Every year, as summer quietly melts into autumn, Dolores and Jack Cakebread, winery chef Brian Streeter and the staff at Cakebread Cellars welcome chefs, farmers and foodies alike to a truly unique collaboration of food and wine.
It’s a weekend of cooking, tasting, talking and sharing at the family-operated winery that’s been an integral part of the Napa Valley wine scene since 1973.
The Cakebreads launched their American Harvest Workshop 25 years ago — an event all about pairing great food and wine.
Menu items are gathered by various means and each night there’s an extraordinary dinner prepared by participating chefs — as well as food and wine writers from around the nation — using meats, cheeses, mushrooms, honey, produce from Dolores Cakebread’s outstanding garden and lots of other seasonal ingredients provided by local farmers and purveyors.
To help celebrate the 25th annual American Harvest Workshop at Cakebread Cellars next weekend, the
Cakebreads, chef Streeter, along with noted Napa Valley food writer Janet Fletcher, have collaborated on “The Cakebread Cellars American Harvest Cookbook: Celebrating Wine, Food and Friends in the Napa Valley” (Ten Speed Press, $35), slated to hit retail bookshelves on Aug. 16.
In introducing the concept to readers, vintner Jack Cakebread points out he and his wife “were advocates for local eating long before the word ‘locavore’ emerged. In fact, the idea for the American Harvest Workshop ... came from my feeling that American food was not getting its due. In the mid 1980s, the French and Italian governments were spending enormous sums to promote their food and wine here. Yet no one was making a similar effort to spread the word about the maturing culinary scene in America.”
Cakebread recalls meeting a young Dallas hotelier who “shared my thinking. Over a glass of wine, Bill Shoaf and I hatched a plan for the American Harvest Workshop, an annual retreat that would bring up-and-coming American chefs together with the best Northern California food artisans. We knew our raw materials were just as good as the products coming here from Europe. We just needed our talented chefs to recognize the quality of what was made in America and to take pride in serving it.”
The respected Napa Valley vintner said the first workshop — held during the 1986 grape crush — “created a template for a gathering that we have now hosted for a quarter century. We’ve refined the itinerary over the years to keep it fresh and relevant and to incorporate new purveyors. But the workshop’s mission and the basic format have remained unchanged.”
Cakebread noted that five chefs from across the country are invited “to be our guests at the winery for four days in mid-September to share the excitement of harvest. Call it a summer camp for chefs, if you like.
“Our son, Dennis, who travels widely as the winery’s head of sales and marketing, keeps an eye out for new restaurant talent. When he particularly enjoys a meal on the road, he’ll try to get to know the chef and discern whether he or she has the kind of temperament that fits with the workshop program.
“We learned quickly that the retreat is no place for big egos. The participating chefs need to enjoy collaborating and be able to get along as a group. Over the course of the workshop, they will plan and execute two multi-course dinners together in our winery kitchen, sharing a market basket of ingredients. We ask them to leave their signature dishes at home, to bring no ingredients with them and to come prepared to explore and experiment with what our purveyors provide. It’s a reality cooking show without the cameras.”
The Cakebreads said the event amounts to a whirlwind short course in winemaking, viticulture and artisan food production as well as food and wine pairing. Organized by workshop manager and winery chef Brian Street, one of the days is spent visiting local food producers.
At the outset, the workshop was “just for the trade,” Cakebread noted. “Although we have always invited a few journalists to participate, and in the early years we included sommeliers, the program was never open to the public. But gradually we realized that some of our ‘foodie’ customers would enjoy being part of the experience, and in 2003 we began making a few spaces available to them.
“For those amateur enthusiasts — we call them Cakebread cooks — who can secure a spot, the workshop is a dream vacation, assisting the chefs in the kitchen, tasting wines with the company president — our son Bruce — and touring the cellar with the winemaking team.”
Although the Cakebreads have tweaked the workshop over the years, they’ve not made significant changes.
