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Asilomar's Flavor and Adventure Series - Part One

Weekend Flavor and Adventure Series with chef's Danny Abbruzesse and Chef Jeff Rodgers at Asilomar

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The Asilomar Flavor and Adventure Series and Seasonal Cooking Weekend was the highlight of my all too short summer.

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I arrived just missing the Friday night's gathering, featuring cheese and local wines followed by a campfire and barbecue dinner. There was still plenty of time to hang around the picnic table with the Chef Danny Abbruzzese and a handful of foodies. You would have thought it was a reunion of old friends.

Both famous family recipes and techniques were bouncing back and forth as s'mores punctuated the conversation. The campground fireplace set aglow with scents of the Pacific Ocean, aromatic foliage and firewood aflame.

There was no jockeying for position amidst a crowd of fans to get a word in edgewise or a book signed. This intimate gathering set the stage for the entire event.

Also unique was Chef Danny's interest in our experiences and recipes as much as we were in his. And though serious discussion was given to encouraging Danny to place himself in the running for one of those competitive chef programs, (he is the Hell's Kitchen type, not Iron Chef he thinks) by the end of the weekend, we could all agree Danny didn't need to go anywhere to claim “Top Chef.” For us, and all at Asilomar, he already was.

After a Saturday morning breakfast fit for royalty, we toured the Asilomar Conference Center grounds with a local ranger who gave us the history of this very unique environment.

Then, we were off to the huge kitchen and a look at the day-to-day health standards employed. The attention to detail in that department, and a successful output of over 1000 meals a day during peak season are the challenges that come with cooking at Asilomar. Our one-on-one training in this state of the art kitchen, coupled with the camaraderie of the entire staff was thus both a joy and a privilege. (We were also gifted a Messermeister 11-inch Sashimi knife and a pair of industrial strength tweezers for completing the course – no written exam!)

Chef Jeff Rodgers from The Monterey Bay Aquarium, and Chef Danny Abbruzzese started our tutorial on how to fillet a King Salmon, complete with hands-on demos, all the while talking all about what exactly sustainable food is and how to pick the best sources. The preparation techniques detailed the steps necessary for filleting a ten pound fish (see pictures), including ways to maximize flavor, sustain texture, reduce waste, even how to pull out the pin bones without making a mess in the process.

Lunch featured our efforts: a slow roasted salmon with summer ratatouille, poached salmon with summer corn and chantrelles, and grilled Asian salmon with bok choy, shitake mushrooms and miso broth.

We followed with a break to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and bike hike of the coastline. After a steady heartbeat of ocean waves pumping into our psyches, and an atmosphere charged with the energetic ionic breezes, our appetites were unleashed for more: appetizers and dinner.

Chalone's Winery brought us an amazing selection of Pinot, Chardonnay, and Sirah wines to pair with appetizers, and Chef’s Danny's dinner, featuring abalone, lamb chops (to die for) and seasonal produce – a surprise birthday cake (for Joyce), and crème brulee, topping off the night with a heated and hilarious Foodie Fight trivia game

Back in my room, the fireplace - ready to light - worked like a dream. I left the door to my porch open and the ocean roared my body and mind into a deep slumber.

Sunday's farewell, The Farmers Bounty Brunch featured Cava Sangria made from sweet fresh stone fruits, the best poached eggs ever (I ate three!), local artichokes, smoked salmon, oats, custom omelettes, waffles, fresh fruit, etc, and great coffee made it hard to leave, so I took a walk to the beach before leaving.

Actually, I don't think anyone really said goodbye, as we were all too busy making plans to meet up again soon. Perhaps we will see you too at the next Seasonal Cooking Weekend? Stay tuned!

September: Coastal Harvest Camp
December: Winter Escape
March: Barbecue Boot Camp

Call for reservations as the group is limited in size: (888) 635-5310 or visit Asilomar's updates on facebook.com/visitasilomar for details on upcoming events of the seasonal series or watch for information at www.visitasilomar.com.

For a Salmon recipe from Asilomar's Chef Danny, download a pdf file here: http://larcdesigngroup.com/Asilomar_1/king_salmon_recipe.pdf

PS: For a Flash video of Kate's Fishyssoise 'recipe': http://larcdesigngroup.com/flash/fishyssoise.html

Executive Chef Danny Abbruzzese developed his passion for sustainable cuisine at Johnson and Wales University in Vail, Colorado, where he received his culinary degree. While, en route to his 2009 Asilomar Executive Chef position,for the past decade, Danny has worked in food operations at Bernardus Lodge, Highlands Inn, Quail Lodge, and the Monterey Peninsula Country Club in Pebble Beach, CA.

Contact Kate: Mulligan@mail.com

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