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Friday, July 13, 2012

Relish Culinary Adventures in Healdsburg, California

There is no more suitable place for Relish Culinary Adventures than in the charming little Northern California town of Healdsburg. Sonoma County is one-half of the famous world class Napa-Sonoma Wine Country and what better location could there be for a culinary center so dedicated to every aspect of the art of food. "Relish Culinary and Sonoma" is really just another way of saying food and wine pairing. Another logical pairing is Relish and Wine Road which is exactly how I was introduced to this fantastic food adventure. In May I had the good fortune of being invited on a blogger's retreat of Northern Sonoma County where we experienced many of the wineries, hotels and inns who, like Relish, are all part of the Wine Road. To see my other post about this great excursion click here.

Their Vintage 1952 Chevy Truck parked out front at 14 Matheson Street in downtown Healdsburg
Relish Owner, Donna del Rey demonstrates
Relish describes themselves as Culinary Adventures and this moniker is especially appropriate because they began in 2004 exclusively as a roving program. They took their show on the road to the numerous wineries, farms and other local sources of food. In 2008 they moved into the Relish Culinary Event Center where we had the privilege of experiencing one of their classes first hand. Although Relish still offers many on-location events this stylish and state-of-the-art facility serves as a base for an impressive repertoire of culinary programs.

If anyone can be hypercritical of cooking classes, it is me because I work in the culinary program at a Sur la Table store. Every week I help chefs train students to become better home chefs so I am fully aware of the challenges in making culinary instruction effective and entertaining.  I have to say that Relish is the absolute blueprint for culinary everything. I say everything because their program is lots more than just education. Here is a partial list of what's happening all the time at Relish:

• Cooking Classes (Demo, Interactive and Hands-on)
• Culinary Tours (local ranches, cheese makers, olive oil producers, fishermen)
• Private Events (At the Relish Center, on location or brought to your home, office, school etc.)
• Catering both on location and off premises
• Outdoor kitchen and pizza oven with al fresco dining area
• Winemaker Dinners
• Team Building Events
• Commercial Kitchen Rentals

Another partial list at Relish that is very impressive is their Guest Chef Instructors. To see which food experts lend their talents to the Relish culinary experience just click here.

So let's take a peak at some of the deliciousness that Chef Ciara Meany prepared for us and so gracefully explained their ingredients, preparation and presentation. Our opening act was a Warm Goat Cheese and Asparagus Tartlet. It was savory, salty and yet light. If it had been a larger full size tart, I would have been very happy to just call it my entree and been done with it.

For Starters: Warm Goat Cheese and Asparagus Tartet
Next up was our salad course but it could never be mistaken for just some greens. We enjoyed a Rock Shrimp and Avocado Salad with Lemon Aioli and Micro Greens. The portion was small but rich and so satisfying. After these two courses I could have easily headed directly to dessert. Chef Ciara did a wonderful demonstration of making Aioli while we enjoyed course number two.

Rock Shrimp and Avocado Salad with Lemon Aioli and Micro Greens
One quick comment I need to insert here is the great attention to detail by Relish. I am a pescetarian (I eat fish but not meat) and my friend, Stacie, is a vegetarian. Relish did a great job of keeping our diet restrictions in mind. They served Stacie an absolutely fantastic veggie version of the salad with locally grown baby artichokes. She offered me one taste and I had instant artichoke envy. :-)

Special Vegetarian Salad featuring Alexander Valley Baby Artichokes
The entree was another "wildly" tasty combination of Crispy Duck and Wild Mushroom Risotto. I was served the same great risotto with an extra helping of the savory mushrooms in lieu of the duck. I got a leg up in this course because Stacie doesn't care for mushrooms so she passed them over to me. Advantage: Carl.

Wild Mushroom Risotto with extra mushrooms.
We were delightfully teased by catching an early glimpse of our dessert course. Chef Meany did an excellent job of preparing the Strawberry Rhubarb Gallette in advance. In cooking instruction some recipes take long enough that part of the steps need to be completed ahead in order to be enjoyed within the time frame of the class. Here is a before and after baking shot of the gallette.

The free form crust makes a gallette even more tempting for me.
Sweet strawberries and tart rhubarb complement nicely in this gallett

A nice finishing dollop of vanilla bean whipped cream takes the cake...err...gallette. :-)
Not surprising each of our four courses were paired with wine choices. Actually, each course featured a pair of wines which paired nicely with the flavors.

Appetizer: 2011 Dutcher Crossing Winery Sauvignon Blanc and 2009 Optima Winery Dry Riesling

Salad: Dashe Cellars Vin Gis Grenache Rosé and Cellars of Sonoma Joseph Jewel Pinot Noir Rosé

Entree: Phillip Staley Vineyards Vino and Amista Vineyards Syrah

Dessert: Forth Vineyards Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc and Balletto Vineyards Vin de Paille

My closing shot is of Chef Ciara Meany. Her presentation was superb. She demonstrated and cooked simultaneously keeping us all engaged. She was extremely patient with our many questions and cameras flashing. A huge thanks to Ciara and Donna for their wonderful hospitality. Our visit to Relish was the perfect way to conclude our first day on the Wine Road.

Chef Ciara on the secrets of aioli

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