars on stage – culinary theatrics at their best.
 
The Celtic myth that inspired Montecito’s newest dinner haven, The Silver Bough, tells of a mortal’s ability to enter the world of the gods by touching the silver branch of a blossom-bearing apple tree. The lucky human would be treated like a god himself – treated to a fantastic feast where he'd eat tantalizing foods to his heart’s content, until he fell asleep. He would awaken back on Earth, the silver bough gone, hidden once again by the gods for another lucky mortal to find.
 
The 18 courses that are the heart of the dinner experience at Chef Philip Frankland Lee’s newest creative project are presented in three acts. Pre-show drinks and conversation in a private nook off the lobby of The Montecito Inn are followed by prologue of sorts, as guests are escorted through the kitchen to a private, dimly lit, secret space.  The kitchen is buzzing, as it’s prepping orders for diners at The Monarch, the restaurant Chef Lee opened with his wife, pastry chef Margarita Kallas-Lee, in August. But behind the non-descript door, another world open. Guests – a maximum of eight on any given night – stand around a centerpiece rectangular table decked out in river stones and a singular, shiny, decorative silver tree sculpture. The experience is immediately multisensory, as ethereal music begins to play and the hostess, under a spotlight, recounts the Irish tale of the silver bough. Soon, guests notice that what appeared to be colorful decorative pieces camouflaged among the stones are, actually, the evening’s starters. On a recent night, on what was only the 11th performance at The Silver Bough since it opened in January, those canapés included diminutive versions of wagyu tartare with parmesan cream, local honey and black truffle; rye mousse with apple meringue, candied lemon peel and toasted hazelnut; and whipped butter and salmon roe tucked inside a chive and matcha sponge cake.
 
And now, Act I.
 
Suddenly, the red curtain parts and the night’s epicurean theater is revealed: an intimate, elegant kitchen where a cast of five -- Chef Lee and his team of chefs and beverage experts, along with a bevy of ingredients – await. Eight pre-assigned settings are decked out in stunning dinnerware atop a 16-foot counter slab of smooth, gleaming Brazilian quartzite. Guests sit, and the show begins.
 
A bit of a dramatic build-up here? Sure, but an appropriate one. Fact is, the culinary experience that unfolds over the next three hours at the Silver Bough, unhurriedly and with plenty of dramatic turns, is unlike any other in Santa Barbara. The near one-to-one ratio of diners to staff is unheard of. And the food – from the creative impulses behind it to the way it’s presented to how it tastes – is exceptional. This is not by accident, of course. Chef Lee, part of Zagat’s “30 Under 30” and Global Cuisine Award’s Chef of the Year for 2018 for the success of his Scratch Restaurant concepts in L.A., has a lofty goal in mind: Santa Barbara’s first ever 3-Star Michelin restaurant, inspired by the likes of The French Laundry in the Napa Valley.
 
Chef Phillip Frankland Lee has the night's lead role at The Silver Bough
“This is not a restaurant for everybody,” he admits, “but the demographic of the hotels in this area certainly overlaps with ours.” He’s referring to the San Ysidro Ranch, the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore and the newly opened Rosewood Miramar Beach Resort, with rack rates in the hundreds and thousands per night, as well as the Montecito Inn, whose guests get preferred ticket access at The Silver Bough. “And in this sphere of dining, ours is actually one of the least expensive restaurants.”
 
Indeed, the ticket price at The Silver Bough has been much buzzed-about, both in the local community and in the national foodie press. Dinner here is $550 per person, making it the most expensive culinary commitment in town. “An exercise in opulence,” Chef Lee calls is at the start of the aforementioned performance. And he adds, during a subsequent interview, “Once you get past the sticker shock, you can look at the value,” says the chef.
 
Tasting menus at Michelin-starred restaurants around the world, in fact, can run well more than $550 per person. They often command reservations months in advance, if not a year. And they do, clearly, cater to a very specific clientele.
 
