The Classic Cocktail Reinvented
Despite the name, the event wasn't limited to food and wine. We arrived just in time for 'The Classic Cocktail Reinvented' featuring St. Germain, where New Jersey mixologists created classic cocktails with an elderflower twist.
Lindsey Diana of Watermark in Asbury Park, NJ created her own take on Luau Grog, a cocktail originating in 1953 at the Luau restaurant in Los Angeles. Her version featured rum, lime, grapefruit juice, Angostura bitters, St. Germain, and a splash of soda.
We then attended a wine and chocolate testing, featuring Valrhona's exquisite chocolates.
While it would be easy to pair chocolates with port or even ice wine, this tasting took on the challenge of pairing chocolates with somewhat drier wines such as merlot, syrah, gewürztraminer, and a late harvest chardonnay. The wines were paired with the chocolates based on sweetness, flavor, and acidity.
The chocolates were all expertly crafted by The Modern's Chef Marc Aumont using Valrhona chocolate; each one specifically created to pair with the wines that were featured.
The Modern + Valrhona
The crew from The Modern (from left to right: beverage director Ehren Ashkenazi, executive pastry chef Marc Aumont, and general manager Dino Lavorini) with the representative from Valrhona (far right).
The Crystal Springs Resort Wine Cellar
We then got a private tour of the highly impressive wine cellar of Crystal Springs Resort. Over 135,000 bottles fill the cellar; even as you wind your way past the rows of bottles it's almost impossible to fully appreciate just how much wine is housed down there.
To say they have some well-aged wines would be a gross understatement.
The cellar even has its own dedicated lab. Special machinery tests wines for authenticity and quality without damaging the bottles or harming the wine.
There was no shortage of highly prized wine to ogle.
The Grand Tasting
Finally we come to the highlight of the festival, the Grand Tasting. More than 25 top chefs from New York City and New Jersey came together for a tasting event of truly epic proportions. The miniature cones you see here are not for ice cream, but are savory black sesame serving vehicles from none other than Per Se.
The black sesame cones were filled with creme fraiche and salmon tartare for an unforgettable bite.
And then of course there's the guest of honor himself, Chef Thomas Keller. He could generally be seen passing out cones of salmon tartare among guests and graciously accepting the many many request to have his picture taken with starstruck fans (myself included). At one point he burst out laughing when he offered a cone to a guest who hesitantly asked, "well... what is it?". When Thomas Keller offers you food, you take it.
No sooner had I ceased to hound Thomas Keller than I ran into Michael White. He was incredibly gracious and friendly, shaking my hand and simply introducing himself with "hi, I'm Michael."
White accompanied food from his restaurant Osteria Morini, which served an amazing sage-accented grilled quail with vegetables.
Chef Marcus Gleadow Ware of Charlie Palmer's Aureole made a delightful scallop bite with rhubarb dippin' dots. Yeah, you had me at dippin' dots.
Just in case you were wondering, yes, they brought their own liquid nitrogen tank for on-site dippin' dots making.
Freshly made rhubarb dippin' dots.
Chef Scott Anderson of Elements in Princeton, NJ served a delicious wild chicken terrine.
New Jersey's Crystal Tavern served a strip loin that had been dry aged for 40 days in a casing of herbs and sweet grass. The long aging penetrated the meat with delicate herbal flavors, well complemented by the cumin-scented carrot mousse.
Chef Nick Anderer of Maialino served braised rabbit with rosemary and olives.
Chef Ariane Duarte (who you may know from from season 5 of Top Chef) was sautéing skate wings with her team from CulinAriane. The skate was served with a cauliflower purée, capers, and pineapple-sage brown butter.