Chefs Dazzle Spectators at Food + Wine Palm Desert Festival

Hundreds converge on the Palm Desert event to sample pairings of gourmet recipes and fine wines

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Fragrant smells of garlic, truffle oil, curry, simmering sausages, wood-fired pizzas, and spices wafted through the Big White Tent — home to Fashion Week El Paseo , Food + Wine Festival Palm Desert drew hundreds of guests.

Two women in blue aprons —Les Dames d’Escoffier volunteers Donna Curran and Francine Robertshaw — handed festivalgoers programs and steered them to wine glasses for the tasting areas.

Inside the tent, a marketplace of restaurants and wine sellers were paired to complement each other. The luscious smell of red wines uncorked and resting or the taste of cool, dry white wine, following a spicy, crunchy Asian salad from Escena, resonated beyond the moment.

Others great pairings included the yellow curry chicken over rice from Legacy Thai with a Grgich Hills chardonnay. The crimini and oyster mushrooms in truffle oil on crostini from Hyatt Grand Champions were matched with Roth Estates blended red wine from Napa.  Jensen’s Fine Food’s bistro beef filet with three sauces, cabernet-cherry, lemon-artichoke pesto, or red pepper hummus and roasted mushroom all paired nicely with the sturdy reds from JAQK Cellars.

A dizzying round of demonstrations on four stages included Chris Mitchum, executive chef at Hyatt Grand Champions Resort & Spa in Indian Wells. “I grew up in Missouri, where we grew everything; now it's a trend,” he says “I remember picking fresh blackberries out of the garden.”

As he prepared his India-Pakistan-inspired Korma chicken dish, he continues, “Everything everyone’s doing now — fresh, from scratch, and locally sourced —  we've been doing for a long time at the Hyatt."

Mary Cardas, owner of Savory Spice Shop on El Paseo, provided all the spices in the dish — turmeric, Serrano chiles, coriander, cumin, and smoke paprika.

Celebrity chef Andre Carthen, walking by during Mitchum’s demo, called out, “Now how do we do this?”

In the next demonstration, Carthen heated mixed nuts in oil to release their fragrance, a great party tip when guests arrive, he says. His bite-sized chipotle spiced brownies were a hit.

Meanwhile, Joan Saylor of Gerard Bertrand su du France began her talk at the Jensen’s Fine Foods Marketplace stage, where she explained France’s regional appellation for varietals and poured several wines from the collection.

Deborah Scott from Cohn Restaurant group in San Diego prepared a Vietnamese-inspired deep-fried striped bass with seaweed and cucumber salad and udon noodles in a rice vinegar and soy sauce dressing.  

The Southern-born Scott reminisced about fishing for crab with her father off the coast of North Carolina using a chicken leg on a string as bait.

Master chef Daniel Joly prepared white asparagus with a hollandaise made with beer, while across the courtyard at the east garden stage, Diane von Welanetz Wentworth whipped up her favorite fudge recipe, as Les Dames member Candi Elm stirred the bubbling melted marshmallows for Wentworth's Belgium chocolate and walnut treats.

But Sara Moulton, food editor of Good Morning America, stole the show on the Green Room stage. She honed her easy, talkative style as a television chef and executive chef for 25 years in the test kitchen at the now-defunct Gourmet Magazine.

She recalls the day she learned about the demise of Gourmet: "I was on a photo shoot at a farmer’s market for an upcoming feature when my cell phone rang. It was my sous chef, very upset. I first thought someone died. And it was: The magazine died. "They gave us one day to pack up our things and clear out.  I had thousands of cookbooks. My husband helped me pack them up. We had 35 boxes of cookbooks."

Moulton prepared beer batter-sautéed shrimp — a recipe she says she “stole” from Cooking Light — with fruit-filled pot stickers, her own invention inspired by pain au chocolate, a baguette layered with a dark chocolate.

Les Dames member Nancy Cohee assisted, preparing all the food in advanec so Moulton could be free to talk. “Something I learned to do as a television chef,” says Moulton, recently nominated as the best TV chef by the James Beard Foundation.

Moulton interned with the late Julia Child in the late 1970s. She said Child had a terrific sense of humor and told her, "Never apologize and never explain when you make a mistake."

The afternoon cooking demos concluded with Amylu Kurzawski, chef/owner of Amylu Sausages.

“I'm a third generation sausage maker from Chicago,” she says. “And while I still make the same sausages as my grandfather, in the early ’90s, I developed my own line of chicken sausage, which are lighter, healthier.”

Kurzawski prepared apple gouda chicken sausage in corn cakes, which can be an appetizer or meal, and an sugarhouse maple chicken sausage strudel.

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