Sunday, August 23, 2009

SF Chefs.Food.Wine

Several weeks ago was the beginning of what I think will be an amazing San Francisco tradition – SF Chefs.Food.Wine. It was a celebration of primarily local food and wine, with seminars, parties, and tastings galore. Tickets were a bit pricey at $150 bucks a pop for day passes, but I was lucky enough to win a pair through a Yelp Elite giveaway. Fortunately, this kind of price point filtered out anyone who wasn’t serious about being there. This meant that the tasting tent never got out of hand even though the wine and cocktails flowed very freely.

The format consisted of a choice of one morning session, the lunchtime tasting tent, and an afternoon session. There was a wide variety of seminars to chose from, with anything from sake tastings and education to growing heirloom seeds and cooking with their product. My morning session was “From Italy to the Bay,” with chefs from Perbacco, Palio D’Asti, Kuleto’s and my personal favorite Italian in the city – Defina. Three chefs demonstrated three different dishes using eggplant and ricotta, while discussing how they apply their Italian training to the ingredients and culinary philosophies of the Bay Area. The afternoon session was “The View From the Top” and was a panel discussion with Thomas Keller (French Laundry, Per Se, Bouchon, Ad Hoc), Charles Phan (The Slanted Door, Out the Door, Heaven’s Dog) and Douglas Keane (Cyrus). They discussed some of their achievements and how they created successful businesses in an industry with such a high failure rate.
Above left photo: A view of the tasting tent from the top of the Westin St. Francis in downtown SF.

Kuleto's Robert Helstrom, Palio D'Asti's Daniel Scherretor, Delfina's Craig Stoll and Perbacco's Umberto Gibin at "From Italy to the Bay"

Top 3 Interesting things from SF Chefs.Food.Wine (Well, I thought they were interesting anyway):
1. I like eggplant! I have a VERY short list of things I don’t enjoy eating, and eggplant was at the top of that list until the “From Italy to the Bay” demo. We tasted some smoky, marinated grilled eggplant with ricotta baked in a fig leaf (prepared by Defina’s Craig Stoll) and eggplant parmesan so perfectly cooked it was almost creamy (prepared by Palio D’Asti’s Daniel Scherotter). One of Craig Stoll’s memorable quotes was “if you undercook eggplant, it sucks! That’s why a lot of people don’t like it.” I think that’s where my dislike of eggplant came from, and I am officially a convert.
2. Thomas Keller had never heard of Yelp. Someone from the audience asked how the chefs approached reviews, especially from user-generated content sites such as Yelp and he asked, “What’s Yelp?” Everyone laughed, thinking he was being ironic, but he looked confused and said, “No, seriously…what’s Yelp?” (For the record, FL has 4.5 stars and over 540 reviews on Yelp).
3. When asked why wine country was such a perfect place to open a restaurant, Douglas Keane made a great point; he said “people go there for the meal and can spend three and a half hours eating.” San Francisco is rather unique in that most people expect two to three hour meals on the weekend, but I think in most of the country people like to be in and out in around an hour, maybe an hour and a half. Wine country just moves at a different pace. And most of the wineries close after five o’clock anyway, so why not sit and relax for three hours?

I was third in line, after lugging my French Laundry Cookbook around all day. I think it weighs about 15 pounds.

Top 3 “Celebrity” Sightings
1. Thomas Keller. I’ve never been so star struck and can’t imagine getting this excited about seeing even Brad Pitt.
2. SF Mayor Gavin Newsome. Well, he’s a local celebrity at least!
3. Ryan Scott of Top Chef Season Four, the pretty boy who exhibited a true San Franciscan’s knowledge of sporting events in the Tailgate challenge. Bread Salad? To Bears Fans? Thankfully the judges had the good sense to cut him for that one. Not that I should talk, some of our baseball tailgating parties can get pretty elaborate…

Making friends...with Thomas Keller! I was telling him about our amazing meal at Ad Hoc the night before.

I’m already counting down the days until next year’s event, but I’m kind of hoping they change the name…I understand not wanting to call it the “San Francisco Food and Wine Festival” since that’s pretty generic, but they seriously couldn’t come up with anything more creative? What they’ve got right now is pretty confusing. Do you pronounce the period as “dot” as you do in “dot com?” Or do you ignore it? If you ignore it, what’s the point? Hmm, they’ve got some time to rethink this whole title and I hope they take a good, hard look at it!


  1. i knew you would attend this!!! love your pics, and your "top" lists. hmmm, do you think you can make me into an eggplant convert?? also, is gavin newsom's hair has big & gelled back as it appears on TV??

  2. I also went to this event! You hit it right on the nose . . . the title of this event is so weird. I personally enjoyed the unlimited appetizer tastings in the tent. And Saturday was such a warm day.

  3. I was searching the internet for information on scrapelle soup. This is my family's traditional holiday soup. I have absolutely no idea where it came from. It is always served on a holiday. It is my favorite. We must be pronouncing it wrong too.