It was a wild ride from kick off to finish line for the third annual Mammoth Food & Wine Experience.
Right out of the gates Friday morning it was the Best of the Burger Battle. Four chefs brought their A games to the open area in front of the Edison Pavilion — a huge tent new this year and a collaboration among Mammoth Food & Wine, Jazz Jubilee, Felici Trio and Sierra Summer Festival, with funding from Measure U.
The burgers were creative and lip-smacking delicious.
Mammoth’s Matt Toomey won the battle with his ground short rib/chuck burger on poppyseed bun with lettuce and tomato.
Runner-up was Bruce Kalman of L.A. Many thought his burger was the most creative with its grass-fed beef and pork belly contrasting with smoked gouda and his own Kim Chee pickles on a beefy sourdough-y bun.
Chris Lucchese, who has won the LA Times Battle of the Burger for the last three years, pulled off a steakhouse burger—rib eye, caramelized onions, mushrooms in Madera barbecue sauce.
And biting into L.A. chef Brian Lenzo’s truffle burger with blue cheese was a savory adventure.
From the three wine dinners offered that evening, all of which sold out, I chose the Argentine Asado dinner in the Blue Sky Bowl. We could have been on the Argentine pampas. Lamb roasted on the open fire and the genuine gaucho worked meat off the bone for diners seated at two long tables swathed in red and white checked tablecloths.
Cool breezes kept the hot sun at bay and a guitarist leaned against a fat pine, serenading us with Argentinean music.
I sat with a fun couple from Fresno, who were enjoying their second year. Local Chip Wood and Brian Crowley (of the Henry Wine Group) poured three different, superb Malbecs and a port, and talked about the unique growing conditions of Argentine grapes: high altitude — 3,000 up to 9,800 feet; temperature sweeps of 50 degrees in any one day; constantly blowing wind; dry desert environment; organic farming.
It is said that in Argentina when the wind stops blowing, the chickens fall over.
And then it was Saturday. The first seminar started at 10 a.m. in the Edison Theatre. Local chef Dan Molnar moderated this session between a panel of experienced chefs and students from four culinary schools. He encouraged students to take this chance to connect and network with the chefs.
The chefs talked about how to make their way through a cooking career, which boiled down to: finding a chef to learn from; keeping an open and positive mind; listening and focusing, staying passionate, and above all, not moving too fast — experience is key. It takes time and work to perfect the craft.
Next, a delightful session on demystifying rosé wine with Chris Collins of Well-Oiled Wine Co. and Mammoth chef Frederic Pierrel brought back memories of Mateus and Lancer’s rosés from long ago. We were treated to three fresh, light rosés paired with, to my taste, the best food served all weekend — scallop ceviche, duck rillette and a sous vide roast beef slider. The pairings were exquisite.
And then burger chef Bruce Kalman showed us how to make pickles. The native New Jersey chef “grew up with a pickle in his mouth.” The Chopped Champion (from March 31, 2012) has just started his own pickle company, Bruce’s Prime Pickle Co. He pickled red onions, garlicky horseradish cucumbers, and his extraordinary cucumber Kim Chee.
Perhaps the most charming seminar was that given by George Vlastos on the rich, buttery olive oil that comes from his farm on the island of Crete. Vlastos seemed to have stepped straight out of the 12th century to regale us with stories about his farm and his olives. Fat olives collected in nets suspended beneath thousand year-old trees are cold pressed in a mill a few villages over and the oil is shipped to the States to be bottled in Casper, Wyom., where he lives. Listen to this man and you’re transported in space and time, completely convinced that olive oil is all you need for true happiness.
Thirty wineries poured one hundred wines for an appreciative, buoyant crowd of 500 at the Grand Tasting. Star chefs made a heavenly paella and five cooking schools prepared their entries in the Great Outdoor Cooking Competition. The culinary students of Bakersfield College Culinary School won with their crab cakes. It was the third year in a row these students won the competition.
So much wine, so little time. From the seminars to the Grand Tasting to the Sunday Gospel Brunch, it was a lot of food, wine and fun. Next year’s Mammoth Wine & Food is scheduled for July 10-12.
(Photo: Rebecca Garrett)