As Chef Lee aims to position The Silver Bough at that echelon, he points to the exclusivity of his ingredients, for one, many of which won’t be found anywhere else in Santa Barbara or, in a few cases, anywhere else in the country. Wasabi root is flown in from Japan, crabs legs from Russia and dark chocolate from Peru. The venison is on the menu is, in fact, a super-venison, an animal raised in open land somewhere in upstate New York that’s half-deer and half-elk. And the beef is actually Olive Wagyu, sweet, tender meat from cattle reared on just a handful of farms in southwestern Japan and sold exclusively to private individuals; The Silver Bough is only restaurant to feature it on its menu.
 
Then there’s the showmanship behind the Silver Bough experience. Chef Lee and his team stay in the kitchen and mingle with guests throughout the evening as they cook, describe and present course after course in movements that, though scripted and choreographed, seem fluid and seamless.
 
Act I is “The Sea,” starring ingredients like caviar, lobster, crab and Santa Barbara-sourced sea urchin and snapper that make repeat appearances, in creatively unique ways, over five courses. The Spiny Lobster Tartare is prepared with meat from the crustacean’s tail while it’s still raw and served with urchin, salted cream, puffed quinoa and green tea soy. The Kinmedai Snapper Crudo is lightly warmed to express fat and presented with fermented matsutake mushrooms and ginger. The Lightly Grilled King Crab comes with urchin emulsion, tangy gooseberries, sourdough bread crumbs and caviar.


Act II is “The Land,” with a supporting cast of Carpinteria-bred King pigeon and that uber special venison and wagyu. Again, superior ingredients in myriad delicious manifestations. Take the pigeon: its breast is barbecued, pistachio-crusted and served with salt-roasted beet; the same animal’s liver and heart become a tartlette topped with a cherry reduction, for spreading on a mini Parker House roll; its leg, flavored with Granny Smith apple and black truffle, “should be sucked like a lollipop,” the chef tells his guests; and a tea made from its crushed bones, along with a pigeon egg yolk, accompany butter-roasted chanterelles in the Venison Tenderloin course. The Olive Wagyu Ribeye Cap comes with pink pepper skins while its Center Cut Ribeye – “the piece de resistance,” Chef Lee calls it, for the way it’s almost like a protein candy and melts in the mouth – is served with mashed potatoes and truffles, alongside Little Gem lettuces with candied pecans.
 
Act III – and this is the part in the Gaelic tale where the privileged mortal, after relentless and lavish feasting, begins to feel the onset of sleep – is “Desserts,” in four courses: Andazul goat’s milk blue cheese on fried sourdough with warm honey and black truffle; blood orange sorbet with citrus tea emulsion, basil blossoms and black lime; duck liver mousse with strawberry granita, macerated strawberries and nasturtium petals; and a chamomile custard that’s a refined rendition of tea and honey, with shaved truffles, candied bee pollen and 24-karat gold leaf.

 
The $550 ticket price is all-inclusive, which means beverage pairings for each course, each one in its own luxe glassware, come standard. The current liquid lineup includes top-of-the-line sparklers, sake and wines from Germany, Italy, France and California, including Santa Barbara. The drinks matches are particularly innovative and impressive on the non-alcoholic pairing option, which knocks the entry fee down to $450. Mixed between courses and in expert fashion by the night’s dedicated bartender, who’s part of the kitchen team, the drinks feature house-made juices and teas that pull back on sweetness and deliver plenty of fresh flavors, intense aromatics and a clean, refreshing mouth feel; the mushroom-garlic-thyme tea served with the aged venison saddle is remarkable.
 

Me hanging with the Silver Bough team
Chef Lee and his team spent 60 days experimenting, producing and perfecting the Silver Bough experience before it opened to the public. He plans on a “12-17% change in the menu every month,” to offer repeat audiences something fresh. And he recognizes that welcoming back curious locals about twice a year “is a realistic goal;” the rest of the patrons, who’ll fill the eight seats Thursday through Sunday nights year-round, will be far-flung foodies willing to make the trek to Santa Barbara for what is, without a doubt, the most unique culinary experience in town.
 
