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Dispatch From Pebble Beach Food & Wine: What Bad Economy?

Good morning. Reporting live today from Pebble Beach Food & Wine, a multi-day chef extravaganza taking place at the storied Inn at Spanish Bay, located on 17-mile drive. The event kicked off last night with an absolutely packed wine-and-food reception, where celebrated chefs offered bites of food and wineries poured their best.

Here are my early observations.

Here, there is (almost) no talk of a bad economy. Insulated in a small bubble, the only people talking about tough things are were the chefs, and only when asked (Doug Keane of Cyrus said this last winter was "the worst he's ever seen" up in Sonoma). Guests, for the most part, are the bauble-encrusted, mini-skirt wearing, untouched by downturn type. I did hear one woman, responding to a compliment about her shoes, reply "Well, I got them on sale. You know [sottovoce] te economy."

After first mistaking Daniel Humm's sous chef for Daniel Humm himself (oops) I finally got to chat with Humm, the former chef at Campton Place who is now chef at Eleven Madison Park. Seems he's the toast of the town in New York, with no plans to return. Even Food & Wine editor in chief Dana Cowin praised him, claiming he "has no plans to leave Eleven Madison." The big news at Humm's table (where they were preparing a smoked sturgeon sababyon, served in little shot glasses with chive oil, an immersion circulator on the table behind them) was that they were running very, very low on CO2 chargers for the canisters containing the sabayon. Seems co2 chargers were in high-demand last night--there was nary a pig in blanket to be seen amongst these chef-prepared bites.

Chris Kostow (of Meadowood, recently tapped as one of Food & Wine magazine's best new chefs) was "in the weeds" when I stopped by his table, where he was making, in his words "a crispy pillow, on a pillow, filled with fromage blanc and herbs from the Meadowood garden." Translation: A puffy fromage blanc-filled cracker with a little herb salad on top, presented on a pillow that resembled the kind of thing you'd use for your neck on a long flight. Many people were charmed by this cuteness, except for one man who recoiled from the cracker, clutching his stomach and saying he "couldn't tolerate dairy." Best moment at Chris' table? When a woman involved in the annual Napa Valley Wine Auction approached Chris, paid respects, then asked him if he was married. When he responded that he wasn't, she brazenly pulled her daughter forward by her arm, saying, "Then you should definitely meet my daughter!" Embarrassment ensued.

En route to visit Chris Cosentino, I ran into Thomas Keller (who sat down for an interview with 7x7 recently). He was standing near the beer table, holding a bottle of Stella Artois. It's absolutely no wonder that everyone loves Keller; he is gracious, charming and kind. He's attending the event with chefs from all his restaurants, and I'm about to go to a demo they are preparing, titled, "Lexus brings a moment with Thomas Keller." When I ask him about the funny title of the demo, he just laughs. "That's how they described it?" Yes, I say, and I'm waiting to see what this big moment is all about. "Well, there will be many moments. There will be a whole hour of moments." That's all the chatting we could get in before a big fan approached him, hand outstretched. "There is nothing," said the fan, that warms the heart more than seeing a celebrity chef drink beer."

Up next: A meeting with Chris Cosentino and a full report from "Lexus Brings a Moment with Thomas Keller." Stay Tuned!