- PHOTO BY BRITTANY APP
- GET YOUR SAVOR ON: Savor the Central Coast returns with wine, food, and entertainment.
I was pretty excited about Savor the Central Coast, Sunset magazine’s major food and wine festival last September (2012), when their editors invited me to attend as one of their professional judges during the Savor the Central Coast cook-off, the Lamb Jam. Sponsored by the American Lamb Board, the event featured lamb creations by top chefs from across the nation. Not only would I join Sunset’s food editor Margo True, I found myself sitting beside the Food Network’s Chopped show host, Ted Allen.
Allen, undoubtedly the shining star on the judges’ podium, was quite open and friendly—he treated all of his fellow judges as peers. Now that’s a trait I doubt would be common among most television celebrity chefs. The audience, on the other hand, focused their sights on him and continually approached him for autographs and photo opportunities. His fans were not so interested in the print media represented, but who could blame them when Allen so graciously accommodated their requests? Ah, but I had my moment of pride when I recommended that he taste an excellent Grenache by winemaker Austin Hope that was being poured during the cook-off, and Allen loved it as much as I did.
When it came down to judging the food, however, I found Allen and I had very different agendas. Being a California Culinary Academy (CCA) alumna, I stand by the belief that presentation and great taste go hand-in-hand. A chef who doesn’t understand that lacks talent and good business sense. Allen, on the other hand, wasn’t one bit excited about the attractive and delicious slices of rare lamb loin I preferred by a San Francisco-based chef. He was crazy about the homey lamb pupusa atop a thick, tangy tomato-based sauce.
“Why is it the pretty girl always wins?” Allen emphatically asked all of his fellow judges, and the other four were quick to agree with him. I tried using my CCA reasoning about presentation and good taste but, contrarily, he kept talking about how delicious that comfort food tasted. All right, it’s tasty, I admitted, but if I was served that dish in a restaurant I wouldn’t be inspired to return to order it—yet I remained decidedly outvoted. Why is it the celebrity’s choice always wins, I thought morosely, but my pout didn’t last long. I was having way too much fun, like everyone else who has told me how much they love Sunset’s Savor the Central Coast.
Interestingly, the people’s choice winner was another comfort dish of lamb meatballs (further proof of my belief that people prefer what I call soul food during tough economic times). The judges’ winner for American lamb was the pupusa created by chef John Critchley of Urbana in Washington D.C., and the people’s choice for American lamb was the meatball recipe prepared by chef Brian Alberh of the Red Lion Inn (a national chain of inns with restaurants) in Stockbridge, MA. For more information about the American Lamb Board and to find more interesting recipes go to fansoflamb.com. Although the Lamb Jam cook-off won’t be repeated this year, I’m told it’s likely to happen again during Savor the Central Coast 2014.
Sunset’s festival can be a bit pricey; it costs $150 for the weekend pass on Saturday and Sunday just to get into the main entrance, and then you have to pay additional fees for the chef and wine tasting seminars or the adventure series taking place around SLO County. Nevertheless, I’ve found it worthwhile. For instance, you have the opportunity to meet some of the celebrity chefs like Allen during the seminars and when they’re signing cookbooks you can buy during the signing.
This year the Food Network chefs’ demonstrations include: Nathan Lyon, author, chef, and host of Good Food America; Marcela Valladolid, cookbook author and host of Mexican Food Made Easy; and Sandra Lee, the Emmy-award winning star of Semi-Homemade cooking show. Among the wine tastings with Sunset’s wine editor Sarah Schneider, you’ll enjoy a journey through the terroir of Paso Robles, an exploration of the great wine roads of the West, and the winning wines from Sunset’s international wine competition.
The good news for locals: you can still get a 15 percent discount up until Aug. 31 for the “Main Event” tickets, and $10 off for many of the individual events during this four-day festival (remember that you must have main event passes to attend the additional events). Go to savorcentralcoast.com and click on the box for “locals discount” to purchase tickets. And it’s best to book in advance as this event attracts thousands of food and wine lovers from across the nation. Let me tell you this from experience: buy early, save big, and even if you can’t afford the side attractions, you’ll find so much to feast on for all of the senses at the main event you’ll love every minute of it.
Contact Cuisine Columnist Kathy Marcks Hardesty at email@example.com.