You had me at “bacon marmalade.”

That was the tune at the big opening night soiree of the Wine + Food Festival. If this marks what is to come, we’re in for a great 3-day ride.

Adam Close’s (Blossom) sausage en croute brought you back to your epitomized version of bologna sandwiches when you were a kid. Frank Lee’s (Maverick) butternut squash soup with delicious candied crunchies on top was a warm holiday in your mouth on a cold night. He also came up with our new favorite pairing: duck with black figs. Bob Carter’s (Penninsula Grill) bacon marmalade should be canned, mass produced and slathered on biscuits immediately. Jeremiah Bacon’s (Carolina’s) decadent pork with bone marrow bread pudding was also a standout. Yes, “bone marrow” bread pudding sounds pretty gnarly, but adventurous souls had the last laugh.

The best of the night may have to be Craig Deihl’s (Cypress) totter tots, boiled peanuts and sweet pickled onions (originally meant to be pork rinds, but changed last minute due to the humidity). When asked what exactly “totter tots” were, one chef answers “pig’s head,” while another says “pig’s feet.” When questioned about the discrepancy, Deihl chuckles and does a little song & dance signifying “totters” are “head, shoulders, knees and toes.” There ain’t no part of the pig he’s not using. In fact, he’s sporting a spiffy striped butcher’s apron explaining, “I think I’m butcher worthy.” After trying a totter tot, we can’t disagree.

The most shocking of the night was the Ocean Room/Jasmine table, whose shaved white chocolate dust all over the black table caused some confused rumors of Wine + Food Festival Gone Wild.

Our photographer gives us a nod. There’s something familiar about that red headed/bearded guy over there. OMG it’s Kevin from Top Chef! *Click.*

Cypress James BeardMike Lata’s (FIG) table was out of food 90 minutes in, before many could get a bite. As was Nate Whiting’s (Tristan) and Ken Vedrinski’s (Trattoria Lucca). The only disappointment of the night.

Bob Waggoner was handing out opps to appear on his show, U Cook! with Chef Bob, to a fortunate few. We proudly tell his producer, “Chef Bob’s new show was our first CHARLIE story!” Waggoner follows it up with his usual wit saying, “It’s been a long time since a woman said I was her first.”

Was that a guest pulling out tupperware? Opening Night to go, apparently.

Brett McKee (Oak) disses nice, heavy beers and tells us about his love of good ‘ole Michelob Ultra. In fact, he’s got a six pack behind his booth. He jokes about his “beer wench” following him around with his sixer wherever he goes. But he’s a softie at heart, admitting that he can’t even hang for the late night W+F parties that start in the early hours. Suuuuure.

Chefs start eating their food and pulling out beer bottles. Guests start asking for autographs in their shiny cookbooks. The lounges start filling with weary feet.

Sean Brock (McCrady’s) tells us about last night’s dinner when Top Chef Richard Blais freeze dried mustard beurre blanc, cut it in thick strips, wrapped it in “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” wrappers and shaved it table side. Siiiiigggghh we missed it.

Apparently there was a silent auction but who on earth noticed that? Guests’ conversations varied from food-focused (“I smell butter.”) to social-focused (“What do you do?” “Whatever it takes darling…”). Quentin Baxter and band rounded out the food, wine and convo under the beautifully posh tents.

ahhhh…goodbye Opening Night. Bring on the rest.

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