Oak Mountain Winery, located on the picturesque De Portola Wine trail, played host to a cooking class on Friday night. Executive Chef Michael Allan Cragg taught eager and engaged participants many flexible and tasty recipes. Oak Mountain owner and winemaker, Steve Andrews, was on hand to pair his wines perfectly with each course.
The cooking class took place out on the beautiful outdoor pavilion nestled right into the vines. The tables were set in a U shape around Chef Michael’s cooking station. His charisma and youthful smile kept everyone engaged. The class was more hands-on than expected as the participants were not simply shown how to make olive tapenade, but made their own with blenders and mise en place containers filled with pre-measured ingredients. There were some missteps and lots of laughter as students worked to achieve the right texture for the chunky olive spread.
When everyone had something resembling tapenade, the chef said we would be making quenelles.
“How do you spell that?” asked someone taking notes.
“I’m a cook, not a speller,” he shot back. The class erupted in laughter.
The tapenade, served three ways, was paired with crisp 2008 Sauvignon Blanc. The winemaker shared the story behind the slightly oaky flavor. “The Sauvignon Blanc was aged in stainless steel but we received some oak barrels about five months before we needed them to age the Cabernet Sauvignon. We used the Sauvignon Blanc to keep the barrels moist instead of letting the barrels dry out and rehydrating them with water.” The result of this ingenuity is a crisp white wine, with just a hint of richness imparted by the short time in oak.
By the time Chef Michael got to the second course, the mood had loosened quite a bit. The chatting increased, and groups of participants were trying each other’s creations. Margot Maitland, a native of England, was busting Chef’s chops like a native New Yorker. It was clear she was passionate about food and loved the process. She asked questions with intense interest. When she discovered the difference between a clear gazpacho and a smooth gazpacho was simply the size of the strainer, she said, “Same stuff, different strainer? I’ll be damned.” Something about her sincere delivery sent fresh peals of laughter through the group.
After the salty briny tapenade and the fresh bright gazpacho, it was time for Chef Michael’s “baby,” a six pound beef filet cooked in the “Sous Vide” method. The meat, butter, rosemary, salt and pepper were placed in a vacuum sealed plastic bag which is then submerged in a water bath kept precisely at 138˚, ensuring the meat will be perfectly medium-rare all the way through. The whole roast was finished on a smoking hot grill to give some color and grill marks to the perfectly cooked meat. When the meat was served, there was no joking around, only quiet murmurs of appreciation.
“You don’t need a knife; it absolutely melts in your mouth,” someone said disbelievingly.
The delicious meat was served with Oak Mountain’s 2005 Meritage, a classic Bordeaux blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet
Franc. The wine tasted of juicy berries. The pairing was perfect and further contributed to the moment of serious and contemplative eating.
The quiet mood quickly returned to its previous raucous feel when it was announced that it was time for dessert: Bananas Foster.
A stick of butter and a full cup brown sugar created the base for the sauce. Bananas, sliced lengthwise, were added to the rich caramel. Chef Michael showed Steve Rogers how to ignite the rum that was poured over the ingredients. Steve was cautious as he tilted the pan toward the flame. When the contents of the pan erupted in gorgeous blue flame, he cracked, “I think I lit my eyebrows on fire.”
Chef grinned at him but didn’t relent. “Let all the alcohol burn off,” he instructed.
Steve held the blazing pan a cautious distance from his face, and the flames slowly died down. Left behind was a gorgeous rich dark butterscotch sauce served with premium ice cream. Steve Andrews poured late harvest Viognier.
“We leave the Viognier grapes on the vine until they become like raisins. The flavor is concentrated and sweet. It’s like Temecula Eisvine,” he said, referring to the famous Ice Wine made in colder climates. The sweet dessert wine is made by allowing the grapes to stay on the vine until they freeze, concentrating the flavors, and making a very different style of wine. Of course in Temecula, it would be a long time before the grapes froze, so instead, they are allowed to dehydrate.
“It takes a lot of raisins to make wine!” Steve Andrews joked. However many grapes it took, it was worth it. It was deliciously rich and sweet, without being too sweet.
The evening was coming to a close. What started as a quiet, reserved selection of people, ended as a friendly crowd. The potential bride was making plans to contact the “minister-on-the-go,” and the real estate agent was exchanging cards with the photographer to photograph properties. There were smiles exchanged, bottles of wine purchased, and home cooks excited to try something new.