It had been almost eight years since the last time I’d been in the gardens of Copia for a food and wine gathering. The occasion was the kickoff of Flavor! Napa Valley, returning for the first time since November 2014.
Flavor! Napa Valley (yes, the exclamation point in the middle of the name is crazy, but that’s what they call it) is a week of eating and drinking and even cooking, a collaborative effort of Visit Napa Valley, the Silverado Resort and Spa, and the Culinary Institute of America.
If you attend every Flavor! event, you very likely end up the size of a wine barrel, but it’s all for a good cause: Flavor! Napa Valley benefits the CIA, providing scholarships for students. CIA alums return to cook at dinners, and a spotlight is shown on up-and-coming chefs at events like “The Young Guns Pop-Up Dinner,” at the historic Inglenook chateau. There, the past, present and future of Napa Valley all come together in one sumptuous meal in a matchless setting. (The Inglenook wines were also great.)
When the gardens of Copia opened for Flavor! Napa Valley’s first event, dubbed “the downtown strEAT market,” Napa restaurants and wineries, many of which have come into existence since Copia closed, set up their stands in the walkways between the stone planters. Many guests remarked that they had never been in the gardens during Copia’s seven-year existence, 2001-2008. If the gardens looked a little ragged after the long hiatus, this is all going to change. The event was a taste of what’s to come when the CIA reopens the long-empty Copia building this year as its south campus in the valley.
After years of going up to the CIA at Greystone and coming away dazzled, inspired and generally satiated, I can only predict that the arrival of the CIA in Napa is going to be fun.
Consider, for example, the last event I attended at Greystone: The Beefsteak. The what? Yes, I’d never heard of a Beefsteak either. It grew from a New York tradition where men gathered to drink beer and, unhindered by forks, knives or the presence of women, eat all the meat they wanted.
“At this richly historic event,” the explanation went, “the life of the party was the man who let out the most ecstatic grunts, ate the most meat, drank the most beer and got the most grease on his ears.” (They always wore their second-best suits.)
Today, shrimp and crab and oysters have slipped onto the menu, along with potatoes, and even token vegetables. Possibly, this is because women now are also invited.
The Beefsteak event has become a traditional favorite at the CIA campus in Hyde Park, New York; this was the first time they’d hosted one in St. Helena. Todd Meyerhofer, chef at the Wine Spectator Restaurant at Greystone, presided over the menu, which was meat, meat and more meat: lamb ribs, burgers, kidneys in bacon, steak.
It was the first event I’d ever attended in the valley where, when I walked in the door, I was handed a Mason jar filled with beer from Lagunitas Brewing Co. The Grand Isle Fire Brigade, which looked like it could have arrived straight from a German beer hall, regaled the guests with oom-pah-pah cheer, but their songs were decidedly American: “This Land Is Your Land,” “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
Among the guests was Steven Barber, chef from Farmstead in St. Helena, dancing up a storm to “Deep in the Heart of Texas.”
As Richard Maher of St. Helena observed, “There have probably never before been so many Napa Valley women drinking beer in one room.”
Bourbon was also served. But not a glass of wine.