Napa, CA—How does one truly explore the culinary complexity and subtleties of the truffle?
At the inaugural Napa Truffle Festival, the answer was simple. Invite some of the best chefs in the country to compose an exquisite feast that would pay ultimate tribute to this enigmatic, earthy jewel of the underworld.
The Michelin Star Truffle Dinner, which took place at Westin Verasa’s La Toque, herald master chefs with a combined total of 13 coveted Michelin stars.
The result? A seven course meal lust-worthy for even the most pampered palate.
I slipped into the kitchen before dinner to catch a glimpse of the chefs at work. It was incredible seeing so much culinary talent gathered in one place. Each chef had their stash of truffles and was focused on creating their course for the evening.
Although truffle prices fluctuate daily depending on supply and demand, Black Perigord variety can command prices of $700-1,000/lb while the Summer Burgundy fetches about $250-350/lb. It was surreal seeing so many truffles being shaved, sliced and incorporated into the various creations.
To start off the evening, La Toque’s Ken Frank paired the simpleness of egg and toast with the decadence of Burgundy Truffles. The dish took my notions of classic comfort food to a new level. I had previously asked several chefs (David Kinch, Josiah Citrin) as well as Doug Duda of the A&E television series, “The Well-Seasoned Traveler” about their favorite truffle dish. Unanimously, the truffle omelet won out. Seems fitting then, to commence the dinner with a playful twist on such a classic favorite.
Sylvain Portay’s Fresh Black Truffle Salad was deceptive and the most visually simple dish of the evening. However, from a taste and fragrance perspective, it was one of the most indulgent truffle dishes: thin shavings of truffle laid upon a Foie Gras-Celery Remoulade. The soft earthy and licorice notes of the celery complemented the truffle texture and flavors.
One of my favorite courses of the evening was David Kinch’s lobster dish. It was one of the most unusual uses of truffle. I am not sure what David did, but somehow bits of truffle, it seemed, was used to encrust the outside of the lobster so that not only did you get the wonderful aromas of truffle when you bit into the lobster, but were also greeted with a delightful panko-like texture. Lobster, with its delicate flavors, enabled the truffle to shine in this dish.
Josiah Citrin’s Cabillaud dish was a nice inflection point in the meal where we transitioned from the delicate aspect of truffle to the more earthy notes that complement robust meats. The Cabillaud provided a savory moment to ponder the versatility of truffles. The dish was exquisitely plated and the fish was preciously tender.
I loved Gabriel Kreuther’s interpretation of pot-au-feu, traditionally a French beef stew. I loved the delicate detail of each component of this dish and the contrast between the rose-colored duck meat and the green highlights from onions and peas (?). The duck was melt-in-your-mouth tender and the peas had a creaminess that was inviting. Perhaps I also loved this dish because it reminded me of something else I adore eating: sushi rolls.
I could imagine no better way to end the main courses of such a luxurious feast than with Nancy Oakes’ Zabouton which was a heavenly piece of Kobe Beef which was made even richer paired with risotto and Burgundy Truffles. Paired with a Paradigm Cabernet Sauvignon, it was an impressive statement on the culinary possibilities of truffles.
Finally, how could such a feast end with only one dessert. Instead, pastry chef Deborah Yee-Henen delights us with four. For those that came to the meal thinking it would be an exploration of the greatness of truffles of the chocolate variety, Deborah even ensures all truffle cravings are satisfied.
Beside the warm beignet, panna cotta and the chestnut truffle ice cream sandwich…was a single, solitary chocolate truffle.
Behind the scenes:
The American Truffle Company, who produced and organized this first inaugural Napa Truffle Festival will be donating a part of the proceeds from the event to Feeding America and The Hunger Project.