“Rosé is a delightful wine to serve year round at almost every meal…even breakfast!”
– Martha Stewart
Last month marked a major annual culinary occurrence here in South Florida, The South Beach Wine & Food Festival. Now in its 15th year, the festival continues to delight the palates of South Florida foodies and has definitely stood the test of time in a city where trends, culinary and otherwise, tend to quickly come and go. To this day, the weekend long culinary extravaganza features a veritable “who’s who” of the wine and food world in events ranging from Master Sommelier-taught wine seminars to late night ragers on the beach hosted by the likes of Guy Fieri. Part of it’s intrinsic magic is perhaps that there’s definitely something for everyone!
This year there was one event I was especially eager to attend: the Rosé Brunch co-hosted by Martha Stewart and Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten featuring the Provençal rosé wines of Chateau D’Esclans. Now, I’m a huge fan of Chef Vongerichten and I count my visits to his Michelin-starred restaurants among some of my most memorable culinary experiences. And, if you know me at all or have ever read my blog you know how much I adore the marvelous rosés of the charismatic Sacha Lichine and Chateau D’Esclans (for the details of our visit to the Chateau, please click here), but for me, the main draw at this particular event…was Martha.
I have been a Martha Stewart fan since 1992. At that time in my life I was just graduating from college and there was something about her passion for homekeeping, cooking and everything that went with it that just spoke to me. I started reading her books and magazine with avid interest and when her show debuted in 1993 I was completely hooked! My friends and family knew never to call me from 10-10:30am on Saturday morning because I was watching Martha. Her timeless advice was all about beautifying and elevating the things we encounter in our daily lives and making them, well…special.
I’ve been inspired by her ever since and to this day, my kitchen dish soap is still ensconced in a decorative glass bottle complete with spout and proudly displayed on my sink. I also painted every room in my first apartment (and many after that) using Martha Stewart paints inspired by the beautiful colors of her Araucana hens’ eggs. I continue to delight my friends with her Pressed Picnic Sandwich and, much to my Grandmother’s dismay, Martha’s Banana Bread is still the ONLY one I make (the key is the sour cream!). She also inspired me to make my first homemade chicken stock before I even knew what the heck to do with it, but it sure made my apartment smell heavenly. I once blew almost an entire paycheck making her Easter Brunch for my friends and at her behest I also grew my own herbs (don’t forget to pronounce the “h”), made a giant batch of pesto with the basil and froze the leftovers in ice cube trays to enjoy during Winter. Let’s also not forget the various combinations of compound butters which have been livening up dishes in my kitchen for decades and while I still haven’t encountered a broken light bulb in a socket, I sure as heck would know how to use a raw potato to get it out. Because of Martha I’ve composted, espaliered, paillarded, braised and decoupaged and whether I was trying a new recipe, learning her latest craft or simply honing my technique for folding and storing sheets I’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning from her over the past 25 years.
But I digress, the beautiful Rosé Brunch was held in the Matador Room at South Beach’s uber-chic Edition Hotel. Inspired by its rich history and 1950s glamour, Chef Vongerichten has reinvented the iconic room with menus featuring his interpretation of Caribbean, Spanish, Latin and South American cuisines using only the freshest, locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. As we waited to enter the beautiful venue, Martha herself arrived dressed in white pants, a chambray blue top and coordinating wrap and stylish wedges. She flashed her tousled blond hair and white smile as she stopped for a moment to welcome us and take a few photos before being whisked into the room. Minutes later, we entered the stunning circular space and soon after, the crowd was buzzing with energy. As we enjoyed the ambiance, the most attractive wait staff I’ve ever seen plied us with glasses of the 2014 Chateau D’Esclans Whispering Angel Rosé and delicious, hand-passed hors d’oeuvres including Floridian Heirloom Tomato Toast, Crispy Salmon Sushi with Chipotle Mayo and Peekytoe Crab Fritters with Aioli and Basil.