"At this point, I think we're doing exactly the job we set out to do -- providing a fantastic time and making sure the food tastes really good," says Chef Lee. "That’s what we're about."
 
For more information, and for tickets, check out silverboughmontecito.com.
 
 
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Those Who Wine Together, Stay Together: Meet Three Santa Barbara Winemaking Couples

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 2/14/19

Love may well be all you need. But to make it work and to make it last, you can’t skimp on patience, compassion and understanding. That’s certainly true when it comes to making wine – a mash-up of talent, sweat and sacrifice that often makes a very personal project a very grueling one. These three Santa Barbara couples are proof that love has a lot to do with success in the wine business – love, plus a few glasses shared at the end of the day.
 
Brooke and Mike Carhartt
Like me, Mike Carhartt married way up. And he agrees. “She’s smart, intelligent, good-looking, creative – she takes care of everything,” he says of his wife of almost 37 years and his partner in the Carhartt Vineyards business, which they launched in 1996. He grows the grapes and Brooke makes the wine – a labor of love, these days, with their son, Chase.  When the 30-year-old – a whiz both in the winery and across myriad social media platforms – entered the business, “that made the whole thing blossom even more,” adds Mike. Carhartt produces 7000 cases of wine a year and sells all of it directly to consumer, both through their wine club and their trendy new tasting cabin in Los Olivos. It is a seven-day-a-week gig, and a family affair, which means that the lines between work and home often blur. “We have a rule that, after six or seven o’clock, we don’t talk shop,” says Brooke. And then she adds, with a laugh, “It’s not always successful, but it’s a good theory!” This partnership – and it’s clearly a happy, healthy one when you spend time with the two of them – is a reflection of a mutual respect for boundaries. “We both have our own tasks and roles in our business and we both trust one another in those roles,” says Brooke, “so we don’t have to micromanage each other.” Their intimate understanding of their brand and their winegrowing philosophies helps: “We started it together, it’s our business, and we discuss everything with each other,” she adds. And they both acknowledge their good fortune – “an incredible ride,” Mike calls it. But does this couple’s venture bring its share of trying moments? You bet. “The hardest part,” Brooke says, tongue in cheek, “is that I have to make him lunch every day!”
 
 
Sarah and Blair Fox
This is a story about high school sweethearts who went on to get married, have two kids and launch, not one, but two, successful wine labels. “I feel fortunate to be able to work alongside such a talented husband/winemaker who loves what he does and who’s so good at it,” says Sarah Fox, who started dating Blair during senior year at Santa Barbara High. She studied at SBCC, and he at UCSB, before the two graduated from UC Davis. This year, as parents of 14- and 11-year-old soccer star daughters, they’ll celebrate 20 years of marriage. There’s no denying Blair Fox’s credentials, or workload: when the winner of the prestigious Andre Tchelistcheff Winemaker of the Year Award is not making wines for Fess Parker Winery, he’s working on his own, for both Blair Fox Cellars and Fox Wine Co. She helps with the winemaking, runs the tasting rooms and manages the businesses. Sticking together as a couple for decades goes far in making the wine businesses work. “We’ve been together so long, and we’ve been doing this together so long, that we’ve figured it out,” says Blair. Sarah admits that “no matter what time of day or night, a conversation arises about business, [so] we have to constantly remind ourselves to keep our evenings as personal as possible.” Kids’ schedules and interests beyond wine keep things fresh, and defined roles keep the business moving. “When it comes to hard core winemaking decisions, that’s where I step in,” says Blair. “In terms of business and ideology and what needs to be done, that’s her. And that helps the relationship – usually!”
 
