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While millions of people ordered out on football’s biggest day, a handful of Napa food enthusiasts took to the kitchen to make their game-day feast from scratch – in high gourmet style.

On Sunday, Americans were reportedly expected to order 12.5 million pizzas during Super Bowl LI, while also nibbling on 1.33 billion chicken wings, making guacamole from 240 million avocados, and washing it all down with beverages including more than 325 million gallons of beer.

But while football fans elsewhere were turning to their phones during the NFL’s championship, members of the Kitchen Collective turned to their own skills to feed up to two dozen guests during its game-time spread at the group’s Napa clubhouse.

In its first opportunity to create a Super Bowl repast, the Kitchen Collective – which its members describe as the nation’s first cooking club – opened up its Soscol Avenue lounge Sunday for a fundraiser benefiting the VOICES Napa program, serving up its own gourmet takes on the war horses of stadium fare.

“There’s so much time and work that goes into our event – so much that has to be done in the last 24 hours that can’t be done in advance,” said Susan McNerney, an event organizer and the owner of La Chanceux winery in Coombsville. “But the fun part for me is seeing people enjoying themselves. Living in the Napa Valley, every event is about food and wine – even the Super Bowl.”

Here came plates of miniature burgers, only these sliders were made from hand-rolled meatballs. A domed oven on the patio turned out handmade thin-crust pizzas, while a club member labored over a smoker to slow-cook racks of baby-back ribs. Wedges of blue cheese from North Bay dairies would become dipping sauce for three flavors of buffalo wings on the buffet table.

Later, bottles of Napa Valley wines would be on offer in the club’s bar a short stroll away, where guests could sip their drinks at room-length table cut and polished from a single walnut tree.

And instead of a suburban basement or man-cave, the setting for this neo-tailgate feast would be the Kitchen Collective’s own library room, a darkened and peaceful space beside a palm-lined atrium with a fire pit.

It would be a comparatively down-home spread for a food club whose members and chefs hope to explore Korean, North African, Israeli and other cuisines. But those helping to plan the collective’s Super Bowl Sunday effort were treating it just as seriously.

“Everything I came up, with they said, ‘Why don’t we do this instead?’” said McNerney, a Kitchen Collective member. “I’ve done a lot of dinner parties, but this is my first Super Bowl party. This one is very different; we want people to experience something beyond the living room. We don’t want living room food here – let’s take it up a notch!”

The Kitchen Collective, which takes its inspiration from cooking clubs in Europe, opened last fall in the ivy-lined space once occupied by Restaurant Cuvee. Members pay an initiation fee and monthly dues for the right to order food and drink, socialize, attend workshops and events, and use the club’s commercial kitchen.

It was a fresh experience for guests like Mark and Christine Lesti, who for years hosted their own gatherings each Super Bowl Sunday until “our kids grew up and went their different directions, with their own friends” on game day,” said Mark.

“But gourmet food with the game? Very attractive,” he added.

Sunday’s game was an early chance for ticket-buying visitors to see Napa’s new culinary haven – and receive a familiar yet stimulating taste of what the club can do, even with seemingly common comfort foods, according to founding owner Garret Murphy.

“I think they’ll taste a lot of stuff and go, ‘Wow, this is really good for being just wings or pizzas,’ he said an hour before the Super Bowl kickoff. “Simple stuff can be really good with the right ingredients, with raw ingredients. It’s like wine – you need good grapes before you make great wines. So this is exactly what we’re about – about all foods.

“Traditions are important in cooking, and all these holidays bring out the family recipes, the family legacies, and it’s nice to embrace that.”

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City of Napa/Town of Yountville Reporter

Howard Yune covers the city of Napa and the town of Yountville. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.