Afrim Pristine hit the nail on the head when he declared, “As much as food has to be special, it has to be entertaining.” The Canadian cheese master issued his statement while demonstrating the preparation of a mozzarella di bufala salad at Palm Desert Food & Wine’s James Beard Gourmet Four-Course Luncheon, which kicked off the three-day culinary festival and benefited local nonprofit FIND Food Bank as well as the James Beard Foundation.
Pristine was the first celebrity chef on deck, serving focaccia and mozzarella di bufala with microgreens, cherry tomatoes, a genius touch of paper-thin cucumber, and a thick marcona almond vinaigrette on top. He took pains to explain the importance of using the best olive oil, adequately emulsifying it with balsamic vinegar, and adding no less than six turns of a peppermill.
MasterChef Season 6 winner Claudia Sandoval of San Diego showcased her Mazatlán background with a second-course scallop pomegranate aguachile. Her sauce included pomegranate juice, jalapeño, and freshly squeezed lime juice.
Australian Curtis Stone, a Michelin-star restaurateur and celebrity chef known for multiple television series, began his third-course demonstration by making potato foam with nitrous oxide for “a starchy flavor but not a starchy texture.” His dish — braised short rib with potato foam, spring vegetables (asparagus, peas, and fava beans), and morel mushroom sauce — looked far from heavy on the plate with that light potato touch.
Syndicated radio host and chef Jamie Gwen delivered a sweet finale with her Basque burnt cheesecake. Inspired by San Sebastian, Spain, her recipe calls for whipped cream, passion fruit sauce, candied pistachios, and edible flowers pulsed in a food processor into “confetti.”
Wine pairings included, in order, a 2020 Robert Mondavi sauvignon blanc from Napa Valley, a 2018 Talley Vineyards estate-bottled chardonnay from Arroyo Grande, a 2018 ZD Winery 50th anniversary cabernet sauvignon from Napa Valley, and a 2019 Harvey & Harriet red blend from San Luis Obispo.
Following the Friday luncheon at Palm Desert Food and Wine came two days of Grand Tastings, featuring unlimited samples and sips from top restaurants, vintners, brewmasters, and distilleries in the Coachella Valley and beyond as well as a star-studded lineup of chef demonstrations. A balanced Grand Tasting experience includes a healthy amount of walking and grazing, and attendees did just that.
In the courtyard area, a faux-vintage trailer with a Bar Monte marquis greeted guests with Amaro Montenegro liqueur.
Nearby, Palm Springs’ Gelato Granucci doled out spoonfuls of its range of delicious flavors, and Indio’s Buzzbox tempted attendees with an array of premixed cocktails (margarita, mojito, cosmopolitan, bloody Mary, hurricane, etc.) in ecofriendly Tetra Paks.
Inside the main tasting tent, Ascension Cellars and ZD Wines bookended a row of booths that also included Dragos Cantina’s craft margaritas. Local restaurants also had a lot to offer. Palm Springs’ Trio served an appetizer and a dessert: citrus-cured salmon crostini followed by Medjool dates with nuts, chocolate, and goat cheese. Cork & Fork followed suit with quiche squares and key lime bars. SO·PA at L’Horizon Resort & Spa served puff pastry with truffled cheese sauce, garnished with paprika and chives. Wildest, Pacifica Seafood Restaurant, La Quinta Cliffhouse, and Hotel Paseo’s Larkspur Grill took a seaworthy approach with wild-tuna tartare, shrimp cocktail, sugar-spiced Norwegian salmon rillettes, and shrimp with charred avocado and chimichurri on Peruvian purple corn tortillas.
In addition to the kickoff luncheon and Grand Tastings, the 10th annual event featured a schedule packed with other delectable happenings, including a celebrity chef reception, a dinner at Toscana Country Club, a three-course Sunday brunch and cooking demonstration, and a biscuit bake-off between festival favorites Carla Hall and Zac Young.
Palm Desert Food & Wine offered an abundance of opportunities to not only entice our palates but also fill our minds with the stories and passions of the people responsible for all those mouthwatering flavors. Now, we’re just counting down the days until next year’s iteration. See you in March 2023.