The California trip was full of wonderful surprises and adventures, beginning with The Taste3 Conference. This is an event everyone should know about, even if you can't afford to attend (fortunately, as a speaker, I was able to attend for free). Many of the presentations are posted on their website so you don't have to be there to hear them but, of course, there's nothing like being in the Napa Valley with 300 passionate people who want to change the world through their relationship with food. I won't try to summarize the whole conference because you can go their site to get more details (www.taste3.com). I've been told that my talk, The Leaven Factor (about bread as a trans-cultural, universal symbol for transformation), will eventually appear on the site but I don't know when yet. One of the brilliant designs of the conference is that no presentation is allowed to exceed 20 minutes, so everyone is really crisp and focused. Over the two days of presentations we all got kind of crisp from the many talks, great food and wine, and stimulating conversations but, again, I think the organizers did a wonderful job of pacing everything so that we never really felt overwhelmed or burnt out. Tired, yes, but in a good way, full of feeling hopeful for the future having seen and heard from some amazing visionaries.
A few of my favorite speakers were architect/engineer Dickson Despommier on turning abandoned buildings into vertical urban gardens (according to his designs, one apartment complex could grow enough produce to feed tens of thousands of people); Chef Ben Roche, the Executive Pastry Chef of Moto in Chicago, on playful molecular gastronomical desserts using blow torches and lasers (okay, I'm a little biased since Ben was my student a few years ago at the Providence campus of Johnson & Wales University); Chef Dan Barber on his discovery in Spain of the world's greatest foie gras-- and it doesn't require forced feeding; Gastronomica editor Darra Goldstein on peace initiatives in Israel bringing Arabs and Jews together through food; guitarist extraordinaire Michael Chapdelaine playing on an amazing, custom made guitar from the now rare Kaori tree of New Zealand; Dennis vanEngelsdorp on the latest discoveries about the honey bee hive collapse syndrome; and many more on topics as diverse as tracing authentic, rare Iraqi dates on an attempted, ill fated journey to an American market (an eery parallel of the entire surreal war experience we've all been through); pro and con presentations on the impact of the recent genome breakthroughs; a successful Japanese winery run entirely by a group of developmentally disabled adults under the tutelage of a Napa Valley winemaker; an urban farmer who raises pigs, geese, chickens and now goats in her back yard (yes, it freaks out her neighbors); and on and on. The evening dinners on the first night of the conference were held at various Napa valley wineries and the finale was held at the Mondavi Winery in conjunction with their summer music program, featuring a very lively Cuban band (I forget their name but they were great) and, of course, delicious Cuban food and pleny of Mondavi wines. All in all, not a bad weekend.
The day before the conference I participated in a pre-conference event at The Culinary Institute of America's (CIA) Greystone campus in St. Helena. Along with CIA Chef Bill Briwa, we did a tandem workshop on fermentation. I handled the bread side and he did everything that wasn't bread, from pickles, to cheese, to fish. The workshop culminated with a luncheon where we joined by 50 sommeliers who were there for their own workshop but, hey, fermentation is fermentation so we joined forces, drank their wine, ate my bread (the Country Miche from the new whole grain breads book), and ate Bill's food with every course featuring some fermented ingredients. While I was there I also baked off 25 loaves of the whole wheat spent grain bread, using spent grains from a local microbrewery, which we served the next day at the Taste3 luncheon following my talk. When the video goes on their site you'll be able to see that loaf, as we ended the presentation by breaking in half and passing it around the audience.
Following the conference, on Sunday, I stayed one additional day in Napa to teach a class on whole grain breads at the Copia Wine and Food Center (the site for the Taste3 Conference but also an archival museum destination for all visitors to the wine country). Then I headed through the Carneros Pass to the town of Sonoma and prepped for my Monday wood-fired pizza class with the terrific team from Ramekins Cooking School, one of my favorite schools in one of my favorite towns. The next day, Monday, we hosted 20 people for the class and knocked out some killer pizzas and focaccias of all types. That night I drove over to Kenwood and stayed with some old friends who had a few others over for a delightful pot luck, including a few of the focaccia from our class. This was no ordinary pot luck, of course, as it included just made, melt-in-your mouth beet gnocchi (made by my friend Neal who learned how to make them in Tuscany just a few weeks earlier), and some Asian spare ribs made by their friend Hilary, that were perfect and addictive. Since this was personal friend time I won't elaborate, but despite all the great meals I had the previous few days in Napa, this one was my favorite.
Then I spent two days in Medford, Oregon working with the pizza team at Amy's Kitchen. It was fun flying up in their small jet from Santa Rosa, directly over Mt. Shasta where I could see the path I used 26 years ago when I climbed it. We could also see the smoke from the still burning fires in the coastal forests, where some monastic friends of mine had to abandon their monastery, returning it to when the fires passed, finding that the flames came up to the chapel walls but then, for some reason (I won't use the M for miracle word here) stopped and changed direction. They're rebuilding as I write these words, but suffered relatively little damage compared to the surrounding area. Medford is near Ashland, and the annual Shakespeare Festival was in full swing so we went into town during the evening and listened to some outdoor concerts but were too exhausted to go to one of the shows.
When I got back to Santa Rosa I met up with some friends at the new pizza restaurant, Rosso, and we had excellent Naples-style pizzas. Rosso does a lot of things that I like and, like from all pizzerias that do something I like, I will probably borrow their ideas for our new restaurant in Charlotte.
Finally, I headed down to Silicon Valley and gave a talk at Google Headquarters, similar to but different from the one I gave at Taste3. This one went for nearly an hour (counting Q&A), and should be appearing on YouTube any day now. I'll post the link when I get it. I could write pages about the Google campus and the incredible food in their many free cafes and snack bars, and all the bright young people who work there. It's a one of a kind situation and I was honored to be invited to speak (I heard that Henry Kissinger had been there a few days before me--I think he drew a bigger crowd).
So now I'm back in Charlotte, back at Johnson & Wales, where we will be welcoming our students in about a month, and catching my breath before Susan and I head up to Vermont for a two-day pizza workshop at King Arthur Flour. I'll post again when we get back with the latest news on the restaurant project and, hopefully, the YouTube link from the Google talk. The whole time I was out west I kept thinking that it was a rare gift to be able to have those 9 days in California, to meet interesting and stimulating people and to relax with some old and dear friends. I found myself giving thanks over and over again. Sometimes the magic works....
May Your Bread Always Rise,