A room full of happy guests dined on salad, cioppino, and trifle at Palm Desert Food & Wine.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MOLLIE KIMBERLING
When chef Curtis Stone could not get a burner working while more than a hundred people watched, he pointed out that chefs can be quite particular about things.
“For me, when I cook, I insist on heat,” he joked. One of Palm Desert Food & Wine’s behind-the-scenes staffers quickly came to the rescue, and the charismatic chef was back on track for Saturday evening’s three-course Wine Dinner With Celebrity Chef Curtis Stone, also featuring “Beyoncé of Cakes” Yolanda Gampp.
In the festival’s main tent, Stone first offered a refreshingly crisp and bright watermelon salad that seemed ideal for a summer evening in the desert. The dish featured a North African dukkah of roasted and chopped macadamia nuts mixed with sesame, flax, fennel, coriander, and cumin seeds; a blend of feta and yogurt; cilantro oil; and pickled watermelon rind. Watermelon radish and English and Persian cucumbers were plated in such a way that the salad seemed to bloom like a flower, particularly with the sprinkling of mint and arugula greens. The starter course was paired with a sauvignon blanc bottled by The Prisoner Wine Company of St. Helena and made with grapes from Monterey and Santa Barbara counties.
It was when Stone began demonstrating the second course of cioppino that he hit the burner snag. But he exhibited Aussie resilience, jesting that he considered faking the heating of oil in the pan with a verbal hiss as he tossed in onions.
“This dish pays tribute to migrant workers,” he then continued, explaining that Italian fishermen in San Francisco, at the end of a day, would collect into a large bucket whatever each had caught and then prepare a dish they could share. “This is a very versatile soup,” Stone concluded. While a variety of fish and vegetables can be used in a cioppino, the recipe provided to attendees included mussels, shrimp, salmon, and halibut. After adding garlic, red chili flakes, and tomato paste, Stone instructed, “Add a drop of white wine,” though his actions and the recipe amount (1 ½ cups) proved how liberal “a drop” could be.
A fine culinary counterpoint to the salad, the cioppino, served with thin slices of garlic crostini, was intense with a spicy heat and heartiness from the combination of fish and vegetables. This course paired with The Prisoner Wine Company’s Unshackled pinot noir, made with grapes sourced from Santa Barbara, Edna Valley, Santa Maria, and Monterey wine regions.
Then came Gampp, known for How to Cake It (a recipe blog with a cookbook spinoff and a popular YouTube series) and television appearances. She followed Stone in demonstrating the dessert course: key lime pie cake trifle. “This is much easier than building a cake,” she said. Though the recipe in the handout booklet included directions for making a vanilla lime cake from scratch, Gampp noted the trifle could be made with store-bought cake. The multitextured dessert included a crumble of Lotus Biscoff cookies, lime curd, and white-chocolate whipped cream accented with candied lime zest. The Prisoner Wine Company paired the trifle with its Saldo chenin blanc, made with grapes from the Sacramento River Delta.
In addition to the chef presentations, the evening included a pre-dinner reception with Stone for VIP ticketholders and, in the dining tent, a silent auction that featured large-format bottles of wine with starting bids well below their value.
Among attendees were Gary and Jane Carr of Orange County, who own a weekend condo in Palm Desert and who had attended Thursday evening’s dinner with celebrity chef Fabio Viviani and Friday’s James Beard Gourmet Four-Course Luncheon and planned to attend the Grand Tasting on Sunday, participating in the festival for four consecutive days.
Catherine Perkins of Palm Desert, a self-described “Food Networkaholic,” had been to the Grand Tasting during the day. She had used a ride-hailing service, so instead of getting a lift home and another back for the evening event, she used the interim time to walk along El Paseo, where she found some new clothes and a pair of shoes. Because she volunteers for FIND Food Bank, she particularly was pleased that a portion of ticket proceeds from the dinner benefited the organization that provides fresh produce and protein-rich foods to low-income communities in the region.
Palm Desert Food & Wine concludes today, Sunday, March 26. Stay tuned for information about next year’s event at palmdesertfoodandwine.com.