Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tomato Love

One plane ride and two car rides down and I had arrived in Sonoma. First destination: The Kendall Jackson estate

I was given the full tour of the grounds by Executive Chef Justin Wrangler and his fantastic crew of chefs. The first and most exciting thing I saw was their garden, or should I say Culinary Gardens. They have acres of land dedicated to growing every type of produce you can imagine. The entire estate is on an old walnut grove, so the tomatoes, corn, herbs, lettuces, and thousands of other plants are interspersed among giant old walnut trees.

But, the thing I was really drooling over were the TOMATOES. 170 plus varieties of heirlooms, with a wide variety on the estate and another 5 acres off site. I had no idea there were so many tomato varieties out there and there were definitely mouth gaping moments looking at the lineup of all those tomatoes in all colors and sizes.

On to Saturday, the big event. The local restaurants all had booths sampling tomato creations. There was live music, tons of wine and sunshine. The main stage held the Chefs Challenge. I had to cook against my old friend Jamie from Top Chef Season Five. We had 20 minutes to cook three dishes with heirlooms and two secret ingredients. The ingredients turned out to be scallops (surprise Jamie!) and kobe ribeye.

The end product was mouthwatering with all that FRESH produce: My dishes: Scallop, Melon and Tomato Ceviche with thai vinaigrette; Ricotta Ravioli with tomato cream sauce and pine nuts; Grilled Kobe Ribeye "Sandwich" with wild mushrooms and charred tomato salsa were loved by the celebrity judges, but alas, Jamie prevailed. She went on to face off against Justin Wrangler (who won his first heat) and eventually was named the Heirloom Tomato Champion.

What a weekend... and what tomatoes!

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