The Ahwahnee looking as it should in winter.
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CA — Last week, I had the great pleasure of returning for the fourth year in a row to help host the incomparable 31st Annual Chefs’ Holidays event at The Ahwahnee in Yosemite.
Besides the stellar chefs, the welcoming staff, and the outstanding food, there was one other unforgettable highlight: snow.
Yes, after four years of drought, and a January a year ago where it was so dry and warm that I hiked in a T-shirt, it was a joy to see Yosemite dusted in powdery, fluffy white, looking every bit its picture-postcard self.
(L to R): Sous Chef Daniel Gomez Sanchez of La Toque, Executive Chef Ken Frank of La Toque, Sarah and Evan Rich of Rich Table, and David Bazirgan of Dirty Habit.
Chefs’ Holidays takes place every January through early February. It is comprised of eight sessions, with each one spotlighting three renowned chefs, each of whom does a cooking demo. There is a wine reception to meet all the chefs. Each session ends with a gala dinner prepared by the headliner chef or all three participating chefs.
A beautiful day in Yosemite National Park.
Last week in Yosemite National Park, kids in shorts kicked around a soccer ball, seniors played a game of croquet, and the mules were let out in winter for the first time in decades.
The park may have lacked its usual blanket of snow, but it had an abundance of celeb chefs.
That’s because it was time for Chefs’ Holidays at the majestic Ahwahnee Hotel. The annual event in January and February features acclaimed chefs from all over the country. In each session, three different chefs are featured. Guests get to enjoy a meet-and-greet reception with the chefs, watch each of the chefs do a demo, then enjoy a gala five-course dinner prepared either by one of the chefs or all three of them.
The Ahwahnee — minus any snow.
Deer nibble in a meadow behind the hotel.
Rock sculptures created by visitors to Mirror Lake.
This was my second time back as a moderator for two of the sessions.
Relax with Spiced Wine — hot, cold or room temperature. (Photo by Carolyn Jung)
If all that cooking, entertaining and shopping over the holidays has run you ragged, it’s time you gave yourself a little present, don’t you think?
Here are a few definitely worth considering.
There’s little that’s more relaxing than kicking off your shoes with a glass of red wine after a long, hard day.
Imagine one crafted from Zinfandel, Syrah, Petit Syrah, Granache and a bit of Sauvignon Blanc brandy, and imbued with heady spices to snuggle up with.
That’s what you’ll discover in Spiced Wine by Spicy Vines, which Bay Area founders Crystalyn Hoffman and Anders Pederson modeled after mulled wine or glogg.
Surprisingly, the sample I tried was not the over-powering, ultra-alcoholic, hit-you-in-the-face sweet mulled wine I’m accustomed to. Instead, it’s quite balanced and enjoyable.
At room temperature, the orange, clove and cinnamon are quite evident on the nose. It’s a festive-tasting drink with good structure and flavors of warm baking spices and deep, dark fruit.
When warmed — which you can do easily in the microwave — the citrus become more muted and the tannins more present.
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CA — You may know that Chef Suzanne Goin of Lucques, AOC, the Tavern and the Larder, all in Los Angeles, is married to Chef David Lentz of The Hungry Cat in Los Angeles.
But you might not know exactly how the two met.
I knew part of the story, but not all of the details — until I asked Goin about it when I was the moderator for her cooking demo at the 28th annual Chefs’ Holidays event at the Ahwahnee Hotel.
Thankfully, she was a good enough sport to spill the beans before a rapt audience.
“So, Suzanne…” I asked, “David just happened to be dining at Lucques. And your sister just happened to be dining next to him that night? And the two of them just started talking?”
Goin chuckled and said, “There’s a part of the story that David doesn’t like me to tell, so don’t tell him I’m telling you all this. He thinks it makes him sound like a stalker.”
She went on to explain that in 1999, she was named one of Food & Wine magazine’s “Best New Chefs.” She appeared on the cover with the other honored chefs. She was the only woman among them.
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CA — Serene, peaceful and magical. That’s what it’s like here in this winter wonderland.
But inside the grand Ahwahnee Hotel, the national historic landmark that opened in 1927, it’s a hive of activity at this time of year, as some of the most noted chefs from around the country make a pilgrimage here to give demos and to cook gala dinners for the public.
Yours truly was honored to be invited to be the host for two of the sessions last week for the 28th annual Chefs’ Holidays, which takes place each year throughout the month of January.
For the chefs, it’s always a fun time. They bring their spouses and kids to make a working holiday of it. For some of the chefs, it was a return visit. For others, it was their first time to Yosemite.
All of them pulled off their demos like the pros that they are. You’d never know how nervous a few were before they took the stage. One chef said he started prepping extra early because he was so jittery he couldn’t sleep the night before. Another chef said she’d rather cook three gala dinners in a row than do one cooking demo because she always gets so anxious beforehand.
Matt McNamara, co-chef and co-founder of Sons & Daughters in San Francisco, kicked off the session by demonstrating how to make “Squab with Marcona Almond Puree, Pickled Fennel, and Citrus” and “Roasted Baby Beets with Pickled Mustard Seeds and Vadauvan.”