As we sat down for brunch, festival founder and Executive Director, Lee Schrager took the microphone, welcomed everyone and explained how this particular event had garnered the nickname, “The Trifecta” during the planning process due to its impressive roster of hosts. After all, it’s not just every day America’s leading lifestyle doyenne, one of the planet’s most celebrated Chefs and the proprietor of Provence’s most beloved Chateau get together to throw a little brunch on the beach! Then Martha took the microphone and graciously welcomed everyone and elaborated on her respect for Chef Vongerichten, “a maestro of restaurants and cooking,” as well as her love of rosé wine. She explained how she discovered it years ago when she and her husband and daughter would travel to St. Bart’s (to view a video of her entire commentary, please click here). And just when I thought I couldn’t love her any more, she made the aforementioned comment about rosé being a wonderful wine for any meal, including breakfast!
Moments later, a round of family-style appetizers descended on our table which were paired with the Chateau’s newest release, the 2014 Chateau D’Esclans “Rock Angel” Rosé ($45). This delightfully pale pink wine is made from Grenache, Rolle and Tibouren grapes which were vinified in a combination of large oak barrels and stainless steel, resulting in a fresh, fruity wine with a lovely, dry finish. This wine was the perfect accompaniment for the wide variety of mouthwatering dishes laid before us, including Jamón Ibérico de Bellota, Marinated Olives with Poblano and Mint Pesto, and Sweet Pea Guacamole served with perfectly salted, crunchy tortillas. Next came Raw, Shaved Florida Red Snapper with Green Chili Dressing and Crunchy Rice and Herbs, Florida Stone Crab with Mustard Sauce, Raw Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad, Pear and Apple Salad, Wild Gulf Shrimp with Sizzling Garlic and Chili Oil and Chorizo Pizza with Broccoli Rabe. In the past, some of the festival’s events have been criticized for not providing enough food but let me just tell you – this was NOT one of them! Each dish was more delicious than the next, and we were just getting started.
Our next course featured round upon round of family style dishes paired with the jewel in the Chateau D’Esclans crown – Garrus! This wine changed the rosé game, turning what the French widely considered a “cheap and cheerful” wine into a thing of true beauty. Garrus is crafted from the fruit of 80 year old Grenache and Rolle vines which is fermented in new and second year barrels resulting in a serious wine with serious structure and depth of flavor. This incredibly food-friendly rosé paired beautifully with the creative and delicious dishes which featured a little Miami spice and flair which was definitely a big hit with attendees! Dishes like Crispy Florida Black Grouper Tacos with Aioli and Cabbage-Chili Pickle, Maitake Mushrooms with Goat Cheese and Fresno Pepper Vinaigrette, Charred Florida Octopus with Crispy Potatoes and Paprika Emulsion renewed our appetites and were a feast for the eyes as much as the palate with their beautiful array of flavors and textures. Chef Vongerichten’s Arroz con Pollo with Crackling Skin and Lemon Zest was a hands-down favorite at our table as well as the Grilled Prime NY Strip with Chimichurri Sauce and Crunchy Potato Nuggets. Not only were the dishes incredibly delicious, but we were also accommodated with additional plates of just about every one!
By the time dessert rolled around we were so full we could barely eat another bite…but being the troopers we are, somehow we managed. And who could possibly say “no” to a delightfully decadent Tres Leches Cake with Glazed Pineapple followed by the classic but impossible to turn down Warm Valrhona Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream. We also had to try at least a bite (or two!) of the creative Strawberry Sundae with Kaffir Lime Meringue and Caramelized Brioche Croutons, Soft and Crunchy Almond Cake with Guava Sorbet and perhaps my personal favorite, Salted Caramel “Impossible Flan,” a heavenly combination of flan and cake that I just couldn’t seem to get enough of. These special sweets were undoubtedly the perfect finish to a magnificent morning.
At the end of the brunch Chef brought out his fabulous team helmed by the incredibly talented and recent Top Chef Champion Chef de Cuisine Jeremy Ford for an immensely well-deserved round of applause. It was evident how hard he and his team worked to create this lavish feast and every ounce of adulation was truly earned. As we left with our copies of Martha’s new book, “Martha Stewart’s Appetizers” Steve and I agreed this special event was, without a doubt, a very Good Thing!