Palm Springs and its palm tree-adorned environs are celebrated for many things — modernism, refuge, and endless social events. It makes perfect sense that over time, all eyes — and palates — would turn to the seasoned chefs who have transformed Greater Palm Springs into a foodie haven in architectural standouts.
The James Beard Foundation certainly took notice.
In 2015, Chef Michael Beckman, along with partner Joseph Mourani, helped elevate Workshop Kitchen + Bar’s success when the restaurant received the coveted James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurant Design. It was the first James Beard Award bestowed on the region.
Beckman, other local chefs, and Greater Palm Springs itself capture the spotlight Dec. 1 when Palm Springs Life hosts a Palm Desert Food & Wine dinner at The Beard House in New York City. For the past eight years, the magazine has hosted the James Beard Luncheon during the food & wine event. A portion of ticket sales for Saturday’s dinner goes to the James Beard Foundation.
PHOTOGRAPH BY AUDREY MA
Workshop Kitchen + Bar Chef Michael Beckman received a James Beard Award for restaurant design.
The lavish event showcases Greater Palm Springs as a bona fide food destination as local chefs use regional ingredients in standout dishes. The dinner features chefs Andrew Copley (Copley’s on Palm Canyon, AC3 Restaurant + Bar), Leanne Kamekona (Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa), Jennifer Town (Ingleside Inn, Melvyn’s Restaurant), and Stephen Wambach (4 Saints, Juniper Table at the Kimpton Rowan Palm Springs Hotel).
“It’s an honor to be recognized as somebody to represent the Coachella Valley,” Wambach says of his selection. “To be among these local talents is significant.”
Wambach’s 4 Saints turned heads last year for its stellar rooftop dining experience in the tallest restaurant in Palm Springs. For his part, Wambach will infuse one of the main course dishes with his creative talent. His “fish course” will feature black cod that’s caught off the shore of Newport Beach, about 83 miles away from Palm Springs.”
“I’m using juniper that I forage off of Highway 74, and which is just a couple of miles from Palm Springs,” he adds.
Other main course dishes from chefs include Drake Family Farms Goat Cheese with Temecula Valley honey, Nopal-Style Cactus Confit, and bougainvillea, as well as Wild Caught Ultra Tuna Sashimi with Valbreso feta, Coachella dates, Golden Osetra caviar, daikon, and ponzu sauce.
Hors d’Oeuvres illuminate some of the desert’s finest ingredients — from a Local Date Jam Crostini with Angel’s Salumi Wild Boar prosciutto and Micro Arugula to the Blue Desert Tostada Carne tartare with jicame, Serrano chiles, and Micro cilantro.
Wambach says that when people think of the desert, their thoughts are, ‘What could they possibly have there: cactus, dates, what else?’ But there are rich ingredients in the surrounding areas and throughout Greater Palm Springs.
“The big draw for me moving here, other than Palm Springs itself, is being around food sources that are no more than an hour-and-a-half away,” he adds.
And what does it mean to him be part of such a noteworthy event?
“I’m more excited that the Greater Palm Springs is recognized and that I’m included in this group of people that go into The Beard House,” he says. “For me, the real treat sending the best chefs to New York City.”
As for the actual dining experience at The Beard House, Wambach notes that it’s a “tight, small space.”
“Obviously, you have a very influential crowd coming in,” he says. “People hang out, they come into the kitchen while you’re cooking, and they ask questions. It’s a very interactive experience. You’re in a townhome in New York City. You’re not in a hotel or some dungeon basement where you are typically cooking a meal.
“It’s not everyday that you are able to cook in a private residence in New York City.”
The Palm Desert Food & Wine dinner takes place at 8 p.m. Dec. 1 at The Beard House in New York City. For tickets, visit jamesbeard.org.