A Three-Course Starter

Celebrity and award-winning chefs launch Food + Wine Festival Palm Desert with a luncheon benefit

Sara Moulton, food editor for Good Morning America, took the stage to create the entrée: a homemade ricotta-stuffed crepe manicotti with marinara sauce — a recipe from her gourmet Italian cookbook coming out in May.

Photos By Elena Ray

A sold-out A sold-out James Beard Foundation luncheon benefit kicked off on Friday afternoon was the appetizer for Food + Wine Festival Palm Desert, which continued Saturday and Sunday in the Big White Tent, home to Fashion Week El Paseo., which continued Saturday and Sunday in the Big White Tent, home to Fashion Week El Paseo.
New Leaf Catering produced the 200 plus dishes of each course. Owner/Executive Chef Scott Robertson’s amuse-bouche demo was short and to the point, as wait staff served his smoked tuna roll with Granny Smith apple, lotus root rolled in cabbage and seasoned with coriander, sea salt, and wasabi paste — tightly packed with taste, and paired with a light and dry 2007 Domaine Carneros Brut by Taittinger.

Next, Jimmy Schmidt, executive chef at Morgan's in the Desert, La Quinta Resort & Club served up a salad with a complex layering of flavors and textures: baby artichokes and shaved chanterelle on a bed of red frisée with julienne sun choke “linguine” underneath. The James Beard award winner, author, and farm-to-table pioneer also demonstrated how to make the sweet roasted garlic and Meyer lemon emulsion, adding porcini-infused oil, sea salt, roasted garlic, olive oil, mustard, and sauvignon blanc.
“Slow roasting the garlic releases their enzymes to make a sweet delicate flavor,” Schmidt says. “Dijon mustard adds a little bit of spice and is a natural emulsifier. The sun choke is a great source of minerals and fiber.”

Schmidt, an engineer by education, is experimenting with plant protein and sugars and their iso-electric charges. “Food has different compatibilities depending on their iso-electric charges,” he says. “Their behavior changes from acid to alkaline and contributes to different tastes.”

Sara Moulton, food editor for Good Morning America, took the stage to create the entrée: a homemade ricotta-stuffed crepe manicotti with marinara sauce — a recipe from her gourmet Italian cookbook coming out in May.

“Number one, I want to show you how to make your own ricotta, and number two, how to make crepes,” she says. “How many of you have ever made crepes?”

Several hands shot up.

"O.K., how many have never made crepes?"

Even more hands.

“Good, now who of you is going to come up here and make crepes?”

Craig Courtright stepped up, looking a bit uneasy as Moulton poured batter into the sauté pan, flowing it into a thin sheet. Courtright’s job was to flip the paper-thin crepe with a spatula and ease it onto a plate.

The crowd cheered with his first success, and he grew bolder, more relaxed. By the end of the demo, there was a stack of crepes — and Courtright basking in the limelight.

Between the entree and dessert, CBS Local 2’s Patrick Evans and Jeff Hocker, the event’s executive producer, auctioned a food and wine package for 24 guests at the Pastry Swan’s Fix dessert house on El Paseo, raising $4,000 for the Culinary Institute of America scholarship fund.

For dessert, Hallie Harron, a James Beard award-nominated cookbook author, brought to life her picturesque life in the south of France with a Belgian rose chocolate torte. Her village, Mollans, is full of roses this time of year. She inserted a sugared rose petal into the fluffy dark chocolate cake.

Mike Biagi of Kobrand Corp. described each of the wines paired with the courses.  The 2010 Craggy Range sauvignon blanc from Martinborough, New Zealand, served with Schmidt’s salad, was produced from “certified organic grapes grown in a sustainable fashion,” he says.  
The 2010 Craggy Range Te Kahu, Red Blend, a medium-bodied wine, balanced Moulton’s spicy marinara sauce and the creamy ricotta.

For Harron’s rose chocolate torte, a Fonseca Bin 27 Reserve Port Duoro from Portugal was a dense, sweet, syrupy finale.

The event continues this weekend with a marketplace of restaurants preparing tastes of their signature dishes and wineries that have been expertly paired to show off the best of both.

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