The First Annual Flavor of NapaThe First Annual Flavor of Napa

by Chef Len Elias

The “Flavor of Napa” was a world class celebration of food and wine highlighting some of Napa's best-known chefs and winemakers. Events took place up and down the Napa Valley over 4 days in November and included culinary demonstrations, multi course dinners, wine tastings, and a closing brunch. Proceeds from the festival benefited the scholarship fund at the Culinary Institute of America. Participating Chefs included Thomas Keller, Bob Hurley, Christopher Kostow, Masaharu Morimoto, Tyler Florence, Michael Chiarello, Cindy Pawlcyn, Richard Blais, Todd Humphries, Jeff Jake, Christophe Geurad and dozens of others. The main purpose of my visit was to lend a hand and support the culinary team at the Dolce Silverado Resort.

While I was there I did get to eat a few meals and do the tourist thing. I had lunch at Bouchons with a few other chefs and thought it to be very good, but a bit pricey for lunch. The service was less than stellar, but It was a beautiful day to sit on the patio, it may be the closest I ever get to a European vacation. I had the Duck Confit with Lentils and it was very good, worth the wait and service flaws. The other Chefs ordered a variety of dishes and a tasting and critique ensued. I was with Chefs from Barcelona, Toronto and Boston, so opinions varied and polite banter on technique and presentation went on throughout the meal.

After our meal we walked the streets of Yountville and ran into Chef Bob Hurley of “Hurley’s Restaurant”. Chef Hurley has been in the Napa Valley for 20 years and is a very friendly and outgoing Chef. He was celebrating game week at his restaurant and I had my eyes and tongue on his Wild Boar Baby Back Ribs, unfortunately I never made it back to Hurley’s, but I did run into Chef Hurley at another event and got to speak with him for a while, he is an amazing man. He did eat the appetizer I was serving and came back for more which made me very happy.

My next stop was the “Kitchen Door” located in the Oxbow Market. Chef Christophe Geurad who worked with Chef Todd Humphries at L’Espinasse in NY brought us there and I am glad he did. Melt in Your Mouth Duck Liver Mousse Flatbread, Korean Ribs, Charcuterie, Wood Fired Chicken Wings, it just kept coming, truly amazing, Chef Todd has a great restaurant, I think it’s the restaurant we all would want to eat at and own. More important than that, is that Chef Todd is another real guy, a nice man and an amazing chef. Later in the week I would get to work with Chef Todd. After that it was off to ZuZu’s Tapas and Wine Bar, a place I had written about on a previous Napa trip. This time it was a little different and proves to be a little more than I could handle. Drinking wine with a Frenchman, a Spaniard a Canadian and the owner was quite an experience for a sometimes wine drinker like me. I am more of a beer guy and paid for it the next morning, what the heck, you only live once.

The next day we all worked the opening dinner; Masaharu Morimoto prepared the first course of Pacifc Geoduck with Kinmedai Snapper. Chef Morimoto’s team of chefs worked like highly trained surgeons with few words spoken, their mission was clearly defined and 230 amazing starter courses were born. The next course was prepared by Scott Conant; Chef Conant’s team of Chefs came in earlier in the day to hand make over 2000 Rabbit Agnolottis they later returned to finish their dish with a Foie Gras Emulsion, all I can say is that it was off the charts. Chef Conant was a pleasure to work with and he stayed to assist in plating even after his course was done. The meal continued with Cindy Pawlcyn’s highly creative Bachelor’s Lamb Tagine. Chef Cindy also stuck around and was obviously happy to be there; she knew many of the Silverado staff and instantly became one of the crew. The dinner ended with the Dolce teams world class Miile Feuille. Every component of this dessert was handmade that day and was one of the best desserts I have ever seen or tasted.

Dolce’s Silverado Resort was the host hotel and I had the opportunity to work side by side with many of these chefs and actually headlined my own table at the CIA Greystone during the Appellation Trail tasting event.

I had lost a lot of sleep thinking about how my dish would be received at this world class event. As a longtime resident of Georgia, my plan was to elevate BBQ to new heights and show what could be done with a little imagination. After weeks of trial and error: Barbequed Duck Confit with Creamy Stone Ground Grits, Pickled Collard Greens and Honey Mustard Foam was born. I would cure 60 pounds of Duck legs, confit them and serve with Southern Stone Ground Grits. It turned out better than I could have ever imagined and was well received by the guests; I served over 500 portions in about 2 hours.

One of my favorite events was the closing brunch with some amazingly creative dishes prepared by Chef Todd Humphries of the “Kitchen Door Restaurant”. I loved his food once again and felt lucky to be part of this.

More to come……..