 
Sonja Magdevski & Greg Brewer
Wine is what brought Sonja Magdevski and Greg Brewer together, and it’s what’s keeping them together, too. She’s the mastermind behind the fun, popular Casa Dumetz brand. He’s the phenom who’s made the Brewer-Clifton label, part of Jackson Family Wines, synonymous with the best in Santa Barbara pinot noir and chardonnay. For the two of them, wine is more than a job, of course – it’s a lifestyle. And like any passion project – like any endeavor that means putting your heart on the line day in and day out – it’s defined by its ups and its downs. “It’s beautiful when you understand someone’s industry from the inside so well, so that the second they say one word or make a comment or have a certain expression on their face, you know exactly the gravity of what that means,” says Sonja. Her marriage to Greg in 2016 was her first, his second. It was a business relationship first, then a friendship. And then the mutual respect they had for each other as winemakers “ramped things up,” recalls Greg, with a laugh. He agrees with Sonja that empathy is key for them – he calls it “really healthy in keeping our spirits going.” But a successful personal relationship in the wine biz is also about checks and balances. “Wine projects are so emotionally fueled that they’re really our own identity – we’re really deep in it, 100% in,” he says. “Having someone to read that and help navigate that for the other is a beautiful equilibrium to maintain.” Sonja brings it back to that mutual respect that fueled their romance in the first place: “We’re each other’s number one fan.”
 
 
Wise words for any relationship, and in any industry, I say.
 
Happy Valentine’s Day!
 
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Fizzy and Flirty: Pink Santa Barbara Sparkling Wines Perfect for Valentine’s Day

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 2/14/19

The mechanics behind making sparkling wine look pink are pretty straightforward. You’ve got to use red grapes, of course – pinot noir, if you’re going to be traditional, though many local winemakers are also flirting with grapes like grenache and syrah. The longer the red skin contact with the juice, the more intense the rosy hue.
 
But there’s nothing mundane about the sensations conjured up by a delicious bubbly rosé: the chill on the glass that melts to the warmth of her fingertips, the rush of effervescence that fans the beating of her heart and that pretty pink tint that, if you’ve played your cards right, blushes just as much as she does.
 
Impressing the one you love on Valentine’s Day is never an easy task, but these five pink Santa Barbara sparklers will help.
 
Carhartt “Venture” Nat/E Boi Sparkling Rosé ($30)
If you’re looking for a traditional bubbly, look elsewhere. The same fun, edgy approach that’s made Carhartt one of the hippest wine brands in Santa Barbara spills into this brand new sparkling wine project. Made using a technique called Methode Ancestrale, also known as Pet-Nat, this wine bends a lot of rules.  No yeast. No sulphur. And no disgorgement, meaning no solids are removed, resulting in a naturally hazier beverage. “The whole concept of a ‘natural wine’ for me is to produce something with the least intervention possible,” writes winemaker Brooke Carhartt in her February wine club newsletter. She made the wine with her 30-year-old son, Chase, using grenache grown on the family farm by her husband, Mike. Forgoing the cork for a crown cap and showing off tangerine cream aromas and citrusy berry flavors, “it’s just a bottle of fun,” says the elder Carhartt, “and people are just lapping it up.” It’s an instant hit, too: less than 15 of the 45 cases released just last week remain in Carhartt’s Los Olivos tasting room. carharttvineyard.com
 
2016 Fess Parker Winery Fesstivity Brut Rosé ($49)
This release is also brand new: it was disgorged just last month after almost two ears en tirage, which is time that bubbly spends in bottle, in contact with yeast, during its secondary fermentation.  “The 2016 vintage, in general, are the best sparkling wines we’ve made under the Fesstivity label,” says winemaker Blair Fox, who makes the sparkling wines following strict traditional methods inside the Fess Parker facility along Foxen Canyon Road. The superlative 2016 bubblies, the young label’s fourth vintage, are the result of continual “fine-tuning in our winemaking process,” he adds, as well as “expert vineyard operations.” Fruit for the all-pinot noir sparkler came from the family’s Parker West vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills, which was planted by Fox himself, and a harvest at low sugars led to a wine with bright acidity and zest. Grapefruit aromas, raspberry flavors and a pretty soft pink color make for a lovely sipping experience. fessparker.com
 
