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Showcasing Sonoma County's wine, food

  • Monica Yost of Sonoma, left, and Brian Reagan of San Francisco share the culinary delights of the Taste of Sonoma, Saturday Aug. 31, 2013 at the MacMurray Ranch in Healdsburg. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

Foodies love a chef on deadline, especially one with a grocery bag full of unknown ingredients and a ticking stopwatch.

At the sold-out Taste of Sonoma on Saturday, 2,500 people — the same as last year — gathered at Healdsburg's MacMurray Ranch to sip and graze with organizers intent on showcasing the county as a hotbed of artisan food and wine. The breezy weather made even heavier fare such as lamb sliders and cabernet a hit with tasters who elbowed their way in line.

In the final countdown round of the Sonoma Steel Chef competition, the mirrors above the demonstration kitchen showed the chefs chopping, sauteing and grilling, with smoke rising.

Taste Of Sonoma At MacMurray Ranch

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The face-off was between Tom Schmidt of John Ash & Co.'s Vintners Inn in Santa Rosa and Christopher Greenwald of Bay Laurel Culinary in Petaluma. They had 20 minutes to cook tasty dishes to pair with the MacMurray Ranch 2011 Russian River Sonoma County Pinot Noir. Their grocery bag had these ingredients: beef tri-tip, Pacific king salmon, kale, baby leeks, fingerling potatoes and lettuce.

Greenwald was the champ, and he said it was challenging to "think on your feet under pressure," but his job calls for it so he has plenty of practice. "When I'm at the farmers market, I'm always writing menus in my head."

Tom Siragusa of Petaluma said he was intrigued by round three. "I'm a competitive person and I like to see people under pressure," he said. "It's like a sports competition."

Competitive cooking was just one of the day's offerings. Others included blind tastings, wine talks, and, for casual enthusiasts, conventional tasting. There was a meandering spread of tents filled with wines organized by appellation, and many of the wines were paired with food. For example, in the Russian River Valley tent, the Benovia 2011 Russian River Pinot Noir was paired with salmon tartare from Nick's Cove in Marshall. The chef, Austin Perkins, was on hand to point out why the fatty salmon played off the pinot's bright acid.

As for the wine talks, Ruma Paskins of Louisville, Ky., was looking forward to "Classic Chardonnays of Sonoma Valley."

"I'm not a big red drinker," Paskins said. "I like chardonnays and I want to hear what the winemakers have to say about their wines."

Not far away, a group of 12 sat at a picnic table learning how to decode wine in a blind tasting with the help of sommelier Christopher Bates. Bates doubles as executive chef of Hotel Fauchere in Milford, Pa.


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