In pursuit of culinary perfection, the always-tasteful Lexus automotive corporation recently premiered the first 2015 Lexus Culinary Classic, an exclusive three-day celebration of fine food and wine for select guests, featuring five distinctive experiences – including multi-course menus, wine tastings from California’s Napa Valley presented by a Master Sommelier, a Sonoma winery dinner cooked in an open kitchen by four top chefs, and a hands-on Italian cooking class led by four master chefs. Wines of Napa, Sonoma and Marin County from 20 leading vintners shared the spotlight, and reached a zenith with a Charles Krug tasting of select vintage wines. Pursuitist was among the privileged guests.
It proved to be the Grand Prix of West Coast culinary weekends. Held March 6-8 at the stunning Cavallo Point Lodge in the San Francisco Bay’s Golden Gate Bridge National Park, the Lexus Culinary Classic instantly became one of the country’s most exclusive and most impressive annual epicurean events. It was designed to introduce the Lexus Hotel Partner Program which aligns Lexus with prestigious and unique U.S. luxury hotels and resorts that share Lexus’ values of quality, design, service, and sustainable initiatives. Hotel guests can enjoy courtesy chauffeured transportation in the hotels’ Lexus fleets, and can test-drive vehicles themselves. Special hotel amenities for Lexus owners are the icing on the cake, from free dining and resort credit to wine tastings and even a Lake Placid boat tour.
Award-winning Cavallo Point Lodge was chosen to kick off the first annual Culinary Classic, which brought all of Lexus’ partner hoteliers and chefs together for the first time. “This all started because Lexus owners are passionate about epicure,” said Adrian Si, Lexus Events and Partnerships Manager. “So we took the next natural step which was to host our own culinary weekend, and create relationships with chefs. We’ve done that two different ways: with our Lexus master chef program of 11 celebrity chefs, and our 13 Lexus hotel partners whose chefs are the stars of this Lexus Culinary Classic event. The biggest difference is that with the Lexus Culinary Classic we strictly feature our partner hotels and personally invite all the guests so we can keep it on an intimate scale.”
Cavallo Point’s Executive Chef Ethan Howard was the gracious, non-stop culinary host, ably supported by his pastry chef Ethan Howard and Chef Jayne Reichert, director of the Cooking School at Cavallo Point Lodge. Reichert’s beautiful kitchen studio hosted just 30 guests who whipped up duck confit salad, pulled mozzarella, pan-roasted Petrale sole, wild mushroom tortellini, and Guittard chocolate torte with beet ice cream and more, guided step-by- step by Reichert; Chef David Viviano of the St. Regis, Aspen, Colorado; and Executive Chef Victor Scargle and Executive pastry Chef Tedd Romero, both of Bardessono in Yountville, California.
For the formal opening night “Seasonal Flavors of America” dinner at Cavallo Point’s private dining room, the evening featured seven courses by four chefs, plus paired wines from France and Napa Valley. Highlights included Dungeness crab salad and Carlton Bakery brioche with Oregon white truffles and burrata by Sunny Jin of The Allison Inn & Spa, Oregon; quail legs and smoked sunburst trout by James Beard-winning Chef Joseph Lenn or Blackberry Farm, Tennessee; foie gras torchon and milk-fed porchetta with Gold Rush apples, polenta and caramelized cabbage by Chef Kyle Koening of Topping Rose House, New York; and a quartet of artisan house-made cheeses imported for the event from four states.
And the dinner company was exemplary. Unlike massive public food festivals, this one seated fewer than 50 friendly diners for formal evenings, and for a special treat the guests included hoteliers and chefs. Seated across from Topping Rose House’s charming GM Fiona Riesch and Rosewood Mansion’s French pastry chef Nicolas Blouin, I was entertained all evening by their stories. “When I was young I wanted to be a carpenter to construct beautiful things,” said Blouin, who struggled to find an apprenticeship. “The first carpenter I interviewed with was missing three fingers. The second one was missing two. I started to think that maybe baking would be less dangerous. Now I construct with sugar and chocolate.”
