by Matt Furber
"Never memorize anything you can look up," Washington D.C. sommelier Jackie Quillen said Sept. 22, at the Sun Valley Harvest Festival’s third annual gathering of foodies.
The career wine expert’s sage advice to stay focused on what is in the glass encapsulated the tone of the afternoon's Demonstrations and Presentations series, which featured guest chefs and gastronomy experts.
As guests swiveled their glasses and edged forward in their chairs, Quillen prepped participants in the ways of wine tasting.
“I don’t care if it smells like shoelaces. I want you to write it down,” she said, explaining the value of taking tasting notes.
“Keep smelling,” she said, as her pupils tried to decipher appearance, nose and bouquet. “If it’s not worth smelling it’s not worth drinking.”
Finally, with a tent full of taste buds on alert she allowed all assembled to do their best tasting, challenging one and all to expand their skills.
Earlier in the afternoon, Dallas-based John Tesar, who will be a competitor on Bravo’s Top Chef Season 10, gave advice that paired well with Quillen’s. His cooking demonstration was one of four presented under a circus tent at Carol’s Dollar Mountain Lodge in Sun Valley.
“Use cookbooks as a guide,” Tesar said as he lectured on how to make Idaho potato gnocchi with octopus.
Due to the quirk of television where the future is already in the can, but not yet available for consumption, Tesar couldn’t talk about Top Chef. But during his one-hour presentation he managed, with the help of an assistant, to feed the salivating audience straight from the stage.
Tesar said to use the amount of salt that a dish needs for it to taste good—it’s not about measuring to the teaspoon. He counseled foodies on how to show confidence in the kitchen and use their instincts. Tesar did just that, setting off the smoke alarms with the tent flaps open and a breeze blowing through as he braised the octopus in preparation for the pressure cooker. The wind through the tent cleared the air, but also caused microphones to hiss and blew heat out the gas range and grill on stage.
“There’s not a chef in the world that’s perfect,” Tesar said as he demonstrated how to mix, roll, cut and pinch the dough for his gnocchi. “We’re all deviants in some way.”
There were several camera people filming the event, which also included Jesus Gonzalez (lead chef at destination spa Rancho La Puerta’s cooking school, La Cocina Que Canta); The Fabulous Beekman Boys (reality TV stars Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Dr. Brent Ridge, who will be on the new season of CBS' The Amazing Race); and Jason Wilson from Seattle's Crush, who whipped out four lamb dishes for the crowd to enjoy.
“Each recipe could have 100 other recipes,” Ridge said as he and his partner in life and cooking autographed copies of The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Cookbook, a colorful, saddle-stitched tome with pockets of blank recipe cards.
“My book had to be better than Martha Stewart’s,” said Ridge, who had worked for Stewart until he and Kilmer-Purcell both lost their jobs in 2008.
Their approach to cooking is one of simplicity (limiting the number of dirty dishes at the end) and embracing the philosophy of making lemonade when life gives you lemons. In their case, they make a trove of products derived from goat's milk on their farm in upstate New York with a neighboring farmer who lost his land in the 2008 economic crash.
The duo's demonstration dishes—roasted cauliflower and apple soup, and butternut-squash filled lasagna rolls—showed that their food follows three guiding principles: it must be delicious, have easy-to-find ingredients and be easy to cook. The duo seeks to embrace the mythology of family recipes.
“Aren’t these guys wonderful?” said Freddy Johnson, a Sun Valley resident who was excited to have his cookbook signed by The Beekman Boys. “I was married to a French chef and I am a foodie. I’m recording 25 or 30 shows at home as we speak. ... I love this event in this beautiful setting.”
Entertaining and sage advice was bountiful for all who came to Carol’s Dollar Mountain Lodge to soak in the teachings of food and wine experts. And for all their hard work, volunteers had a chance to join the afterparty at Boca in Ketchum for martinis and to sample some Magic Valley sturgeon caviar.
“It was really fun,” said Christl Holzl, a festival volunteer who had gathered some new kitchen confidence.