Last weekend, I was at the Food & Wine Experience at the Kohler resort in Kohler, Wisconsin, about an hour north of Milwaukee. Make your reservations for next year now, and you'll thank me for giving you the early heads up on this Food & Wine Magazine -partnered event. Jaques Pepin, Ulrich Koberstein, Marcus Samuelson, Jon Ashton, Claudine Pepin, Tory Miller from L’etoile, Adam Siegel from Lake Park Bistro (2008 regional JBA winner), Joe Bartolotta, Hosea Rosenberg, and about a dozen other great chefs (and about 45 winemakers) did an outstanding job teaching classes, performing demos, hosting book signings, and, of course, executing an amazing tasting dinner on Saturday night. Food events of this size are always more fun than the monster-sized events where guests never get to meet the talent and share time with them. At Kohler, all the chefs spent hours interacting with guests and sharing the experience.
The separately ticketed dinner on Saturday was especially awesome. Seating was limited to 120 guests—I told you to book early—which kept the focus on the food for sure, except when the winemakers and owners of Napa’s Merryvale broke out the good stuff and paired their wine with all six courses. Wine selections included a rare vintner’s reserve Carneros pinot noir with Jaques poulet avec sauce champignon and the fortified Antigua, a brandy infused Muscat dessert wine made from a blend of vintages all of which were more than 11 years old. It came with an awe-inspiring cluster of cheeses from Monroe’s Roth Kase Dairy. Regi Hise teamed the cheeses with sugar-poached young black walnuts still in the shell and a breathtaking rose petal confiture. I did a homey braised pork and chili dish right after Marcus’ lobster roulade with plum and chili sambal course—his lobster was off the hook. Jon Ashton did a poached sea bass with tonka bean broth and Ulrich did a blueberry and lemon verbena mousse with shortbread crisps and lime-sour cream sorbet. Killer. Stella Artois hosted a beer hall that was packed 24/7, and beer classes and tastings seem to be more popular than ever at events like this one. No need to wait in lines for hours at Aspen or SOBE, Kohler hosts one of the most impressive food and wine events in the country right in our own backyard.
Personal highlights from the weekend included cooking with Pepin, prowling the Friday night wine event at the Kohler Design Center with Marcus and Hosea, listening to Jaques and Claudine tell stories about their family and cooking memories, and, most hysterically, the owner of Merryvale (a Frenchman living in Napa) introducing the square-bottled Antigua to the gala dinner audience by asking them why they thought the wine was packaged in a square- sided olive oil bottle. He responded by telling the primarily Wisconsonian audience that it was so the bottle wouldn’t rattle around in their pickup trucks. I laughed so hard I was crying. You can’t make this stuff up!