2016 Toccata Sparkling Rosato ($35)
This one’s inspired more by prosecco than Champagne, since it comes from Lucas & Lewellen’s sister label with an Italian spin, Toccata. Pinot grigio grown on the brand’s Los Alamos Vineyard, one of its three estate vineyards, is predominant, which gives this bubbly brightness, liveliness and an easy-drinking vibe. Credit a squelch of dolcetto for the rosy color – it leans more crimson than pink – and a splash of malvasia bianca for the floral aromatics. Made by winemaker Megan McGrath-Gates, this wine is fizzy, fruity and fun. Find it at the Toccata tasting room in the heart of downtown Solvang. llwine.com
 
2016 Riverbench Cork Jumper Brut Rosé ($48)
Riverbench launched its sparkling wine program in 2008 with 200 cases. Driven by demand, annual production of various different bubblies is now at 3500 cases. The Brut Rosé is all pinot noir and grown in the estate vineyard nestled in the Santa Maria Valley. The flushed hue is striking. “After we make the base wine, some of the color drops off during fermentation,” says general manager Laura Booras,” so we add a few gallons of still red wine toward the end to get that pretty pink color.” The wine is made to be less bready or yeasty than a traditional Champagne and, rather, in a style that drives acidity and freshness. Discover bright red fruit and rose petal aromas and strawberry flavors with a touch of lime zest. Booras says it best: “This is a very romantic wine.” riverbench.com
 
2015 Flying Goat Cellars Rosé ($42)
If there’s a pioneer in the realm of Santa Barbara sparkling winemaking, it’s Norm Yost. The man behind the Flying Goat label went fizzy 15 years ago and, today, produces no less than five sparklers each vintage. The Rosé is the workhorse, the most popular in the lineup, to the tune of 300 cases a year. The fruit – pinot noir clone 23, a Champagne clone, “with thick skins and big berries,” says the winemaker – comes from Solomon Hills Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley and produces a lively sipper with berry and watermelon flavors and a dash of spice. Yost, whose Lompoc Wine Ghetto tasting room features a sparkling wine-exclusive bar, touts the wine’s food friendliness. “I like a good, dry, hard cheese with it, or salmon on the grill, or a white meat like pork tenderloin,” he says. “Its great acidity makes a it a great palate cleanser, and its lower alcohol (12.5%) lets you have an extra glass with less worry.” flyinggoatcellars.com
 
Happy Valentine’s Day!
 
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Culinary Classic: Maui Event Bridges Love for Wine, Travel & Luxury

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 1/31/19

The upcoming Four Seasons Maui Wine & Food Classic is a glimpse into the future of travel: Americans are seeking experiences that are as memorable as they are transformative, and they’re seeking luxury. And this Classic, the first of its kind, aims to deliver.
 
“This is about changing a culture of how we experience wine, and in a region that will make an impact,” says Christian Navarro, president and co-owner of the Wally’s culinary enterprises in L.A. and a man regularly dubbed, ‘sommelier to the stars.’ Wally’s is co-creator of the Classic with the Four Seasons Resort Maui, oceanfront celebrity haven where the inaugural three-day foodie spectacular will take place March 1st through 3rd.
 
The Four Seasons Resort Maui
“We’re living in an era where people are forgetting to listen,” Navarro continues, referencing the trend toward larger, impersonal consumer events that define the American wine industry today. The Classic, with a three-day guest total hovering around 200, “is immersive and all about intimacy.”
 
He adds: “We want to change the way we look at cultural experiences. Instead of these giant events where you have sea of people and a gazillion wines, I want to make it smaller.”
 
