The BottleRock serenade will permeate downtown Napa this weekend, but what sets BottleRock apart from other music festivals isn’t the sounds or the sights – it’s the smells.
BottleRock’s Williams Sonoma Culinary Stage is where music and food collide as chefs whip up tasty treats and drool-worthy delectables with musicians and music-loving celebrities.
On the Culinary Stage, everyone is a rock star.
While other BottleRock attendees were rushing to stages where bands were already rocking out, Aaron Pepetone and his family were settling in at the Culinary Stage.
“BottleRock is about good friends – family, good music and good food,” said Pepetone, who is visiting from Fortuna. “It’s just as much about the food as it is about the music.”
Pepetone and family were looking forward to seeing cakemaster and Food Network star Duff Goldman, so they parked their blanket on the turf at the front of the stage an hour before the culinary demonstration was scheduled to begin. Others would soon join them – some with blankets, some without – and by the time the show started, hundreds of BottleRockers were crowded around the stage hoping for a chance to taste something out of this world.
When Goldman took the stage, the audience roared to life as the sun broke through the clouds. “What’s up, Napa?” he called to the crowd.
Goldman graciously welcomed the applause but asked the crowd if they would “go crazy” for Napa native Justice Faustina, the 13-year-old who appeared as a contestant on “Kids Baking Championship” on Food Network earlier this year. Goldman is a host on the show, and the crowd was happy to oblige.
Faustina trotted onto the stage and offered a bright smile and shy wave to the crowd. After the demonstration, he said he wasn’t nervous even if he’d never been in front of a crowd that large before.
Faustina and Goldman were joined on stage by Joey Chestnut, the Vallejo native and competitive eater known for his multiple victories at the annual Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest.
Together, they assembled a massive eight-tier cake. As Goldman and Chestnut managed the heavy lifting, Faustina piped bright orange frosting at the base of each layer. The white and orange-accented cake was a magnificent sight, measuring several feet tall, but that wasn’t what they intended to show the BottleRock crowd.
Goldman stood atop a step stool and carefully poured blue icing onto the top of the cake. The white chocolate ganache cascaded over the cake’s layers like a river running wild. Faustina took a turn and poured purple icing on the cake. A rainbow of colors began to wash over the cake, but Goldman wasn’t satisfied.
“I don’t know,” he said turning to the crowd. “Do you think it needs something more?”
An enthusiastic “Yes” came from the crowd.
Goldman, who was trained at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, opened a plastic container and revealed what looked like a blue rubber ball. “This is an edible water balloon,” he announced, which delighted the audience and his stage assistants. Goldman threw the balloon at the cake and it exploded in a burst of color. Soon, Goldman, Faustina, and Chestnut were pelting the cake from all sides. Even Napa Mayor Jill Techel was invited on stage to help with the decorating, launching a balloon of her own at the cake.
“I’d talked to (fellow chef) Michael Voltaggio beforehand to see what he was going to do (on the Culinary Stage),” Goldman said after the show, “and I knew I’d better step up my game. Typically when I do demonstrations, I’ll bake some cookies, but this is BottleRock, so I had to go big.”
Goldman said he’s always wanted to do a cake demo but the cakes he’s known for tend to take a week to complete as they are intensively elaborate and often large in size. Given that Culinary Stage performances are only 30 minutes, Goldman decided to compromise and bake the cake in advance, but do the decorating on stage.
As if the edible water balloons weren’t enough, Goldman had a finishing touch only a cakemaster could dream up: rainbow sprinkles.
Sprinkles may seem ordinary, but when they are shot out of a T-shirt cannon, things get interesting. Goldman had teased the T-shirt cannon on his Twitter page on Thursday with the message: “I hope you’re ready, BottleRock”.
Goldman aimed the device at the cake and pulled the trigger. Nothing.
Unfazed by the misfire, Goldman went offstage and returned with a second device already preloaded with sprinkles. Again he aimed and pulled the trigger, only this time tiny colorful projectiles splattered on the side of the cake. The expression on Goldman’s face was like a kid on Christmas morning.
“That was pretty awesome,” he said. “That was a lot of fun.”
The cake was officially decorated, but you can’t have Joey “The Jaws” Chestnut on stage and not challenge him to an eating contest. He was given one of the top layers of the cake and proceeded to devour it within a minute.
As is Culinary Stage tradition, samples were given to the crowd. Goldman sliced up pieces of cake and tossed them into the crowd. No one seemed to mind getting a little messy – a small sacrifice to make for a chance to have a bite of Goldman’s signature cake.
Faustina ate the top layer of the cake. “It was really sweet, but it was also really good,” he said after the show.
Faustina said he gets recognized around town after appearing on “Kids Baking Championship” – especially at track meets, where he competes for St. John’s Lutheran School. “It’s a little weird getting the attention, but people have been really nice.”
Aside from baking, Faustina is also interested in science, especially meteorology. So what’s in store for BottleRock weekend?
“It’s going to be nice, probably high 70s to mid 80s. It’s going to be cloudy and cooler in the morning, but it will warm up. It will be a nice weekend weather-wise.”