Perfect Pairing

Celebrity chefs and world-class wineries converge on Food & Wine Festival Palm Desert for a weekend of fun, education, and good taste.

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Under the big white tent that had seen night after night of runway shows during Fashion Week El Paseo, another fun, sophisticated event unfolded in late March: the second annual Food & Wine Festival Palm Desert, where an all-star lineup of chefs and winemakers offered demonstrations and an appreciable serving of gourmet dishes and wine pairings.

“The most important thing for any cook to have is fun,” said the colorful Duff Goldman, impresario of Charm City Cakes and star of Food Network’s Ace of Cakes, who, with other featured chefs, drew inspiration from nature, clothing, music, and life for the kickoff program, Romancing the Plate With the Perfect Date.

At the four-course, $100-a-plate, gourmet luncheon — featuring exceptional wines from Sonoma-Cutrer and Korbel — attendees enjoyed the Chef Challenge Cooking Demonstration in which the versatile, heart-healthy California date took center stage in a variety of flavorful forms.

Andie Hubka, executive chef of the California Date Administrative Committee and luncheon host, won over the audience with blue cheese and almond-stuffed California dates with chive oil. Jimmy Schmidt, executive chef at Morgan’s in the desert, drew applause for his roasted wild salmon atop dates, and chanterelle and arugula plumped celeriac ravioli with date emulsion. Scott Robinson, owner and executive chef of New Leaf Catering, simmered his Vietnamese beef and noodle soup in duck and date broth to perfection. And Goldman tantalized taste buds to a crescendo with his pear ginger spice cake with khadrawi date sauce and Chinese citrus Chantilly cream.

Later that evening, Morgan’s in the desert hosted an elegant cocktail reception at the historic La Quinta Resort & Club to celebrate the festival’s association with the James Beard Foundation. The partnership, which also includes the Culinary Institute of America, benefits Friends of James Beard Foundation and CIA’s Endowed Scholarship Fund, as well as the local Desert AIDS Project and Martha’s Village & Kitchen.

On Saturday and Sunday, more than 1,100 epicureans enjoyed gourmet dishes from more than 50 Southern California restaurants, which showcased creations by James Beard Award-winning chefs Roy Yamaguchi (Roy’s Restaurant), Bradley Ogden (Caesar’s Palace), and Paul Bertolli (Fra’ Mani Handcrafted Salumi).

In wall-to-wall gourmet food booths, guests sampled dishes such as the melt-in-your-mouth Roasted Duck (Schmidt, Morgan’s in the desert), scrumptious Citrus and Blood Orange Marinated Short Ribs with a Carrot Ginger Purée (Michael Estrada, Matchbox Pizza), dreamy Date Cheesecake (Juan Leon, The Renaissance Palm Springs Hotel), and sinfully de-luscious Red Velvet Cupcakes (Tony Di Lembo, The Tropicale).

Celebrity chefs demonstrated on two stages provided by Viking Range Corp., and Jensen’s Finest Foods Marketplace hosted a winemaker and sommelier stage.

More than 50 wineries and vineyards from California, Europe, and South America participated, including Clos Pegase, Hess Collection, Louis Jadot-France, St. Francis, Benziger Family Winery, Kenwood, and Napa Cellars.

Top sommeliers, such as Antonia Quest, and leading wine authorities, such as Hugh Davies (Schramsberg Vineyards and J. Davies Vineyards), Tracy Cervellone (Wilson Daniels Ltd.) and Joel Templin (JAQK Cellars) shared their knowledge and tips.

Organizers have already begun planning next year’s Food & Wine Festival Palm Desert. For information, visit

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