Hello Rosalie: This Beer is for Wine Lovers

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 3/28/19


This part of the Firestone-Walker story comes full circle inside a pretty pink can that bears the name, Rosalie.

Wine is in the Firestone family’s rear view mirror these days. Brooks Firestone launched winegrowing on the family’s Santa Ynez Valley ranch in the 1980s, a project that flourished under the generation that followed until the brand was sold to magnate Bill Foley in 2007.

By then, Brooks’ oldest son, Adam, was 10 years into his side business, making beer. He’d launched his brewery as a joint venture with his brother-in-law, David Walker, making beers right in the vineyard and fermenting the early brews right inside wine barrels. Today, with brewmaster Matt Brynildson at the helm, Firestone Walker Brewery is the success story that keeps in going.

Its latest project, a beer rosé dubbed Rosalie, is a wonderful marriage between the company’s wine-inspired past and beer-fueled future. It springs, actually, from something called the Terroir Project, a two-year-old venture to explore beer-wine hybrids. Rosalie – delightfully pink in hue, with a flirtatious fizz and a wonderfully unique flavor profile, all housed inside a slender aluminum can sealed with a pull tab – breaks ground in the way it integrates wine grapes into beer making.

For the wine part: chardonnay, viognier, sauvignon blanc, riesling and muscat grapes were sourced from popular Castoro Winery in Paso Robles, the Central California town that's home base for Firestone Walker’s operations. The grape juices were delivered to the brewery for cold storage.

For the beer part: hops and a light pilsner malt were procured to produce wort, the liquid extracted during the brewing process. A souring technique was used to elevate acidity.

Wine part and beer part are blended, and co-fermentation begins.

There’s a remarkable extra ingredients in all of this: hibiscus flowers. “This is similar to how we might typically add hops to the whirlpool, except in this case we are using hibiscus,” says Brynildson. “This gives is a classic rosé coloration with a suggestion of rose petals in the aromas. The hibiscus also contributes a touch of natural citric acid that enlivens the palate.”


Rosalie in, in fact, a delightful hybrid sipper that will delight wine fans and beer buffs alike. It’s wine upfront, with that familiar bounce on the palate and flavors of berries. And it’s beer on the back end, with a subtle hops essence and a refreshing effervescence. It’s pretty pink in the glass, too, and at five percent alcohol per volume, prime for a second pour.

So it seems David Walker is right: “Our roots are deep in the wine culture,” he says. “If any brewer can actually take wine and beer and bring them together, it’s us.” 

Rosalie is hitting the marketplace right now in six packs, with draft to follow next month. Find out more at firestonebeer.com.


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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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