If not for Jerry Pellegrino and Christian DeLutis, last night's dinner could have been chaotic, if not disastrous. Judges in Canandaigua for the 2006 New York Wine & Food Classic had been asked to prepare dinner for the staff of the sponsoring New York Wine & Grape Foundation. The judge in the black shirt in this photo is Dr. Bob Small, professor of hotel and restaurant management at Cal Poly Pomona; that's Pellegrino in the background.
Pellegrino and DeLutis were the pros in the kitchen. Pellegrino also is one of the judges, but more to the point last night he also is executive chef of the restaurant Corks in Baltimore; DeLutis is the restaurant's chef de cuisine. They'd arrived in Canandaigua in New York's Finger Lakes region a couple of days early to scout markets for ingredients for the dinner, which was to be based almost solely on New York produced provisions. (Unlike California's wine regions, New York's viticultural areas haven't yet started to cultivate olive trees for olive oil, so that was imported.)
Pellegrino and DeLutis filled their basket with a wealth of New York ingredients, including heirloom tomatoes, striped bass, goat cheese, foie gras, nectarines, pork bellies, blueberries, apricots, peaches, melons, beets and, of course, sweet corn. Then they wrote the menu, which they said they did only yesterday over their morning coffee.
Then they assembled the judges and began directing them to cut carrots and assemble the small rounds into a goat-cheese terrine wrapped with swiss chard, shred and shape potatoes into "Irish cobbler potato cakes," lacquer the thick cuts of pork belly with a blueberry and garlic "paint," and finish a parfait of apricots, peaches and cantaloupe ice cream with a honey "Jell-O," among numerous other chores, all carried off under their sensitive and helpful tutelage.
The resulting six-course dinner was a smashing success, starting with "BLT in a glass," basically sliced heirloom tomatoes with olive oil, basil aioli and a "chip" of prosciutto in a wine glass, to the refreshing parfait. There were no New York wines poured with the meal, however. On the eve of the competition, judges aren't to taste New York wines, which is what they will be evaluating the next day. Judges didn't go thirsty, however. There were Australian, Californian, Chilean and New Zealand wines poured, none of which will be in the competition.
We'll soon be tasting plenty of New York wines. Before the competition is over Wednesday, each panel will taste around 120 wines, given that a record 703 have been entered this year. First, however, I have to run and get some breakfast, even though I don't understand how I can be hungry after last night's bounty.