Christian Navarro
Some of the 20 full-time somms at the Four Seasons Resort Maui
Navarro has curated an impressive list of almost three dozen world-class wine producers for the Classic, most of which will be represented at the Classic by their founders, family figureheads and lead winemakers: Colgin, Maison Joseph Drouhin, Kistler, Louis Roederer, Dom Perignon, Taittinger, Bisol, Moet and Cheval Des Andes, to name but a few. California powerhouses include Harlan Estate, Krug, Newton, Williams-Selyem and Wally’s own proprietary Napa label, Marciano Estates.
 
Asks Navarro, “Where else would you be able to mingle and speak one-on-one with folks like this?”
 
The Classic coincides with Wally’s own renaissance – a 50-year L.A. wine powerhouse that has managed to reinvent itself in the last three or so years, pivoting from a wine-centric family of shops to a pair of gastronomic destinations in Beverly Hills and Santa Monica.
 
The Classic’s island setting, and its connection to the Four Seasons Resort Maui, is instrumental to its legitimacy and success, too. Set in Wailea, on Maui’s southwestern shores, where sunshine prevails more than 300 days out of the year, what’s considered one of the best Four Seasons properties in the world “is a little piece of paradise that will allow all of us to let our guard down, and just talk and interact.” Maui-sourced ingredients and products will feature prominently during the event. And the resort, one of only four AAA 5-Diamond properties in all of Hawaii, is already a culinary destination all its own, with renowned eateries like Spago and Ferraro’s onsite and no less than 20 full-time sommeliers on staff.
 
Enjoying dinner at Ferraro's with my son, Dec. 2018
The partnership between the Four Seasons Maui and Navarro launched about a year ago, when the lavish resort finished renovation on its Elite Suites, super luxurious top-tier accommodations. The famous wine pro was brought on to create enhanced wine experiences for guests -- more than half of whom herald from lucrative SoCal zip codes from Santa Barbara to Bel-Air and who invest $14,000 a night on their tropical getaway. Navarro sources uber-premium wines for Elite Suite guests; the current liquid lineup includes Tyler Winery’s 2012 Sanford & Benedict Chardonnay by winemaker Justin Willett, “an incredible Santa Barbara County-based producer making some of the best pinot noir and chardonnay on the Central Coast,” according to Navarro. The Wally’s whiz also established one-on-one somm-led wine courses, ultimate wine pairing dinners and “glassology” classes on optimal glassware led by Resort Manager and Riedel-certified expert Marti Dell.
 
March’s Wine & Food Classic will feature a series of Master Classes ($250) led  by vintners and master sommeliers, ranging from “Napa Valley Superstars” and “A Discovery of Pinot Noir” to “Louis Roederer Champagne & Roederer Estate: France vs. California” and “Louis XIII Cognac.” The “Oceanfront Gala” ($495), set on one of the hotel’s most popular ocean overlooks, will feature plenty of mingling opportunity.
 
Me w/Wally's Chef Ryan Kluver, Jan. 2019
And guests will have five Elite Wine Dinners ($995) to choose from, hosted throughout the resort and starring labels like Colgin, Harlan, Pio Cesare and Chateau Cos d’Estournel. At a recent media event at Wally’s Beverly Hills, Chef Ryan Kluver previewed his multi-course dinner featuring Marciano Estate wines: the BBQ Pink Opakpaka, a native Hawaiian pink snapper, was served with grilled avocado and coconut rice and the Ribeye Cap, rubbed with Maui coffee, came with a Maui onion farcie, Okinawa sweet potato and a tamarind jus.
 
All five concurrent dinners retire for dessert to the Serenity Pool, the resort’s adult-only pool that is usually closed after dark. The moonlight party fosters more mingling and conversation, all fueled by over-the-top desserts, hand-crafted cocktails featuring Casa Dragones Tequila – and that sweeping ocean view.
 
