“Can a society be great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?” probed the New York Times in a 1966 article lauding the (now late) great Julia Child. Her unequivocal antidote, recounted grand-nephew Alex Prud’homme in a reading from his new book The French Gourmet in America: Julia Child’s Second Act, was Child’s gourmet-fication of America thru her weekly television series The French Chef — a program once described as “campier than Batman, farther-out than Lost in Space, and more penetrating than Meet the Press.”
Prud’homme held court along with dozens of wine-makers, chefs, artisans, restaurateurs, and connoisseurs last weekend at the Bacara Resort & Spa for the fourth annual Santa Barbara Food and Wine Weekend, a three-day tour de force of lectures, cooking demonstrations, tastings, and receptions to benefit The Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts.
Kicking off the festivities this year was James Beard Award recipient and La Brea Bakery founder Nancy Silverton, whose passion for Mediterranean-inspired dishes was in full effect at the Santa Barbara Vintners’ Wine Reception, serving up hand-pulled mozzarella alongside pourings from twelve area winemakers.
Saturday’s itinerary was jam-packed with cooking demonstrations from three farmer’s market-driven chefs, including dynamic duo Phillip Frankland Lee and Margarita Kallas-Lee, whose challenge to create a 45-minute dish using ingredients stored in a “mystery ice-chest” elicited raucous banter from a participatory audience. Their highly-anticipated outpost of L.A. darling Scratch Bar & Kitchen is set to unveil inside of the Montecito Inn this summer.
Following a series of panel discussions (including an entrancing lecture and tasting with five of California’s sparkling wine producers) guests were treated to a plein air lunch featuring Chef Clark Staub of Full of Life Flatbread fame. Highlighting a series of expertly executed Julia Child favorites, our lunch of Mussels in Garlic and Citrus, Pissaladière (a nicoise-style flatbread), and Roasted Chicken was rivaled only by the stunning panorama of the Pacific.
As the lunch crowd slowly shuffled over to the Craft Brewers’ Garden, I found myself lingering over the views alongside Silverton, who shared her experiences of moving up in the ranks of a male-driven industry. “The truth is, I was way too into my craft and focused on being the best chef I could possibly be, that I didn’t really experience the kinds of challenges some of my peers did,” she offers, though readily admits her case is rare. She takes a sip of her 2013 Buttonwood Pinot Noir, then adds, “Maybe I’m charmed.”