The calendars were held up in customs, but I am told they should be here on Monday, which is tomorrow for me, and today for most of you. Calendars are obviously a source of anthrax, so I can understand the caution of the Port Authority in not hastening them through. Argh.
PICTURED HERE: This is just one tiny section of one giant table that spanned a giant tent, where visitors to Gary Ibsen's Nature Sweet - Sunset - Carmel Tomato Fest were tasting 350 different kinds of heirloom tomatoes, under a benignly overcast sky last Sunday. I was fortunate (blessed, actually) to have attended with a press pass, and to have invited my farmer friend, Linda Butler, of Lindencroft Farm, as my guest. We traveled with Cynthia Sandberg of Love Apple Farm: this event is pretty much Christmas for her every year. And it's where she and I met and hit it off for the first time, three years ago.
The event is astonishing. 52 restaurants—some the best in the region—and 54 wineries and breweries contribute to the event. And on the periphery of the space—it's held at the Carmel Valley Lodge—are dozens of booths of exhibitors with wares, information, and products to share. (My personal favorite in this case had to be Odwalla, giving shooters of so many kinds of juice to those of us who wanted to pace ourselves on the wine. Well, just the once.)
When you walk onto the grounds, you're given a commemorative wineglass and a little plastic dish/tray with a glass holder niche in it. (Why did I not think to photograph one? Because I was trying to take pictures of the food before the masses set in. You can see 27 photos at the Gary Ibsen's Tomato Fest 2007 photo album I set up.)
You wander from giant tent to giant tent, where chefs have prepared dozens of dishes, amuse bouches for the most part: it's like Iron Chef with tomatoes being the secret ingredient. (No secret, though: these chefs think about this all year, and I'll bet that chefs who return are already thinking about next year, and the year after that.)
Pictured here: 231 Ellsworth restaurant's salmon. As described by its creator, the sous chef, Isaac Miller: “The salmon was local, wild King salmon that was cured in Riesling from California. The tomatoes used for the confit were Purple Cherokee and Brandywine. The cream cheese that filled the center was folded with tomato water, made from the innards of the aforementioned tomatoes. The olive vinaigrette was made with a melange of provençal olives (Nicoise, Picholine, black, Tournantes), Sherry vinegar, shallots and EVO.” (How many people want to belly-bump Isaac for not saying EVOO, as Rachael Ray would have done?)
Of all the tomato joints, in all the towns, in all the world, this particular bite of food was voted by Cynthia and me as being the best of the Fest.
This is not a decision arrived at lightly—good grief. I'm not even an olive fan.
But let me explain something.
When I asked Linda Butler if she would be my guest (because being at the Fest with someone who loves tomatoes as much as I do is HALF the joy) I jokingly warned her: "Do not get between Cynthia and the food." I knew I'd be working with my camera, and as such, didn't get to taste everything. But when Cynthia had made her rounds of the chef tents, she grabbed my arm and pulled me over to the tent that housed 231 Ellsworth, Copia, and the Post Ranch Inn. I wound up calling it "Millionaire's Row": those three chefs produced three of my favorite tastes all day long.
There are two admission times at Tomato Fest. We were privileged to have the earlier admission time, which includes time in a VIP tent where, before noon, they're already pouring good wines and serving beautiful food. Cynthia cautioned Linda, "Take small bites, if any, because the food from the chefs out there is fabulous." I concurred, and nevertheless we all went for the tomato shooters and a bite or two of the wonderful little fish tacos with corn, cilantro, and (duh) tomatoes. Some of us, and I'm not pointing fingers, had TWO shooters. Okay, so shooter me, there was one left on the plate and the volunteer server wanted someone to take it.
I don't know nearly enough about the Tomato Fest, but I know these things:
• Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised for a host of charities over the years.
• I'll reiterate that it is the best food event I've ever attended, and that includes some fancy Hollywood frou frou soirées with my sister. Because of the Iron Chef factor—trying to create an imaginative and creative and beautiful and (most importantly) delicious bite for one thousand people, with heirloom tomatoes as the focus—there is a kind of raising of the bar that doesn't exist on, say, Top Chef, where you can use anything in the world (or in the Top Chef kitchen) to make your dishes. The theme creates both the inspiration and the boundaries.
• Because of my previous photography of Gary's tomatoes (off the clock) and writing about the Fest, Gary Ibsen and his beautiful (inside and out) wife, Dagma, have been more than kind to me. I believe that it's spirit connecting with spirit (sorry if you don't understand that).
• Cynthia and Dagma and I are all born within the same five-month period. We kinda like that about each other. I am eldest, by a million psychic years, but the beautiful blondes in my company just make me want to shout, kick my heels up and shout, and you get the picture. Dagma did not give me a press pass because of our friendship. I think the truth is that we all worship at the altar of the Heirloom Tomato. Cynthia and Linda Butler, being growers, would be High Priestesses. I think Dagma also grows, and she has a green thumb that I've seen in evidence, so she's one, too. I am merely an acolyte, performing the ceremonial duties of taking pictures, networking, and saying "OH MY GOSH" when I'd taste a tomato dish or a wine that made fireworks in my mouth.
• There's live music (and it's good), and a hundred kinds of salsas to taste. There are platefuls of BBQ, fried green tomatoes, and chef and gardening demonstrations. It's FUN.
• If you do as we did, you can pace yourself so you're neither stuffed nor drunk at the end of the day. (In my case, my need to do photography kept me from getting to taste every single dish, but that's a trade-off I was happy to accept.)
• There is a gift store, and there are scads of booths with freebies.
Two nights later, I literally dreamed of playing Bingo with photographs of tomatoes that I'd taken, and every time I filled a card, it woke me up. ALL NIGHT LONG. Perhaps there is too much of a good thing.
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THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: “It's difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.” — Lewis Grizzard
Thanks for visiting.