Events can be secured individually. The all-inclusive Wine & Food Package, which includes a four-night stay at the Four Seasons Maui and pairs of tickets to six events, including the experiences above as well as a farewell sparkling wine Brunch, starts at $5540. Find out more at fourseasons.com/maui.
 
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Eat Up, Pay Down: Restaurant Weeks Generate Foodie Savings

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 1/24/19


Frugal foodies, rejoice: California Restaurant Month is in full swing.

The statewide promotional project launched in 2011 and features lunch and dinner promotions in cities throughout the Golden State, including local culinary destinations like Buellton, San Luis Obispo and Ojai.

In the Santa Ynez Valley, Restaurant Weeks begins this Sunday and goes all the way through February 10th – a full two-week campaign for the very first time. Some 32 participating restaurants are serving up three-course meals at the discounted, new year-inspired price of $20.19, plus tax and tip, and beverages are extra, too. All six Valley towns are represented – Buellton, Solvang, Santa Ynez, Los Olivos, Los Alamos and Ballard. And while the promotion is aimed squarely at generating foot traffic for restaurants during the traditionally slower winter months, it’s a chance for many of them to raise awareness, too.

Jeff Olssen, chef-owner at Industrial Eats in Buellton, objects to “marketing for marketing’s sake, so we wanted to attach something to it.” To shed spotlight on the devastation wrought by an ongoing civil war in Yemen, Mr. Olssen and his kitchen team are learning and preparing a variety of Yemeni dishes, including a lamb broth lentil soup, a braised beef osso buco with basmati rice and a variety of flatbreads and dipping sauces. “The flavors are very bright, with lots of herbs, lots of freshness, lots of citrus – interesting, tasty goodness,” says the chef, who’s donating all proceeds from his Restaurant Week sales to the non-profit, People of Yemen.

This is the third year Industrial Eats is putting an international awareness spin to their participation in Restaurant Week, with the spotlight on Puerto Rico last year and on Syria in 2017. From both promotions, select items remained on the restaurant’s menu for months after, and Mr. Olssen suspects the same will happen this year. “So this also motivates my staff in an otherwise slow time,” he says. “It’s a win-win all around.”

Chef Pink's Creekstone Ranch Burger at Root 246
In Solvang, the three-course $20.19 menu at Root 246 will feature Crystal “Chef Pink” DeLongpré’s Creekstone Ranch Burger -- an eight-ounce Wagyu patty and cheddar cheese -- and her American Lamb Burger, made with ricotta, house-pickled mustard seed and smoky tomato jam, and served with fries or the chef’s signature Brussels sprouts; Chef Pink is offering a totally different menu on week two of SYV’s Restaurant Weeks. 

In Santa Ynez, SY Kitchen’s Chef Luca Crestanelli will dole out his Bird’s Nest Lasagna, featuring fontina cheese, roasted butternut squash and chanterelle mushrooms. And in Los Olivos, Chef John Cox at The Bear & Star restaurant inside the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn will serve his Wagyu Empanada, made with black beans, Cotija cheese and beef from cattle raised at the Parker family ranch up the road.

Other restaurants taking part in Santa Ynez Valley Restaurant Week include Full of Life Flatbread and Plenty on Bell in Los Alamos; Chef Budi Kazali’s The Gathering Table at The Ballard Inn in Ballard; Hitching Post II and Firestone-Walker Brewing Co. in Buellton; the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café in Los Olivos; and Leonard’s Ristorante and Cecco Ristorante in Solvang. Seven wineries, including Alma Rosa in Buellton and Sunstone in Santa Ynez, are presenting food and wine pairings. And several hotels, like ForFriends Inn in Santa Ynez and The Landsby in Solvang, are enticing vacationers with room discounts of up to – you guessed it – 20.19%.

Find out more at DineSYV.com.

