Chef Duskie Estes’ “S’mores in a Jar” for sampling at Chefs’ Holidays at the Ahwahnee.
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CA — Featuring half a dozen renowned chefs — all with Bay Area ties and most of them familiar from the world of food TV — last week’s final sessions of Chefs’ Holidays for 2015 proved delectable, delightful and deliriously fun.
I was honored to be a host of Chefs’ Holidays at the Ahwahnee Hotel for a third straight year for the annual series of cooking demos and gala dinners.
Session 7 featured Chef Ron Siegel of Michael Mina Restaurant in San Francisco, who recounted his experience of being the first American chef to beat an Iron Chef on the original Japanese program. Siegel, who prepared the five-course gala dinner, revealed that he was most worried about cutting himself on the Japanese cooking show (he didn’t) and how he was glad the “secret ingredient” was lobster, rather than something really crazy like a live cow he’d have to milk on stage.
Yours truly, flanked by Chefs Ron Siegel, Kyle Itani and Hoss Zare.
He was joined in that session by Chef Kyle Itani of Hopscotch in Oakland, who showed off the hand-forged Japanese knife he had made when he lived and studied in Japan; and by Chef Hoss Zare of The Fly Trap in San Francisco, who talked about how he wanted to be a brain surgeon when he was growing up.
The magnificent Ahwahnee Hotel.
Lower Falls in Yosemite National Park.
Yes, it’s still winter even if it doesn’t look like it.
No snow on the valley floor.
Session 8, “TV’s Rockin’ Women Chefs,” starred Chef Elizabeth Faulkner, who opened the pioneering Citizen Cake in San Francisco; Chef Zoi Antonitsas of Westward in Seattle; and Chef Duskie Estes of Zazu Kitchen + Farm in Sebastopol.
Ron Siegel demonstrated a dish of pork belly with cauliflower, vadouvan and mushrooms.
A tasting of Ron Siegel’s uni parfait with winter carrots.
All three are veterans of TV cooking shows, with Faulkner the leader with 31 battles on various shows. A runner and a longtime soccer player, Faulkner says she may have lost more battles than she won, but she’s enjoyed the competitive nature of it all.
Antonitsas, who was defeated in “Top Chef: Season 4,” vowed she’d never do another competition after that. Although she loved befriending her fellow chefs, she didn’t like the nature of the often cut-throat show.
Estes, who competed on “Next Iron Chef,” had the crowd in stitches as she admitted she participates in shows like that, mostly to tout her Black Pig Meat Co. products or wines that she and her husband make. “They always edit it out if I try to name them,” she says. “But once, I used a bottle of our wine to roll out dough on a show. I’m a total whore!”
It may have felt like spring in Yosemite — no snow on the valley floor — but the chefs turned up the heat in the sprawling Ahwahnee kitchen. Just take a peek:
Chef Kyle Itani on stage for his demo.
Itani showed how to make his signature chicken ramen.
After the demo, attendees had a chance to try his cold smoked hamachi with ponzu.
Chef Hoss Zare takes the stage.
Zare displayed a rare Mountain Rose apple with its rosy flesh.
Zare’s demo of Italian seafood stew with Persian flavors.
Zare’s hummus with a drizzle of sunchoke molasses.
Siegel oversaw the gala dinner for Session 7, starting with chilled Dungeness with oroblancos and tarragon salsa verde.
Siegel’s second course of Maine sea scallops with dashi broth.
Siegel’s third course of braised pork-filled pasta with vadouvan cauliflower puree.
Siegel’s grilled rib eye with sunchokes, roasted carrot and Sancho pepper.
Siegel’s finale: Meyer lemon cake with huckleberry ice cream and lemon meringue.
(L to R): Duskie Estes, yours truly, Zoi Antonitsas and Elizabeth Faulkner.
Estes preparing for her demo.
Besides demonstrating one dish of their choosing, the women chefs had another challenge: They each had to cook a dish from a mystery basket of ingredients that included Arctic char, squid ink, fresh abalone, shiitake mushrooms, arborio rice, fennel, Meyer lemons and Black Pig bacon. Here is Estes’ dish.
And this is Faulkner’s mystery basket dish.
Antonitsas’ mystery basket dish. Although there was no official winner, Antonitsas appeared to have the edge as the audience favorite.
Faulkner, who drew a big crowd, on stage, ready to cook.
A tasting-size nosh of Faulkner’s French vanilla cake with meringue, which she first created for Sharon Stone’s birthday cake years ago.
Antonitsas demonstrated how to make pickled oysters that could be used in a dressing for a riff on Caesar salad.
The Ahwahnee dining room all decked out for the gala dinner, a collaboration with all three women chefs and the Ahwahnee chefs.
The first course by Ahwahnee Executive Chef Percy Whatley featured seared yellowtail with sea urchin-brown butter emulsion.
The second course by Antonitsas spotlighted Spanish octopus with blood orange and green olive.
The third course by Estes featured her fabulous rabbit sausage, cauliflower and potatoes.
Faulkner’s fourth course of lamb tagine.
Three-chocolate mousse torte with chartreuse sorbet by Pastry Chef Paul Padua of the Ahwahnee.
More: Scenes from Chefs’ Holidays 2014
And: Scenes from Chefs’ Holidays 2013