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Gourmet Gallery: Cooking with the Champs

Put two great chefs, half a dozen food bloggers, four great pinots and one pig together, and you get a fair preview of Charlie Palmer's up-coming Pigs & Pinot

They called it a press preview, but it was more like a cooking class for the unteachable.

Except for Ziggy Eschliman, of course: the noted Wine Gal threw herself into the prep side of the table at Relish Culiary Adventures and went shoulder-to-shoulder with Charlie Palmer over marinated pork loin wrapped in bacon.

"Today we're going to show you how we think about preparing dishes for Pigs and Pinot," Palmer had said, after taking over the range and counters from Relish's Donna del Rey, who hosted the event. Though Palmer's restaurant empire now extends across the country with about a dozen establishments, he walked the walk and talked the talk of a Healdsburg local.

At the other end of the counter, Dry Creek Kitchen's Chef du Cuisine Dustin Valette prepared the other half of our repast. Valette is a local, the real thing, who grew up in Geyserville before joining the whirlwind of education, training and hard work that led him back to one of Sonoma County's premiere kitchens.

"In all of the dishes today, we're trying to intensify the flavors," explained Valette. He demonstrated the art of sous vide -- cooking sealed packages of ingredients in a boiling water bath. Featured was swordfish in a packet with bacon fat, drizzled with a bacon Bearnaise sauce (using bacon fat instead of butter), accompanied by black trumpet mushrooms sauteed with seasonal young carrots.

You get the idea. No dish was free of a porcine influence, and where pork wasn't called for they used pinot noir: a nearly-full bottle of Rochioli 2010 Russian River Valley was reduced with shallots and thyme to a just a cup of jus.

Food bloggers Heather Irwin and Carey Sweet were also there, along with the Press Democrat's Diane Peterson and a handful of others.

Afterward our culinary exercise was over, we adjourned to the Dry Creek Kitchen across the street for a sit-down feast, where we were joined by winemaker Daryl Groom.

Groom, who has been working with Palmer on the Pigs & Piot event that's now in its eighth year, guided us through a blind tasting of four pinot noirs - one from Russian River Valley, one from Sonoma Coast, one from Oregon, and one from Burgundy, home of the "real" pinot noir.

By the time dessert rolled around - bacon and chocolate chip candy bars, or bacon and pinot chocolate truffles - we had been fully indoctrinated in the cult of pigs and pinot.

"Decadence and fun - that's really what Pigs & Pinot is all about," said Groom.

No one raised a voice in complaint.

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Douglas Levy January 28, 2013 at 11:50 AM
Sounds like it was fun. But note that cooking sous vide isn't putting pouches into "boiling" water - the technique requires carefully controlling the water bath temperature for the desired result.

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