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Gaetano Trovato from Arnolfo Ristorante in Siena, Italy, will be part of an event called Taste of Italy on March 28 at the Sunset Center. Michael White of Marea in New York and chocolatier Melinda Beebe of Quince in San Francisco will also participate.

Justin Cogley may not work under the glaring culinary spotlight of Las Vegas, New York or Chicago, but the executive chef of Aubergine in tiny Carmel shines just as bright as any big-city chef.

And he has the credentials to prove it.

Named Food & Wine magazine's Best New Chef for 2013, and a semifinalist this year in the James Beard Foundation's Best Chef in the West, Cogley leads one of only 37 American restaurants to earn five stars from Forbes.

So no one should wonder why Cogley and Aubergine are playing host to the finest chefs and winemakers in the world this month at the first GourmetFest (March 27-30), sponsored by Relais & Châteaux, a global fellowship of individually owned and operated luxury hotels and restaurants.

In typical fashion for the soft-spoken and humble Cogley, he's a bit panicky about the descent of superstars into his own backyard.

"I'm nervous, absolutely," said Cogley, who is in charge of orchestrating all the chefs and their many needs (for example, it took some time to convince snowbound chef Jason Bangerter of Langdon Hall Country House in Ontario, Canada, that he will have access to spring vegetables). "These are chefs that I really respect and I'm anxious to show off my corner of the world."

The lineup of talent is nothing short of extraordinary, and is easily the greatest local assemblage of chefs and winemakers since the famed Masters of Food & Wine at Highlands Inn that ended its run in 2005.


"This is similar to the Masters in format, with chef demos, tours, tastings and combining great chefs in the same kitchen," said Aubergine owner David Fink, who helped assemble that international dream team as general manager of the Carmel Highlands resort. "Because Relais & Châteaux is involved, GourmetFest hits the highest possible level."

The group of participating chefs creates a veritable galaxy of Michelin stars, including three-starred Christopher Kostow (The Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena) and Jean Michel Lorain (La Cote Saint Jacques, Paris), and two-starred Gaetano Trovato from Arnolfo Ristorante in Siena, Italy. Participants will also see a legion of James Beard winners and Relais & Châteaux Grand Chefs.

Sharing the spotlight will be other chef luminaries, including Joachim Splichal (Patina, Los Angeles), Jason Franey (Canlis, Seattle), Johann Lafer (Johann Lafer's Stromburg, Germany) and Michael Tusk (Quince, San Francisco).

The list of epic winemakers may just eclipse the chef lineup in terms of prestige: Aubert de Villane, co-director of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti in Burgundy; German wine legend Hermann Dönnhoff; Olivier Krug, director of Krug Champagne; Gunter Künstler, whose Weingut Künstler family wine estate in Germany dates back to 1648; and many others, including local producers Galante, Talbott, Roar and Pisoni.

After leaving Highlands Inn, Fink went on to become an accomplished restaurateur and hotelier, working under the prestigious brand of Relais & Châteaux at his L'Auberge Carmel that houses Aubergine.

Last year Fink saw an opportunity to build new culinary bridges, dusting off that old Masters blueprint and adding a few twists to create Carmel's GourmetFest.

"I just had a vision of doing a new food and wine festival that would have Relais & Châteaux involved," he said. "The best chefs in the world are Relais & Châteaux chefs, and if we could do a festival together we could do something extraordinary."

Fink took it to the Relais & Châteaux board of directors and they loved the idea, especially as the group celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. Most of the action will take place under a luxury tent in the parking lot of the Sunset Center.

"We're raising the bar on doing certain things," said Fink, who pointed to the Friday night Rarities Dinner that is by no means an oxymoron. Three-star kitchen generals Lorain and Kostow will prepare the 10-course dinner, along with Cogley and his Aubergine pastry chef Ron Mendoza at a secret location on the Carmel coast. Wines will come from de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Véronique Drouhin of Maison Joseph Drouhin and Olivier Krug from Champagne Krug.

The event sold out in less than two days, despite the lofty $5,250 price tag.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Fink said. "Three of the best wine estates in the world bringing in wines directly from their domains. For the main course we're pouring a 1990 La Tâche, one of greatest DRC has ever made, an incredible wine."

More reasonably priced events that are not yet sold out are priced starting at $175. Following is a sample of featured events:

· Welcome Party (Thursday, March 27): Watch the Relais & Châteaux Grand Chefs in action as each is paired with a farmer and a prestigious wine estate, 6-9 p.m., Sunset Center Luxury Tent, $225.

· Taste of Italy (Friday, March 28): Discover the flavors of Italy with chef Trovato, Michael White (Marea in New York) and chocolatier Melinda Beebe (Quince, San Francisco), noon, Sunset Luxury Tent, $195.

· Wine Tasting (Saturday, March 29): Domaine de la Romanée-Conti's co-director will lead guests on a journey through Richebourg, a Grand Cru vineyard in Burgundy, with the rare chance to sample eight vintages, 10:45 a.m.-noon, La Playa Hotel, $1,095.

· Relais & Châteaux Grand Chefs Dinner (Saturday, March 29): Savor and indulge in the most exquisite plates from some of the best chefs in the world, including chefs Lorain and Cogley, 6:30 p.m., Sunset Luxury Tent, $350.

· Champagne Tasting (Sunday, March 30): Join Olivier Krug for a journey in the Krug Universe while toasting the 60th anniversary of Relais & Châteaux with eight prestigious cuvees, 10:30 a.m.-noon, La Playa Hotel, $595.

· Seafood Grill (Sunday, March 30): Enjoy an eclectic seafood grill (paired with Champagne) featuring products from local fishmongers at chef stations, noon-3 p.m., Sunset Luxury Tent, $175.

Upcoming foodie events

What: 24th annual Great Taste of P.G.
Description: P.G. P.R.I.D.E. hosts this evening of food from local chefs, wine, and live and silent auctions as a benefit for the Pacific Grove Unified School District.
When: 4-7 p.m., Sunday, March 23
Where: The Inn at Spanish Bay
Tickets and information: $55,

What: 7th annual Pebble Beach Food & Wine
Description: The premier epicurean lifestyle event on the West Coast matches 250 acclaimed wineries and 75 celebrity chefs to create a four-day extravaganza.
When: Thursday through Sunday, April 10-13
Where: Pebble Beach Resorts
Tickets and information:

What: 22nd annual Winemakers' Celebration
Description: More than 30 Monterey County wineries from nine appellations will offer wines for tasting, along with food from local restaurants, winemaking demonstrations and live music in downtown Carmel.
When: 2-5 p.m. Saturday, May 3
Where: Dolores Street, between Ocean and Seventh, Carmel
Tickets and information: $65 (VIP $95), at

What: Cooking for Solutions
Description: Three days of culinary experiences with some of the finest chefs in the nation, from the Friday Gala to intimate Food & Wine Adventures and a decadent new Saturday night dessert party with the Food Network's Alton Brown, all showcasing sustainability.
When: Friday through Sunday, May 16-18
Where: The Monterey Bay Aquarium and venues around the county
Tickets and information: