Last month I was invited along with fellow media professionals, journalists, and winemakers for a magical evening at Sanctuary on Camelback Resort to learn what makes Monterey County, California so special.
On November 29th, the Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau brought #TasteMonterey to the Valley of the Sun through food and wine. I learned that Monterey is a county in Northern California situated on the beautiful Pacific coast with 99 miles of stunning coastal views. Beautiful vistas also include the Santa Lucia Mountains, one of the largest wine-growing and producing regions in California and home to more than 175 vineyards and 60 wineries and tasting rooms. It's also an area rich in agricultural history, and we would explore all this through “A Culinary Fusion of Styles & Taste: Scottsdale Meets Monterey," a wine dinner collaboration with host Executive Chef Beau MacMillan of Sanctuary and guest chefs Johnny De Vivo and Matthew Beaudin.
Our journey to Monterey County began with a wine reception where we dined on wonderful appetizers that included steak tartare with quail eggs and crispy stuffed wontons as we were poured a trio of wines from three boutique wineries in Monterey. I sipped on Big Sur Vineyards' bright and refreshing rosé, while others enjoyed Blair Vineyards chardonnay and De Tierra merlot.
We were then seated in the Sanctuary Resort's beautiful Praying Monk dining room with its magnificent views of Paradise Valley.
Rob O'Keefe, Chief Marketing Officer at Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau welcomed us as he told us more about the visiting culinary team from California - acclaimed Chefs Johnny Devivo and Matthew Beaudin - and the Monterey-sourced menu we would be enjoying. "We have a special evening to share with you. The main ingredient we have as a travel destination is inspiration. It's an amazing destination, and we're here to serve up, literally, a taste of Monterey."
Next, Kim Stemler, Executive Director of the Monterey County Vintners & Growers Association, spoke about the vineyards of Monterey County and the wine that would be paired with our dishes. "Monterey’s two biggest industries are agriculture and tourism and the wine industry is an important element as the bridge between both." Throughout the night, she would also describe each wine pairing along with making introductions to winemakers and fellow diners such as Mark Manzoni of Manzoni Vineyards, Jerry Lohr of J. Lohr Vineyards, and Ben Pon of Bernardus Winery. "When you experience our wines and tasting rooms in Monterey, you’re typically getting somebody pouring your glass who was picking earlier in the fields or working on the production line; everybody is very hands-on. The people are so passionate about what they do and we’re glad to be sharing that with you tonight."
We also heard from Jennifer of the Monterey Regional Airport, who spoke about how convenient it is for Arizonans to visit Monterey County. I was pleasantly suprised to learn that there are four nonstop flights a day out of Sky Harbor Airport and the airport is only 35 miles from the River Road Wine Trail and less than eight miles from Pebble Beach. "It's a beautiful place to visit, to live, and to experience."
Chef Beau MacMillan introduced the chefs. "I spent one of the greatest weekends of my life doing the Monterey Aquarium sustainable seafood event," said Sanctuary Executive Chef Beau MacMillan as he expressed how honored he was to have the visiting chefs in his kitchen. "Hospitality is what we do. We never turn down an excuse to celebrate food and wine, especially with chefs from such an amazing region. Tonight we are going to celebrate the great bounty from the sea and the land with these two incredible chefs who are truly regional in their craft."
"We want to make this fun for you, we want to make this interactive, we want you to have a good time," Chef MacMillan told us as he explained how our evening would be starting with chef demos. "The first chef I'm introducing is a rockstar, Matthew Beaudin, who has a 12 million dollar operation with 26 cooks in his restaurant."
Chef Beaudin is not only the Executive Chef of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but he also owns and operates their farm. “You’re in for a treat tonight," he said as he told us about the ingredients he would be using in his first course. "Over the past 18 months at the Aquarium, we've really focused in on farm to table. The salad you are going to eat tonight is a culmination of that." He described the ingredients sourced in Monterey that we would see in his dish, including eggs from their flock of 120 ducks, mustard seed grown on the farm in Hollister, their own salt harvested from Big Sur, mushrooms from Far West Fungi, and locally-grown nuts and lettuce.
Chef Beaudin's course was truly Monterey on a plate. Foraged mushroom salad with frisée, candied walnuts, lardons, hazelnut "dirt" ground with brown sugar, and colorful microflowers was topped with a duck egg whose golden yolk combined with the mustard seed vinaigrette to create a silky dressing. This was paired with a Manzoni Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands, a velvety wine exhibiting ripe red fruit and an earthiness that was especially nice with the wild mushrooms.
Johnny de Vivo of Porter's in the Forest, formerly the executive chef at Casanova and La Bicyclette in Carmel, next took the stage with a spectacular array of ocean bounty. "This is all about why I love to cook in Monterey. For me, it's a special place." He spoke about a favorite source - Monterey Abalone Company - and educated guests on details about the abalone, Kellet's whelks, spiny lobsters, uni, and seaweed we would be enjoying in dish. "I'm trying to bring as much of Monterey as possible with things people may have never seen."
Chef De Vivo's course was a fresh and briny melange of Santa Barbara uni, lobster, whelks, enoki mushrooms, micro greens, pickled "sea grapes" and seaweed in an umami-rich broth made with chicken stock, shiitake mushrooms, kombu, bonito flakes, yuzu and white soy. This was paired with a chardonnay duo - a Burgundian-style J. Lohr Arroyo Vista contrasted with a crisp Wrath Ex Anima - both perfect complements to this pristine seafood dish.
Chef MacMillan showed us how he would be making a decadent component to his entree as he breaded pounded abalone in a pistachio crust before sauteeing in foie gras fat and layering with seared foie gras, duck confit, and toasted brioche. "This abalone dish is my tribute to Monterey."
Indulgent in and of itself, this delicious side dish was plated with duck four ways. In addition to the duck confit and foie gras on brioche with abalone, Chef Beau prepared slow-roasted duck breast and duck leg accompanied by sweet potato puree, carrots, mushrooms, and broccoli rabe, finished with a rich cherry syrup with star anise and ginger gastrique. Poured to accompany was another wine duo, this time pinot noir: Bernardus Winery Gary's Vineyard pinot noir grown in the Santa Lucia Highlands and Carmel Road pinot noir from the Monterey appellation. Kim told us Monterey County grows more pinot noir than any place in California. I also had a chance to talk with Bernardus owner Ben, who told me they created only four barrels of his lovely pinot which was my favorite of the night.
Pastry Chef Ana Garza ended this fantastic meal with a luxurious olive oil and rosemary financier featuring Meyer lemons grown in Monterrey with Meyer lemon crémeux, candied fennel, pistachio granola, blood orange segments, and brown butter gelato. This was elegantly partnered with an efferevescent 2009 Caraccioli Cellars Brut Rose from the Santa Lucia Highlands.
Each guest was also generously given a bottle of Wrath Swan/828 pinot noir as a "Taste of Monterey" take-home gift.
After learning about this new-to-me area rich in scenic beauty, locally-sourced ingredients, outstanding restaurants, and a myriad of wineries, I can't wait to visit Monterey.