“One notable development is the inclusion of chefs from beyond the United States,” vintner Cakebread advises in his introduction to the new cookbook. “With Cakebread Cellars expanding into global markets, and (sons) Bruce and Dennis traveling internationally, it made sense to invite some of the foreign chefs with whom we do business. In recent years, chefs from Scotland, China, India and Japan have attended the workshop and broadened our horizons.
“When the family held that first workshop in 1986, we could never have imagined that we would still be hosting it 25 years later. Preparations take a lot of time, but discontinuing the workshop would leave a big hole in our lives. We maintain it in part because it reminds us why we got into the wine business in the first place — for the pride of crafting a handmade product and the pleasure of sharing it.
“As a result of the workshop, we have friendships all over the country now, and beyond. Dennis boasts that he can hustle a football bet just about anywhere.”
Give recipes a try
Featuring 100 recipes from Cakebread Cellars and many of the chefs who’ve participated in the workshops over the years, the new cookbook spotlights the techniques and flavors of Northern California’s wine country and shares the stories of the Cakebread family and the many talented purveyors who helped make the program memorable.
Delectable recipes in the new cookbook from Ten Speed Press include Hog Island Oysters with Ginger Mignonette, Cucumber and Wasabi Tobiko; Watermelon and Tomato Gazpacho; Pizza with Cremini Mushrooms, New Potatoes and Crescenza Cheese; Pan Seared Catfish with Toasted Pecans and Carrot Emulsion; Pancetta-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin with Tomato Fondue; Fennel-Brined Pork Chops with Quince Chutney; Potato and Celery Root Gratin; and San Francisco Cioppino.
The Cakebreads agreed to share three of the recipes today with Register readers — Cucumber Cups with Roasted Beets and Yogurt Dressing, Braised Summer Vegetables with Basil Broth and Vella Cheese Crisps, plus Grandmother’s Soft Gingerbread Cake, which came from San Francisco chef Nancy Oakes and has become part of the fall dinner repertoire at Cakebread Cellars.
Dolores Cakebread insists that the two evenings spent breaking bread “are more than just memorable dinners. They are the culmination of four days of intense camaraderie and nonstop learning, with the heady scent of the annual grape harvest in the background.
“The energy level in the kitchen is off the charts, thanks to the enthusiasm of the Cakebread cooks and the fierce focus of our chefs. They are engaged in a high-wire act, after all, attempting new dishes with unfamiliar foods in a strange kitchen. Our dinner guests — an audience that often includes the featured purveyors — have the great pleasure of eating the experiments.
“On these balmy late summer nights, we celebrate American culinary prowess and products and honor both with the best wines from our cellar.”
Although one might think participating chefs would be spent by the end meal service, Jack Cakebread reveals “they are just getting warmed up. Typically, they find their way to Pancha’s in Yountville, where the local line cooks go for a beer after work. It’s open late — rare in this valley — and the closest thing we have to a dive bar.”
Braised Summer Vegetables with Basil Broth and Vella Cheese Crisps
“The Cakebread Cellars American Harvest Cookbook”
1 dozen golden or Chioggia beets, or a combination, golf ball size
4 loosely packed cups fresh basil leaves
1 1/2 cups hot vegetable stock
3/4 cup coarsely grated Vella Dry Jack cheese
18 baby carrots, peeled
1 cup vegetable stock
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes
2 Tbsp. thinly sliced fresh chives
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Freshly squeezed lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Roast the beets in a covered baking dish until they are tender when pierced, about 1 hour. Peel and quarter them and set aside.
For the basil broth: Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add the basil leaves and blanch for 10 seconds. Drain in a sieve or colander and cool quickly under cold running water. Squeeze as much liquid out of the leaves as you can. Chop roughly. In a blender, combine the chopped basil and 3/4 cup of the hot stock. Puree well, then add the remaining 3/4 cup stock and a pinch of salt and puree again. Strain though a fine sieve into a small saucepan.
