By Becky Creighton
Epiphanies in life are great. I had one three years ago which is what spawned the idea for my business. I decided I wanted to be excited about what I did when I woke up in the morning and love what I do. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would come across opportunities like the one I experienced a few weeks ago when I had the honor and privilege of cooking and dining with one of the country’s best chefs, Gary Danko.
It was a picture perfect Sunday at Auberge’s stunning Calistoga Ranch in Napa Valley; blue skies, warm air and a glass of Schramsberg sparkling wine.
And that was just the beginning.
I’m not sure words will translate the magical Sunday afternoon I spent surrounded by a landscape of 4,000 acres of natural beauty shared with the astounding meal passionately prepared by Calistoga Ranch’s chef Christian Ojeda and Gary Danko of Restaurant Gary Danko.
Our intimate group not only enjoyed a signature Gary Danko dish of buckwheat blini’s with smoked salmon, crème fraiche and a dollop of caviar but we were also treated to a cooking lesson on how to make these little bites of love.
My mouth was in heaven as I bit into this magnificent cacophony of flavors which were rivaled only by the many textures that were delivered in this one bite – the sweet fluffiness of the blini coupled with the silky smoked salmon, the creamy “just tar” crème fraiche only to end with the exploding saltiness of the caviar was an amazing taste and texture sensation. Lucky for me, I now know how to make these tasty nibbles. Unfortunately for me, it won’t be the same. I can recreate the blini and I can even buy the caviar but I can’t get chef Danko’s house recipe smoked salmon or replicate his crème fraiche that pulls this dish all together.
But, there was no time to waste mourning what was because next up was our much anticipated brunch.
We were transported to the Lake House restaurant where a beautifully decorated table awaited us with crisp, white linens, fresh flowers and the beautiful back drop of the lake. At this point, only our anticipation fed our stomachs as everyone took their seats. First up were two courses by chef Ojeda.
The vibrant colors of the beet Carpaccio with the pumpkin seed encrusted goat cheese was a classic pairing only to be matched with an ‘07 Crocker & Starr Sauvignon Blanc. The crispness and acidity of the wine easily stood up to the richness of the goat cheese and the tender earthiness of this root vegetable.
Moving on to the second course chef Ojeda treated us to pan seared scallops and a nice contrast of a squash chorizo emulsion. When they poured the ’08 Robert Mondavi pinot noir I was curious how it would pair versus the sauv blanc still in my glass. The sommelier nailed it! What a wonderful pairing this fruit forward California pinot noir brought to this delicate crustacean.
As the attentive staff removed our dishes and chef Danko excused himself, it was a few minutes before we would be treated to a classic but never tiring duck confit hash with a perfectly poached egg served along side ginger chutney and gratin of potatoes.
Chef Danko's Duck Confit Hash
Oh, were there potatoes on my plate? I hadn’t noticed as my mouth was watering just looking at the hash, I was in gourmet food heaven. The only thing that could make this better would be another poached egg – which I was rewarded with when one of my new foodie friends gave her egg to me and to the food company owner to my right.
How do you describe this ethereal dish? The tender saltiness of the duck was such a great combination with the soft egg white and warm yolk. Each bite was like you were being rewarded for having taste buds and the Pekin duck and the egg colluded to elevate your palette to a level you didn’t even know existed. Each bite built upon itself, continuing to carry the mission of this definitive pair. The ’07 Salvestrin Retaggio was a striking pairing with its deep and earthy notes that went so well with the richness of the duck and velvety ovule.
To round out and end our gastronomical orgy was a light and airy lemon soufflé cake and raspberry sorbet paired with a non-vintage Frank Family Blanc de Blanc. I loved how the bubbles and dryness of the wine effortlessly danced with the tartness of the lemon and sweetness of the bright red sorbet. The lightness of the cake was such a great ending to an undeniably delectable brunch with great chefs, wine pairings and scenery.
As our brunched ended I felt blessed as new friends were made, unforgettable dining experiences were had and memories of the day will eternally be remembered. I can’t wait to go back.