The next day, Lexus partner and Master Sommelier Carlton McCoy of Little Nell, in Aspen, arrived from Colorado to host an exclusive tasting of Charles Krug vintages spanning six decades starting with a 1966 stunner. Not only did he manage to get the winery to open its private reserves for the tasting, he also lured vintner Peter Mondavi Jr. himself, to discuss each bottle along with his family’s history as guardians of the original Napa Valley winery. Each pour was complemented by extraordinary small bites by California chefs Angela Tamura of Pebble Beach Resorts and Bernard Ibarra of Terranea Resort, Palos Verdes.
Cavalo Point’s new Lexus fleet chauffeured tipsy guests to Ram’s Gate Winery at the edge of Sonoma for a sumptuous “Feast Among The Vines” dinner that began with a barrel-tasting, then progressed to passed hors d’ oeuvres in view of an open kitchen where four Lexus hotel partner executive chefs put on a show for the weekend’s final dinner. Highlighted by Hog Island Sweetwater oysters, wild mushroom and black truffle consommé, orange-braised Wagyu beef cheek, and kumquat shortbread with Meyer lemon cream and meringue, the sumptuous four-course menu was presented by Justin Everett (Cavallo Point Lodge), John Cox (Post Ranch Inn), David Hutton (XV Beacon) and pastry chef Nicolas Blouin (Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek), paired with choice Ram’s Gate wines.
Culminating the weekend’s civilized festivities, the Sunday afternoon Lexus Grand Tasting at Cavalo Point featured all 11 hotel partner chefs from around the country, and 20 vintners from the acclaimed Napa, Sonoma and Marin regions. After drooling over the 2015 Lexus NX turbocharged crossover and sexy Lexus RC F coupe stationed outside the hotel lobby, diners entered to savor an extraordinary selection of bites including Chef Cox’s Morro Bay oysters and smoked venison carpaccio, Chef Lenn’s smoked pork belly with vanilla-pickled fennel, Chef Ibarra’s bacalao with Basque piquillo pepper gelee, Chef Hutton’s Maine lobster stew, Chef Viviano’s tuna crudo with fennel pollen, Chef Everett’s duck pastrami with fermented cabbage, Chef Scargle’s Bigeye tuna ceviche with coconut milk and serrano chili, and Chef Blouin’s banana and hazelnut composition, his personal favorite. Endless wine tastings were poured by 20 Northern California wineries including Hall, Honig, Oakville Ranch, Peju, Round Pond Estate, and Skywalker Vineyards.
With all that drinking it’s brilliant that Cavallo Point Lodge offered its new Lexus fleet to escort guests to their destinations in nearby Sausalito and San Francisco. The smartest guests took advantage of the weekend’s $2,100 Lexus Culinary Classic Weekend Package which included admission for two to all five events and three nights stay at Cavallo Point, ranked the top hotel in the San Francisco Bay Area, and the winner in the sustainability category of the Global Vision Awards thanks to its respectful $100 million restoration of the former Fort Baker military base on the grounds of Golden Gate Bridge National Park. It was a weekend to remember, and one that will be difficult to top when the second annual Lexus Culinary Classic is held next year at a different hotel partner property, yet to be named. Lexus will also announce four new hotel partners this year, and the year after that, so the moveable feast could conceivably go on for decades.
“One thing I observed was the pride the hoteliers have for their chefs, and the comradery between the chefs,” said Dennis Thornhill, new Corporate Manager for Lexus Marketing, Planning & Communications. “They were so excited to work with each other and to produce such cohesive menus, that they started months ago over conference calls. The word I heard over and over this weekend was ‘relationship’ – between chefs, hoteliers and guests – which is what we’re after at Lexus. We want people to experience and build relationships with one another, with our hotel partners, our chefs, our sommelier, and with our vehicles.”