by Barb Rybicki
For wine lovers with an aching for bacon, the place to be this past weekend was Pigs & Pinot, the food and wine celebration and fundraiser held in Healdsburg, CA. The sold-out, seventh annual Taste of Pigs & Pinot kickoff on March 23 was a true feast from trotters to snout, MC-ed by chef Charlie Palmer at his Dry Creek Kitchen restaurant in the Hotel Healdsburg.
Pigs & Pinot benefits two child-focused non-profit organizations: Share Our Strength, which nourishes hungry kids in the U.S.; and Here For Them’s “Russ’s Kitchen” Bread For Life, which is helping orphaned kids in the Dominican Republic by building a panadería (bread bakery) to feed and train them in marketable culinary skills.
Local and celebrity chefs helmed mini-kitchen stations at this walk-about sampling extravaganza:
• Casey Thompson, TV’s Top Chef Season 3 finalist, kicked things off with vodka and pork jus Bloody Mary shooters complete with bacon swizzle sticks.
• Guy Fieri looked like a coal stoker on a train car – but he was actually tending a giant cylindrical oven, turning out barbecued pork pizzas. Occasionally the obliging chef flashed peace signs and fist-bumped frenzied Triple D (his TV show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives”) fans.
• On a side patio, chef Palmer carved sausages and verjus-brined, smoky pork loins with his chef-in-the-making son Reed. Dry Creek Kitchen was also responsible for a chestnut brown, crisp-skinned ginger and garlic marinated whole roasted pig on a spit, carved and served bánh mì style.
• The best dishes of the evening may have been from Michael Mina, who fired tender Santa Barbara spot prawns à la plancha, plating them elegantly with paella risotto, saffron prawn broth and shaved lardo; and from Cyrus, which served cardboard trays of sous vide pork belly tacos accessorized with housemade hoisin, kimchi, sriracha-laden Mexican crema and pickled radish.
• Pork even found its way into desserts such as bacon truffles and chocolate peanut butter mousse with candied bacon and caramel popcorn.
Pairing perfectly with every dish were 60 top Pinot Noirs, mostly from Sonoma County, with a few stragglers from Oregon, Burgundy, New Zealand and elsewhere in Northern California. Among the highlight pours were the 2009 Rochioli Three Corner Vineyard, 2009 Williams Selyem Estate Vineyard, 2010 Freeman Akiko’s Cuvée, 2009 Emeritus Hallberg Ranch and 2009 Kosta Browne Kanzler Vineyard. When the Pinot Cup winners were announced, DeLoach took top honors in the prestigious blind judging for its 2009 Marin County. Twomey’s 2009 Russian River Valley placed as runner-up.
Eager attendees queued up at the various eat and drink stations, exchanging tips about favorite Pinots as their plates were finalized à la minute. The decadence of the occasion might best be captured by a Midwestern couple who hit every food outpost at least once. To enjoy Pigs & Pinot, they took a weekend sabbatical from their twelve-week vegetarian cleanse diet!
You can click on each photo to enlarge.