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All-Star Bay Area Chefs Raise the Bar at GourmetFest

Last weekend, Carmel-by-the-Sea was awash with culinary talent from around the Bay Area and beyond, but it wasn't for the Pebble Beach Food & Wine Festival—there's a new foodie happening in town, and it's called GourmetFest.The inagural event brought in international Relais & Châteaux chefs of extraordinary caliber, including a few big name locals, for four days of decadence in a setting that matched the prestige of its participants (a tent bedecked with crystal chandeliers and Champagne everywhere). Daily activities went beyond the typical food fest fare with a caviar class, local vineyard tour, and a mushroom hunt with former Point Lobos Ranger Chuck Bankcroft—all of which had a serious wine component with makers from across the globe.

But it was the evening celebrations that maximized the gastronomic star power, pitting what had to be a record number of award-winning chefs in the same kitchen to churn out multi-course meals befitting their Michelin-starred businesses. Local hero, chef Justin Cogley of Aubergine—who was named one of Food & Wine's Best New Chefs of 2013—put together a stunning sliver of kanpachi topped with passion fruit, seaweed jewels, and nori to kick of the Grand Chef Dinner on Saturday night. Chef-owner Michael Tusk (Cotogna, Quince) followed suit with fagotelli of rabbit, English Peas, and black truffles that fully demonstrated why he is famous for his pastas. Not to be outdone by their boss, Quince pastry chefs and couple Alen Ramos and Carolyn Nugent plated the final course, "Primavera," which was an inspiring tableau of the Sicilian pistachios, fior di latte, Dirty Girl Farm's strawberries, and a rye crisp. The prettiest dish by far, and a perfect ending to an outstanding meal, their personal connection is clearly a boon on their pastry practice. 

Sunday's Seafood Grill lunch event belied semantics with elegant bites—think abalone in a marrow broth by Cogley, Black River Caviar-topped potato chips—paired with stellar wines (local bottles included Chappellet and Wind Gap). We spotted Michael and Lindsay Tusk making the rounds and ran into former RN74 sommelier Eric Railsback, who has since taken his talents south at Les Marchands Wine Bar & Merchant in Santa Barbara, pouring his own Lieu Dit wines.

It seems the old saying goes for fabulous food festivals: if you throw it, they will come. 

All photos by Gina Taro.