For the cheese crisps: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat, or lightly brush a nonstick baking sheet with olive oil. Place a 3 1/2-inch pastry ring on the baking sheet and fill it with 2 tablespoons of the grated cheese, spreading the cheese evenly. Lift the ring and repeat until you have used all of the cheese; you should have enough cheese for 6 crisps. If you do not have a pastry ring, line a baking sheet with parchment paper and trace six 3 1/2-inch circles onto the parchment.
Bake until the cheese bubbles and turns golden and the butterfat begins to separate, 8 to 10 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through. Don’t let the cheese brown or the crisps will taste bitter. Working quickly, lift the cheese rounds with a metal spatula and drape them over a rolling pin. It’s okay if they overlap slightly. Let cool, then remove.
Cut the carrots in half crosswise, slicing on the diagonal. Put the carrots in a medium saucepan. Add 3/4 cup of the stock, the butter and a pinch of salt. Simmer uncovered over moderate heat until the carrots are tender when pierced and about 3 tablespoons of liquid remain, about 8 minutes. Add the quartered beets and the remaining 1/4 cup stock and stir for about 2 minutes to warm the beets through. Add the tomatoes, raise the heat to high, and stir until their skins just begin to split; don’t let the tomatoes collapse. Remove from the heat and stir in the chives and olive oil. Taste for salt. Add a squeeze of lemon to brighten the flavor.
Warm the basil broth gently; do not allow it to boil. Put 1/4 cup broth in each of 6 warm soup bowls. Divide the vegetables among the bowls. Top each serving with a cheese crisp.
Enjoy with Cakebread Cellars sauvignon blanc or another medium-bodied white wine with good acidity.
Grandmother’s Soft Gingerbread Cake
“The Cakebread Cellars American Harvest Cookbook”
Serves 12 to 16.
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 cup sugar
1 cup dark molasses
1 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 cup boiling water
1 cup heavy cream
2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Freshly grated nutmeg for garnish (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and lightly flour a 9-inch-round springform baking pan.
In a bowl, whisk together the flour, soda, salt, cloves, ginger and cinnamon.
In a mixing bowl with electric beaters, or by hand with a whisk, beat together the sugar, molasses, oil and eggs until well blended and smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the dry ingredients and mix just until blended, scraping the bowl once or twice. Add the boiling water and beat just until smooth. Don’t overmix or the cake will be tough. The batter will be thin.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and place on a baking sheet to catch any drips. Bake in the center of the oven until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 50 to 55 minutes. Let cool on a rack for at least 15 minutes before removing the pan sides.
For the whipped cream: In a mixing bowl with electric beaters, or by hand with a whisk, whip together the cream, sugar and vanilla to soft peaks.
To serve, cut the cake into 12 to 16 wedges. Transfer to dessert plates and put a dollop of whipped cream and a few sprinkles of nutmeg on top.
Cucumber Cups with Roasted Beets and Yogurt Dressing
“The Cakebread Cellars American Harvest Cookbook”
1 medium red or golden beet
3 Tbsp. whole milk yogurt
1 tsp. minced fresh dill,
plus dill sprigs for garnish
1 tsp. very finely minced shallots
Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper
1 Armenian or English (hothouse) cucumber
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Wrap the beet loosely in aluminum foil, sealing the package tightly. Bake until the beet is tender when pierced, about 1 hour. When cool enough to handle, peel the beet and cut it into very small, neat dice. You should have about 1/2 cup.
Place the diced beet in a small bowl and fold in the yogurt, minced dill and shallots. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Chill well.
Peel the cucumber and cut into 1/2-inch-wide chunks. You should have about 2 dozen. Use a melon baller to scoop out the center of each chunk to make room for a filling, taking care not to pierce the bottom and to leave the sides about 1/4 inch thick. Set the cucumber cups on a serving tray and chill. Just before filling, season with salt and white pepper.
To serve, spoon 1 teaspoon of the beet mixture into each cucumber cup and garnish with a small sprig of dill. Serve immediately.
Enjoy with Cakebread Cellars sauvignon blanc or another young, dry white wine with good acidity.