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Appellation St. Helena (ASH) hosted  their annual food and wine pairing competition, bASH, in the historic barrel room at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone this past Saturday evening, and this year’s event was bigger and better than ever.

Student participation was almost twice what it was last year, with 27 student teams and seven new wineries. Two categories partnered a winery with either CIA students or a restaurant or catering service, and about 250 guests visited 34 stations, tasting, sampling and voting for three of their favorite food and wine pairings.

Appellation St. Helena is comprised of wineries within five miles of St. Helena, covering 6,500 acres from Bale Lane to Zinfandel Lane. The predominant wine poured at bASH was cabernet sauvignon, with a smattering of sauvignon blanc from Clif Family, Ehlers Estate, J. Lohr and Robert Mondavi to name a few.

Before the event, students were given bottles of wine to take home, and the two-person teams had creative freedom to come with compatible food pairings. Creations included everything from scallops to oxtail, with more lamb this year than in the past.

CIA student Kaitlin Streets and Sarah Alcone were partnered with Varozza Vineyards, who was pouring a 2009 cabernet sauvignon. The students created pupusas, a traditional Salvadoran dish, with pulled pork, pimento cheese, red chili sauce on a tortilla. “It’s a big aggressive wine, so we needed something fatty and spicy to hold up to the wine without overpowering it,” Streets said. “It’s a little acidic, and that will bring that out in the wine as well. The cabernet pairs really well, we’re really happy with the pairing.”

Streets added that the pork was marinated in Coke, which give it a flavor that also goes great with cabernet.

As part of Arts in April, artist Peneolpe Moore displayed a few of her food and wine related paintings at the event, and this year was in the progress of painting a large fork.

Goose and Gander’s mushroom soup was popular with guests, as was Casa Nuestra Winery and Vineyard’s full-bodied, but earthy 100 percent cabernet franc, from grapes that were planted in 1980. Their wine was paired with braised short ribs stuffed into a won ton shell with Asian slaw and pickled bell pepper, prepared by Samuel Frumkin and Kirill Utochkin. Students Alyssa Lark and Kattie Dezee’s lamb tacos were also popular.

“My first observation tonight is that there is a lot of lamb finding its way into the student dishes,” said CIA chef-instructor Lars Kronmark, of the locally supplied lamb. “When I taste it I find a little mint in the background, I think the students found that too.”

Kronmark added that the students had been in the kitchen working since 10 a.m. that morning. “I’m really proud of what I’m seeing,” he said.

ASH president Dave Yewell and his wife Nancy, ASH secretary, presented  the first place prize in the winery and CIA partners category to Shenelle Perez and Byonghan Koh for their savory chili cone stuffed with homemade fig jam, gorgonzola, bacon and marinated tomatoes, paired with Calafia Cellars’ 2010 “La Reina” Cabernet Sauvignon Estate.

Second place went to students Addison Girdner and Michael Pazan for their wine braised oxtail with brioche cauliflower crumb, paired with Pellet Estate’s 2011 cabernet sauvignon.

Third place went to Kathryn Schmitz and Bryan Owens for their slider topped with gorgonzola and caramelized onion jam on herbed gougére, with Taplin Cellars’ 2009 cabernet sauvignon.     

First place in the winery and restaurant/catering category went to Sweet Pea Catering and Private Chef Services who were paired with Corley Family Vineyards. Chef Jeanna DeMarco, it’s to be noted, also won last year’s bASH in the student category.

The event was sponsored by ASH in partnership with The Culinary Institute of America, The St. Helena Chamber of Commerce, Visit Napa Valley and sponsor Le Creuset Cookware.

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