Stark Sips: ‘Flavor! Napa Valley’ set for world-class debut (Super Heroes Unite)

The first thing I learned is that Chef Ken "BlackBerry" Frank is a lively conversationalist, able to easily engage across a broad array of topics. He told me that discretionary spending appears to be improving.

Flavor! Napa Valley
Blood Orange Panna Cotta
Flavor! Napa Valley
Blood Orange Panna Cotta

If these Napa stars ever made it on to the big screen all at once, no doubt it would be a big-budget production. Director? I’d go with Fincher. Tint the whole thing green, and lay down a pulsating score.

Yesterday, I made my way over to the Silverado Resort for a launch event that included a mix of media, chefs, wine personalities, trade and one larger than life Iron Chef. To be honest, I felt slightly naked without frequent-flyer Little Loni hosting in front of the camera.

The short take: I think organizers got the formula right on this one. When Napa wants to put its game face on, watch out. But — apologies in advance — it’s going to be hard not to name drop.

Super Heroes of Napa unite! Calling: Iron Chef Morimoto (Morimoto Napa)… Chef and TV personality Michael Chiarello (Bottega)… Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson… Chef Thomas Keller (French Laundry)… Chef Ken Frank (La Toque)… Chef Tyler Florence… Chef Cindy Pawlcyn, Chef Jeff Jake… Food Network’s Tyler Florence…

When it comes to premium food and wine events, Pebble Beach Food & Wine and the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen are among the cream of the crop. If organizers have their way, Napa this year will join those elite ranks with its own star-studded event: Flavor! Napa Valley (Nov 17-20). Yes, when you host an event in the heart of perhaps the most famous region outside of Bordeux, you’ve certainly earned the right to put an exclamation point on the matter.

Although the all-star line-up of talent in attendance couldn’t put the brakes on rising oil prices (I paid $4.18/gallon for premium in Livermore just off 680 on the way to Napa) or prevent the precipitous drop in the Dow on this day, they did bring a dash of star appeal. For most of them Napa is home, so there was a natural amount of pride bubbling along with the Domaine Chandon.

Team Morimoto
Team Morimoto

It was a typically classy, understated event that included a few brief and energetic speeches followed by lunch. And, of course, the food and wine did (almost) all the talking. If this four-course lunch is indicative of F!NV then we’re in for a real treat come November 2011 — the inaugural date for the annual event. As if there’s not enough reasons to visit, don’t forget that the Napa Valley Film Festival will also be launching the same month. Let’s see: film, food, wine, arts… dare I say, rhymes with Stark Insider?

But I had more important questions on my mind as I headed up to the historic white mansion hosting the luncheon, like:

What took so long for Napa to throw its hat into the foodie ring? (All good things…)

And how exactly did Flavor! come to be? (Michael Chiarello made a phone call.)

Part of me also wondered if Guy Fieri had insurance on his Lamborghini Gallardo. (He should’ve bought a Porsche or Prius to begin with.)

The first thing I learned is that Chef Ken “BlackBerry” Frank is a lively conversationalist, able to easily engage across a broad array of topics. He told me that discretionary spending appears to be improving. Restaurants he suggests are perhaps one of the best leading indicators.

The Silverado Resort on a drizzly Napa day
The Silverado Resort on a drizzly Napa day

Added bonus was also being seated at the same table as Napa Valley Vintners Association President Elizabeth Heitz whose organization represents over 400 member wineries. I dug deep for the real story: her son’s favorite iPad app? That would be Need for Speed. Mental note taken. Her favorite app? The astronomy one that gives you a real-time view of the night sky. Another mental note. Must… get… iPad2.

Running into Andrea Robinson again is always welcome. I’m always keen to hear how her new globe-trotting, Web 2.0 life is going. Her glass, The One, was in the house. It was my first time veering from tried-and-true Riedel. I’ll still take classic stemware for my reds. But I thought the 2007 Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay was an agreeable match. Doey-eyed Loni could not make the event as she was traveling so I’m pleased to report that Andrea will make a special cameo in the outtake real of the upcoming video (what a sport!).

Napa Dream Team: L-R: Tyler Florence, Masaharu Morimoto, Cindy Pawlcyn, Michael Chiarello, Thomas Keller, Jeffrey Jake and Ken Frank.
Napa Dream Team: L-R: Tyler Florence, Masaharu Morimoto, Cindy Pawlcyn, Michael Chiarello, Thomas Keller, Jeffrey Jake and Ken Frank.

I also ran into Andrew Healey an every friendly Irish man. That I’d be discussing Irish wines on this day was a bit of an interesting curve ball. Did you know… one King of Connaught in Ireland is reported as constantly ‘going from one feast of purple wine to another’? Or that the town of Calistoga Samuel Brannan, the son of a Waterford man, was one of Californias pioneering wine growers. In 1860 he founded the town of Calistoga in the Napa Valley where he established the regions earliest vineyards. These are just a couple of tidbits that surprised me about Irish wines, two words I din’t necessarily realize that go together. Anyways Andrew asked me mention his wine event ‘When Irish Wines Are Smiling’ taking place this Sunday at the Rutherford Grange. Consider it done: more information.

There’s more to come. We have a crisp HD video treatment in the encoding hopper, featuring appearances from some of the aforementioned Napa boosters plus a nice toast from Culinary Institute (Greystone) Managing Director Charles Henning.

Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson and Chef Ken Frank (La Toque)
Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson and Chef Ken Frank (La Toque)
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