By Andy J. Gordon
Los Angeles magazine recently hosted an intimate wine tasting and recipe demonstration featuring renowned chef Neal Fraser, who is known for his work with Thomas Keller, Wolfgang Puck, and Joachim Splichal, and is now the executive chef and co-owner of Grace and BLD. Also contributing to the special evening were Brian Beaudry, the chef for Sub Zero/Wolf appliances, and Ian Blackburn, the founder of Learn About Wine (www.LearnAboutWine.com.). The event took place at Santa Monica’s upscale home appliance and plumbing store called Snyder Diamond (www.snyderdiamond.com).
The evening consisted of two parts. The first was an appetizer and wine-pairing session. Beaudry created some tasty bite-sized delicacies that were offered by friendly servers. Two of the selections were smoked-salmon-wrapped asparagus rolls and endive bites filled with chicken and vegetables. A small piece of smoked salmon with an asparagus spear and cheese was wrapped with phyllo dough – the result was light and delicious. The crisp and refreshing endive bite had chicken breast, diced celery, and shallots blended with a tangy lemon-mustard sauce. Blackburn and his team selected wines from the Domaine Carneros by Tattinger collection that paired beautifully with the snacks. First up was the sparkling Brut Vintage 2006, and next was the 2007 Pinot Noir.
After some time spent mingling and noshing on the appetizers, we moved to an area of the store set up with tables and a demo kitchen, where Neal Fraser awaited. The star chef of Grace (www.gracerestaurant.com) and BLD (www.bldrestaurant.com) restaurants is known for his “new American cuisine” and is the first California chef to win on TV’s “Iron Chef America.” With the help of a sous chef, Fraser prepared a decadent dish of sautéed day-boat scallops paired with risotto, goat cheese, and pea sauce. Fraser’s demonstration style was light, engaging, and self-deprecating. He joked about hating to measure ingredients, and is fine with using substitutions in recipes. The scallop and risotto dish was relatively simple to prepare, with an emphasis on good, fresh ingredients, and a liberal use of butter. As Fraser quipped, “if you don’t want to use butter, than you’re crazy.” This seems to be the prevailing wisdom of most fine chefs, and there is no argument here that butter enhances many dishes. In truth, I found the end result a little too rich, but the scallop was magnificent. Le Reve, a delicious sparkling wine from Domaine Carneros, paired brilliantly with the entrée.
Fraser chose to prepare a vanilla-bean panna cotta with fresh market berries for dessert. He jokingly complained about having to make a dessert since it required actual measurements, but the Culinary Institute of America-trained chef clearly excels in all culinary exercises, because the panna cotta was the highlight of the event. With freshly-made caramel and assorted berries from the Santa Monica Farmers Market, the dessert was light, tasty, and not too sweet. Domaine Carneros’ Cuvee de la Pompadour Rose, another sparkling wine, was an excellent accompaniment.
Overall, “In the Kitchen” was educational, fun, and tasty. Each guest went home with recipes, a gift bag, and ideas for some exciting home-cooking adventures. Los Angeles magazine has created a fine culinary experience in a casual and comfortable venue. Additional events will be available in the future. Go to www.lamag.co/promotions to see what other exciting foodie outings are coming up.
Photos courtesy of Forest Casey at Los Angeles Magazine