The other night I attended a lovely event hosted by Sonoma Cutrer. The evening started with a discussion, moderated by one of my idols, Barbara Fairchild. The panel included Chef Michael Lamonoco, who owns Porter House New York, where yours truly worked as a hostess for about 4 months when I first moved and when I still thought that I was the exception to the “magazines aren’t hiring” rule.
The prospect of being in the same room with, let alone possibly meeting Barbara Fairchild had me shaking in my boots just enough to zap my appetite for the day. The wine served was a California Chardonnay that was zippy and fruity rather than oaky and buttery. The discussion was centered on the idea of American food trends, so naturally, Barbara asked about the biggest trends of the last 30 years had been.
No matter how many different ways they tried to say it, the answer from everyone on the panel was the same: fresh seasonal and local ingredients. There were jokes about how frozen Dover sole was once an innovation, and about how restaurant patrons back in the day didn’t know the difference between a freshly caught diver scallop and one chiseled out of a frozen bag. The biggest shift, agreed on by all present, was that fresh and quality ingredients had become available, in demand, and had changed the way that everyone was cooking.
The follow up question was, of course, to name three chefs who made a difference in food trends of the last 30 years. Chef Lamonoco went first and mentioned Wolfgang Puck, Charlie Palmer, and the French chef (my French is nonexistent…) who brought contemporary French haute cuisine to NYC. All of these, I thought, were noble choices and all of the parties mentioned certainly did make a significant contribution to modern American food.
However, after all of the other members of the panel went on and discussed their choices, the feminist in me couldn’t resist screaming inside my head:
(By the way, she had spent that morning with Michelle Obama – you know, the president’s wife? No big deal.)
While the feminist in me can be hot headed, she also has a point.
To be honest, it should not have been surprising. At the end of the day, though women have made huge contributions to the culinary industry, its still a world predominantly run by men. That’s not to say that women have not been successful – especially outside of New York.
When I think about Los Angeles, where I grew up, and the culinary scene out there, I think about women who have built veritable culinary empires like Nancy Silverton, Susan Fenniger, Suzanne Goin, Zoe Nathan, and Candace Nelson. Even the food critic for the LA Times is a woman (though S. Irene Virbilla is hard-up for fans these days) – hell, Ruth Reichl got her start as the LAT critic and Barbara Fairchild ran Bon Appetit from the west coast!
In the spirit of giving credit where credit is due, I’ve rounded up some California wine makers that make great wine and happen to have breasts, too.
“In 1992, Barrett went to work for Screaming Eagle. Screaming Eagle is one of those wines that everyone has heard of, but not many have tasted. It is an emblematic California wine, perhaps the California wine of the last few decades. And once again, it was Barrett’s exquisite blend of art and science that made this wine a reality.
Her first vintage, the 1992, also received a 100 point score from Parker. (Two in one year!) At the 2000 Napa Valley Wine Auction, a 6 liter bottle of this wine was purchased for $500,000; the most expensive single bottle of wine ever sold.”
Sally Johnson: Winemaker at Pride Mountain Vineyards. Pride Mountain Winery is located on Spring Mountain, one of my favorite areas of Napa. I’m not alone, here, and Johnson managed to make one of Wine Spectator’s top 100 wines of 2010.
Anne Vawter: Winemaker at Oakville Ranch Vineyards. Vawter worked under Heidi Peterson Barret at Paradigm, one of the most prestigious winemakers in Oakville before moving on. Oakville Ranch Vineyards was the first in the area and has always been known for being the best so Vawter’s position is an important one.
Helen Turley: Winemaker at Martinelli, Marcassin, and Turley Wine Cellars.
“A name that has become synonymous with truly great California wines is Helen Turley, one of the most sought-after winemakers in the world. […] Now Turley’s efforts are so revered that she recently graced the cover of Wine Spectator beside the suggested title “America’s Greatest Winemaker?”