4th Annual Food and Wine Challenge: The Super Bowl Event in Ventura County

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By Raven West

Like the runners of the Houston Marathon or the NFL playoff games, the teams competing for the 4th Annual Food and Wine Challenge on Sunday, January 18th  was the day when all that training, practice and preparation finally came to a head.

The 13 wineries and their partner restaurants were chosen at random. From that point on, the selection of what food would pair best with which wine took off in earnest.

“When we were informed that we were paired with the Aloha Steakhouse, my team talked about their menu and what wines we thought would do well, in general, with their food,” said Ed Schwartz, owner of Labyrinth Winery. “I met with the team at Aloha Steakhouse, Charnell, Jim and Jose, and poured them a few of our wines. The team at Aloha Steakhouse was blown away by our Petite Syrah, so that’s the wine we chose. Then we talked about dishes and what flavor profiles would pair well with it. The decision on the final dish and wine pairing was done as a team.”

Alma Sol’s John Shaw met with Hector and Salome at Café Zack and talked through their approach, looked at pairing options, and tasted some of the restaurant’s specialties. “We discussed our approach and philosophies on food and wine.” John explained. “Our team worked very well together. Hector loves and understands food and wine pairing, and I approached the decision from the wine and then food pairing. In some ways it is like preparing for the Super Bowl and making sure you have a game plan in place. We can’t wait to “suit-up!”

There was a great deal of communication between the wineries and their restaurant team members.

After finding out The Waterside Restaurant and Wine Bar was their partner, Vito Panaro, of Panaro Bros., called owners Steve and Maria Buenger and set up a meeting to discuss their plan for the Challenge.  “Steve and Maria and their chefs came to our winery to sample our wines, “he said. “Then, they went back to the restaurant to decide what dish would pair with which wine. We went back and forth several times before deciding on which wine to serve with which dish.”

Not all winery owners needed to take time to visit their restaurant partners. Chris Brown, owner of Cantara Cellars, was one of the fortunate few who never had to leave the comfort of her own winery to meet with her team partner.  “Tim Kilcoyne’s Scratch Food Truck is a traveling kitchen,” said Chris Brown, owner of Cantara Cellars. “So we always met at our winery. It was very convenient.”

Cantara and Scratch

Cantara and Scratch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Although winning the Challenge is recognition for their hard work in planning, preparing and presenting their entries, most participants feel that it’s the event itself that’s really important and it’s their job to help inform the community of the great food and wine options they have right in their neighborhood.   “A lot of thought and preparation goes into the wine & food pairings, which isn’t the case for other events,” Schwartz said. “It’s also a great way to showcase our wines and educate attendees on why we chose this wine and food pairing and why they go so wonderfully together. We put in a lot of time and thought in what we do, but if we don’t win, we know we put up an amazing pairingThe real winners are the attendees who get to sample 13 different food and wine pairings from the best Ventura County has to offer.”

John Shaw of Alma Sol Winery agrees. “We always say that you do not need to go to Los Angeles (food) or Paso Robles (wine) to get world class options,” he said.

Alma Sol and Cafe Zack

Alma Sol and Cafe Zack

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“These events donate a percentage of the proceeds back to the community. This is very important to all of us as well as it is our way to give back, build and assist the overall Ventura County community. We are all engaged at informing the larger food and wine community, outside of Ventura County of our existence and high quality events, which helps bringing this awareness and appreciation.”

There were two categories of awards for the competition. The “People’s Choice” award was voted by the attendees. The “Judges Choice” award was voted on by a select group of wine experts. Judges were Michael Denney, formerly the wine director at the Ranch House in Ojai; Tara Redfield, founder of the blog The Food Pervert; Beckey Richards, a sommelier and wine buyer for Whole Foods Market in Oxnard, and Sarene Wallace, editor of Edible Ojai & Ventura County.

First place in People’s Choice voting went to Team 7 Magnavino Cellars of Oxnard and Twenty88 Restaurant & Martini Lounge of Camarillo.

Second Place went to Plan B Wine Cellars & Paradise Pantry for their wild mushroom & white truffle Mac & Cheese, topped with Italian braised pork & Cipollini paired with 2010 Mourvedre. The team also took home the fourth place Judges’ Choice honors.

Third Place was awarded to Hertzog Wine Cellars and Tierra Sur for their Hamachi Crudo with apples & sorrel, micro celery & lemon paired with a 2013 Chenin Blanc Viognier. The team also placed second in the Judges category.

Strey Cellars & La Dolce Vita received Forth Place for pairing a Lobster Crab Bisotto Cake topped with Citrus, Chipotle Aioli & Mango Papaya Tropical Relish with a 2012 Merlot.

La Dolce Vita and Strey Winery

La Dolce Vita and Strey Winery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Judges’ top honor went to Norm Stafford and Aldabella Winery of Westlake Village and Executive Chef Rachel Main of Main Course California. They paired a 2012 South Coast syrah with a dish of slow-braised kurobuta pork prepared with coffee and served with shiiitake mushroom whipped potatoes, kumquat-star anise gastrique, and nutmeg basil microgreens.

Judge's Choice Winner: Aldabella Winery and Main Course California

Judge’s Choice Winner: Aldabella Winery and Main Course California

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Taking home Third Place Judges’ Choice award was Coastal Grill of Embassy Suites Mandalay Beach Hotel & Resort choice of Sage seasoned wild boar nestled in a wine pouched seckel pear topped with creamy cambozola and drizzled with a sweet wine reduction paired with Rancho Ventavo Cellars’ 2010 Merlot/Santa Barbara County.

Hope’s Haven Children’s Charity were winners in the proceeds they received from the event’s silent auction.

YesEveryone agreed the real winners of the 2015 Food and Wine Challenge were the attendees who were able to sample 13 different food and wine pairings from the best Ventura County has to offer.

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Raven West

Raven West

 

Raven West is a free-lance writer and published author who has lived in Ventura County for more than twenty years. She has an extensive knowledge of local wineries from Thousand Oaks to Ojai and will be covering special events which take place at the tasting rooms throughout the year.

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