Mired in a depressive hangover following the dissolution of the Masters of Food and Wine at Highland's Inn in Carmel, Rob Weakley and David Bernahl fermented a grand idea many thought preposterous.
The plan? To play off the popularity of the Masters, reinvent the concept of the food festival and create a four-day culinary playground the likes of which has never been seen.
Five years later, Pebble Beach Food & Wine has become an epic epicurean event that French chef/god Daniel Boulud calls his favorite food event of the year.
"When we started, all we heard was 'that's never going to work, it's too big,' " said Bernahl, co-founder of Coastal Luxury Management, the high-performance engine behind PBFW and last October's inaugural sister event in Los Angeles. "You can't listen to that. Never doubt your ideas."
Beginning Thursday, more than 75 celebrity chefs (think Boulud, Thomas Keller, Jacques Pepin, Christopher Kostow) and 250-plus world-class wineries (Roederer, Dom Perignon, Mouton Rothschild, Grgich Hills, Opus One) make up a veritable who's-who and what's-what of the culinary world.
Scores of dinners, wine-tastings, seminars and cooking demos are nearly sold out, with 7,500 attendees expected to flood a number of venues around Pebble Beach and Spanish Bay.
The best chance to savor, sip and swirl is to nab a ticket to one of PBFW's signature events, the Lexus Grand Tasting Tent tastings on Saturday and Sunday from noon to 3p.m.
The circuslike tent provides dramatic shelter to two-dozen celebrity chefs (and a handful of local chefs, including Sierra Mar's Craig von Foerster, Contemporary Catering's Don Ferch and 1833's Levi Mezick, among others), and vintners pouring 300 unique wines. Log onto www.pebblebeachfoodandwine.com for tickets and information.
"To be at 7,500 attendees, bigger than Aspen (Food & Wine Classic) that has 30 years behind it, I'm so excited and humbled," said Bernahl, "It's been worth all the effort and energy.
The work and planning starts early. Someone has to put up the 60,000-square-foot tasting tent, rent 47,000 wine glasses, order 800 pounds of Irish butter, corral four whole goats and fly in from Japan thousands of tiny wasabi rhizomes for Chef Roy Yamaguchi.
For chefs such as Yamaguchi, the Hawaiian-fusion master who owns Roy's at Spanish Bay, and dozens of others, it's a chance to rub elbows with their peers and try to outdo each other.
"I can't wait. I love Pebble Beach," said chef Chris Cosentino.
Called the "offal chef" for his inventive use of all the odds and ends of an animal, Cosentino leads the way at Incanto in San Francisco and the just-opened Pigg, a pork-centric eatery inside Umamicatessen in downtown Los Angeles.
Cosentino will be a featured chef at Friday's decadent and politically sensitive Farewell to Foie Gras lunch from noon to 2:30p.m. Also on hand at the lunch will be Michael Ginor of Hudson Valley Foie Gras in New York, one of only three fatty duck liver purveyors in the country (on July 1, California will institute a ban on the sale of all foie gras products in the state).
Cosentino's middle-course dish will be squab, foie gras and smoked hay. On Saturday inside the Lexus tent he will play off the classic dish, radishes and butter, creating a sea urchin butter with petite radishes and oyster lettuce.
Costentino lists one of his early influences as the Masters of Food and Wine. "I walked in there and I'm standing next to Jean-Louis Palladin, Michel Richard, a huge pedigree of famous chefs. My eyes were wide open, paying attention to everything around me."
At PBFW, Cosentino tries to always keep in mind that experience and to "push myself harder and go further. I could rest on my laurels, but that's not what Pebble Beach is all about. It's to give people an amazing, explosive experience."
After six decades spent hunched over the stove, even legend Jacques Pepin finds time to cook at PBFW and he meets and greets the crowds in the most humble manner.
"The concept of a professional chef being a celebrity didn't exist for majority of my dad's career," said his daughter Claudine Pepin, who travels with her famous father to Pebble Beach each year.
It's a busy in-and-out weekend for the father-daughter pair, but she said she always finds time to take a walk on the beach with her dad.
"It's rewarding to do these events," she said. "We get to cook, laugh and have a glass of wine, and miraculously there are no dishes to do."
PBFW honors the French master on Friday, holding an event called "Jacques Pepin: Six Decades of Culinary Magic." He will join his daughter in the Cooking Pavilion at Spanish Bay for a demo beginning at 10 a.m.
As in past years, Food Network chefs are well represented. In fact, three Iron Chefs (Michael Symon, Masaharu Morimoto and Geoffrey Zacharian) join forces for an Iron Chef Dinner on Friday night at The Lodge at Pebble Beach.
Chef, author and television personality Anne Burrell ("Secrets of a Restaurant Chef," "Worst Cooks in America") will appear Friday with fellow chefs Mark Murphy, Todd English and Angela Tamura for "A Day of Italy" from noon to 2:30p.m.
On Saturday she hosts "Cook Like a Rock Star" in the Cooking Pavilion followed by an appearance inside the Lexus tent.
Gregarious chef Guy Fieri ("Guy's Big Bite," "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives") hosts an interactive dinner at Spanish Bay on Saturday night. And Tyler Florence ("Tyler's Ultimate") will appear in the tent on Saturday, followed by an appearance at the Grand Finale with Dom Perignon that evening at the Beach Club ($1,250 a ticket).
From a $100 seminar on cheese to a $2,000 Founders Dinner (where 24 lucky souls enjoy the dinner of a lifetime and bring two 750-ml bottles from an exceptional vintage worth at least $5,000 each), Pebble Beach Food & Wine offers a wide, bold spectrum of epicurean events.
"The boys (Bernahl and Weakley) and their whole staff have taken this event to the stratosphere," said Carmel Cheese Shop owner Kent Torrey, who share his vast knowledge of wine and cheese at the event. "It's better than Aspen and South Beach, held at a world-class venue and it's all for charity. What a phenomenal thing."
Pebble Beach Food & Wine
Eat, drink, Twitter
What: Fifth annual Pebble Beach Food & Wine
Where: Venues throughout Pebble Beach Resorts
When: Thursday, April 12 through Sunday, April 15
Tickets & Information:www.pebblebeachfoodandwine.com or 866-907-FOOD
Follow us: Join Herald features writers Mac McDonald and Marcos Cabrera as they cover Pebble Beach Food & Wine all weekend long on Twitter at #pbfw.
Share with us: Upload your PBFW photos and vote for your favorites at CaptureMonterey.com
Pebble Beach Food & Wine
Eat, drink, Twitter