I was raised near Russian River, and when I was an actor, I spent a summer acting at a theater near there. Our free afternoons were spent on the river, and often with a bottle (or two) of the local Chardonnay. Even then, the name Sonoma-Cutrer meant the very best Chard that the River region had to offer. Today, thirty years later, I can still turn to it like a reliable old friend. It is elegant and crisp, wonderful on its own, and equally delicious with food. It's not an oak bomb or a butterball like so many other California Chardonnays--it is just a flavor bomb.
A few nights ago, I was invited to attend an event sponsored by Sonoma-Cutrer, a panel to explore the food trends of the past thirty years. The panelists were Charlie Palmer (of Aureole, et al), Michael Lomonaco (an old buddy who runs one of my favorite New York eateries, Porterhouse), Sonoma-Cutrer's charming and talented winemaker Mick Schroeter, Raymond Solokov (a food writer whose writing reached millions at the Wall Street Journal), Dede Wilson (another friend and writer whose work is often seen in Bon Appétit), all moderated by Barbara Fairchild (who, for most of us, will always be Bon Appétit).
The panel brought up a lot of fascinating points. Most interesting to me was the subject of culinary tradition versus culinary innovation. Think about it: Until nouvelle cuisine came around (it wasn't called nouvelle for nothing), a chef was judged by how well he (and very occasionally, she) excuted the French classics. Now, the classics have been replaced by how a chef creates her (or his) personal cuisine. Most of these attempts include a machine of some kind. How often have I been at a restaurant, eating plate after plate of unrecognizable food, only to wonder if the chef even knew how to roast a chicken in an oven.
The event was held at the International Culinary Center (formerly known as the French Culinary Center), the home to chef-professor Dave Arnold, a guy who probably does know how to roast a chicken but has made his name carrying the torch of Modernist Cuisine. It was interesting to note that the food that was served at the reception was one familiar face after another--tuna tartar, miniature shrimp po'boys, duck quesadillas.