The Kendall Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival has closed for 2013 after a glorious 17th edition. The first days of autumn brought glorious weather to Fulton, California, just a few miles north of Santa Rosa at the Kendall Jackson Wine Center. This perennial sell out event, like it's featured fruit, did not disappoint.
Hundreds of happy people enjoyed the wine and the tomato laced food offered by the more than 50 food purveyors who had set up camp onsite. Unbeknownst to many of those in attendance, the celebrated fruit originated in Mexican and became widely transplanted around the world after the Spanish colonization of the new world during the 16th century. The various educational seminars, however, did offer advice on how to grow tomatoes, how to pair wine with food and cheese and the extraordinary nature of Chardonnay grown in the coastal areas of California. Fascinating!
The glory of this healthy fruit, we call tomato, was best realized at the large tomato tasting tent where nearly 200 cultivar varieties were on display for photos and available for tasting. There were amazing contrasts in acidity, color, sweetness and texture. Green, yellow, red, pink and even black tomatoes of all flavors and shapes and sizes were available to be enjoyed and all were grown on one of Kendall Jackson's many properties in Northern California.
The Restaurants and caterers that participated ranged from iconic John Ash & Co to the Applewood Inn to Costeaux French Bakery to Catelli's Restaurant to Agave Mexican Restaurant &Tequila Bar to Jackson's Bar & Oven. Of course Partake by KJ was leading the pack with its exceptional tomato focused creations.
Besides the wonderful food and the plentiful Kendall Jackson and Avant wines, the main attractions were the Chef's Challenge and the Latin music of The Carlos Herrera Band who played throughout the afternoon to the obvious pleasure of all in attendance.
The Chef's Challenge consisted of two challenge rounds and then a final round where the winners of the first 2 rounds competed. Three of the four participants were previous Bravo TV Top Chef competitors so the competition was fierce but fun. The judges were locally renowned Heather Irwin Food Editor for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, John Ash, the father of wine country cuisine and former Chef-Owner of Michelin starred Cyrus Restaurant, Douglas Keane, who won Top Chef Masters last week. Radio celebrity, Marcy Smothers and restaurateur Josh Silvers, Chef-Owner of Jackson's Bar & Oven and Three Squares Cafe (both in Santa Rosa) were the perfect Master/Mistress of Ceremonies to complete this entertaining and exceptionally talented Chef's Challenge team. Guy Fieri, whose Cooking With Kids Foundation, was the beneficiary of the money raised from the festival, expressed his appreciation to the crowd during the Chef's Challenge.
The major take away from the Heirloom Tomato Festival is that Kendall Jackson, despite their success and the huge production volumes they sustain, remains a valued Sonoma County wine company with a huge heart. This is a phenomenal event and one would be foolish to miss the 18th Annual Kendall Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival in 2014. More than worth the price of admission.