At first bite, the idea of throwing a Derby Day party in Wine Country sounds a bit off the mark.
Mint juleps go down easy in the steamy lowlands of the South, but out here in the cool coastal hills of California, folks prefer a juicy zin or a crisp chardonnay to wash down those baby back ribs or chicken with three sides.
During the Council on Aging's Meals on Wheels Derby Day this Saturday, however, Wine Country denizens get to taste the best of both worlds: a Southern-inspired menu, created by top Wine Country chefs, paired with wines from Sonoma-Cutrer and Domenichelli.
Live jazz music, a smokin' hot chef's competition and a big-screen simulcast of the 2010 Run for the Roses round out the festivities held at the picture-perfect Sonoma-Cutrer Winery west of Windsor.
This year, Paul Schroeder of Monti's Rotisserie is defending his title against up-and-comers Bruce Frieseke of Applewood Estate in Guerneville and Patrick Tafoya, chef/owner of Resturant P/30 in Sebastopol.
"Paul has won for three years in a row," said Marianne McBride, president and CEO of the Council on Aging. "Every year, we say we have to get somebody to unseat him. The guy is wildly competitive."
The judging panel for the competition includes Carrie Brown, chef/owner of the Jimtown Store; Ziggy "The Wine Gal" Eschliman; and Renee Mengali of the Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce.
Besides the chef's competition, the high point of the day is the four-course luncheon inspired by the homestyle cooking of the South, with a Wine Country twist.
This year, a new batch of chefs is warming up in the ring, ready to unleash their culinary creativity when the bugle call launches the 11th annual fund-raiser on racing day.
Chris Greenwald, owner of Bay Laurel Culinary and former Iron Horse Winery chef, will be first out of the gate with a quartet of appetizers showcasing local ingredients such as Dungeness crab, Sonoma Jack cheese and Willie Bird smoked chicken.
Greenwald will stuff limestone lettuce cups with rock shrimp, capers and cornichons, then finish them with an English pea remoulade and pea shoots. For a second appetizer, he will spread smoked chicken pat?on a crostini, then finish it with a fresh asparagus salad with red onion and mint.
Mini Monte Cristo sandwiches, made with Sonoma Jack and Dungeness crab, and Fried Red Bean and Rice Balls — a play on the arancini of Italy — round out the hors d'oeuvres tray.
Next up, Liza Hinman of Santi restaurant in Santa Rosa will flaunt her Italian flair with a Roasted Delta Asparagus and Frisee Salad, finished with candied applewood bacon, nasturtium blossoms and a black pepper bourbon zabaglione.
As a seafood course, Rick Bruno of Bruno's on Fourth will prepare Voodoo Rock Shrimp, a variation on the popular Voodoo Prawns served at his Santa Rosa bistro.
"The voodoo comes from New Orleans and means devilishly hot and spicy," Bruno explained. "We make a blackened seasoning .<TH>.<TH>. coat the shrimp, saut?it in olive oil, then add butter and cherry tomatoes."
Bruno, who cooked at All Seasons Cafe in Calistoga before opening his own restaurant three years ago, said he's added his own twist to the dish, which originated with Greg Markey, the original chef at Brannan's in Calistoga.
For the main course, Jan Salisbury of the Santa Rosa Golf and Country Club will serve up a Smothered Chicken Breast stuffed with country ham, tomatoes and cheddar cheese on grits. Fresh cornbread from Costeaux Bakery in Healdsburg rounds out the savory spread.
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