Thomas In Charge


There are certain things you don't say no to: Like an invitation to an intimate multicourse dinner cooked by Thomas Keller, paired with Opus One and Mondavi cult wines, hosted by three generations of the Mondavi family at their estate located on top of a hill off of the Silverado Trail. To this, you say yes (knowing that some of your friends will be filled with a mix of envy and resentment and find your job obnoxious).

I'd like to say I was invited to this dinner because I'm a scintillating conversationalist, the person who really gets the party started, but the truth is that I was just one of about 20 press people invited to be plied with lobster and caviar while listening to the update on the big, fancy, admittedly quite impressive first annual Pebble Beach Food & Wine event coming up in March, which will also mark the release of the Mondavi Family's new wine called Continuum.

It takes a village to throw a party at the Mondavi's house.

When we walked in we were handed a glass of Dom Perignon followed by an endless run of inhumanly perfect hors d'oeuvres featuring name-dropping ingredients (kobe, matsuke, more caviar). Dinner, which was set by the indoor pool flanked by floor pillows and white chaise lounge chairs (the Mondavis have more of a "crib" than an estate, I'd venture to say), included a "lasagna" over which the servers shaved the season's first white truffles as nonchalantly (and generously) as if we were at a red-sauce joint and each truffle was a hunk of domestic Parmesan. As I passed around the three types of salt and dipped into the butter made by Andante Dairy, I chatted with the Lexus representative to my right about his favorite Latin grocery store located across from La Toque and its great carnitas tacos. It all just seemed so … normal.

When Keller finally came out for a bow, he brought with him the whole staff to share in the applause (which caused the Mondavi's poodle, complete with bows in its hair, to yap and run, skidding across the polished floor for an impressive distance). It was hard not to wonder if the French Laundry was closed last night because the total of the servers and cooks equaled over 14 (for a total of 30 guests).

At the feet of Thomas Keller, Tim and Margrit Mondavi.

One of the women there sheepishly asked Keller to autograph the menu for the night. Keller, who was amicably chatting with everyone, said he's a fan of autographs himself—in fact, he'd once asked Michael Jordan to sign a plate once, and another time he'd actually run from the kitchen after Mick Jagger, who had just finished dining at Per Se: "I figured it might be my only chance." Which is kind of how I felt about last night. You just don't pass some things up.

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