California Restaurant Month, a project by Visit California, the nonprofit that markets California to the world, also includes participation by Ojai and Oxnard, with the 11-day Ojai Restaurant Week and 10-day Oxnard Tacos, Treats & Tastings, both ending Sunday. In San Luis Obispo, SLO CAL Restaurant Month feeds foodies through January 31st, with $30- and $40 prix fixe menus at dozens of restaurants across 11 cities, like Cambria, Pismo Beach and Paso Robles, as well as lodging specials. Santa Maria Valley Restaurant Week ends today.

Santa Barbara Restaurant Week happens outside the Visit California network but aims to leverage the statewide restaurant mindset. Taking place February 22nd through March 3rd and produced by Jordan’s, the 10-day event will feature dozens of local eateries – like Toma, Bella Vista, The Monarch, the Wine Cask and Joe’s Café – dishing out $25 two-course lunches and $40 three-course dinners. Find out more at sbrestaurantweeks.com..

Similarly, Lompoc Restaurant Week, put on by the Lompoc Valley Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau, is slated for February 18-24, with more info at lompoc.com.


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A Jar for the Ages: Santa Barbara's Zaca Mesa Winery is Aging Its Wines in Italian Clay

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 1/17/19

Santa Barbara’s syrah pioneer is raising the bar on how the wine’s made.

Zaca Mesa just released a 2015 estate syrah that was aged for almost two years inside an Italian amphora. The handsome dusty red oval vessel – it looks like an oversize upside-down egg -- is made from terracotta clay and imported from a small Tuscan province just south of Florence.

The idea goes way back, of course. Amphora jars were being used more than 10,000 years ago by Romans and Greeks to ferment and age their favorite libation. They’re making a slow comeback in the U.S., as substitutes for oak barrels, and Zaca Mesa’s Kristin Bryden is one of the first winemakers in California to experiment with them.

“We’re learning as we go,” says Bryden, who’s been at the winemaking helm at Zaca Mesa since 2011. She leads a cellar team of five, including assistant winemaker Randy Gardenhire, and oversees an annual wine production of about 15,000 cases. How the aging potential of amphora develops over time, how it affects the aging of different grape varieties – “we don’t really have an answer for it all yet,” she admits. “It’s a work in progress.”

Thus far, though, Bryden knows that the amphora does syrah good. Its pervasive porosity allows for natural micro-oxygenation, which “has a polishing effect on the tannins,” says Bryden, who tasted the wine inside the amphora every three to four months until, after 22 months, she deemed it ready for bottle. “But the wine still has beautiful fruit and earthiness.” For me, Zaca’s 2015 Amphora Syrah is remarkably refined: rich and dense yet round and luscious, with a gorgeous deep hue, also a byproduct of amphora aging. The 500-liter vessel made just 54 cases of the wine, which sells for $65.

The experimentation with amphora, which began as a pet project for former Zaca Mesa winemaker Eric Mohseni, is the latest chapter in the winery’s longstanding love affair with the Rhone grape. The 750-acre pioneering property along Foxen Canyon Rd. was established in 1973 and, in 1978 and under the direction of then-winemaker Ken Brown, became the very first Santa Barbara County vineyard to plant syrah. Today, more than 90 acres are planted to syrah grapes, with smaller plantings dedicated to grenache, mourvedre, cinsault, viognier, roussanne and grenache blanc. The ’15 Amphora Syrah came from a newer estate syrah block planted in 2012.

And there’s more to come. Bryden’s acquired a second, larger 800-liter amphora, which is currently aging a 2018 mourvedre-grenache blend. The original 500-liter vessel is housing a 2017 syarh, and since titrates can plug pores, just how long aging will take this time around is still very much a mystery.


For consumers who want a real lesson on how different vessels affect the aging of a wine, Zaca’s got a three-way test in the works, too: the same syrah aged in an amphora, and inside a concrete container and inside a neutral oak barrel. “Concrete creates vibrancy in the finish, the amphora has more earthiness and the barrel gives a fleshier mouth feel,” says Bryden. Find out for yourself when the three-pack is released in the Zaca tasting room in March.

Find out more at zacamesa.com.   


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