I had the pleasure of experiencing Napa Valley’s Mustard Festival kick-off gala, Magic Mustard, Saturday evening at Greystone. The west coast’s CIA bastion in St. Helena never stops amazing me. I want to enroll just to be able to use the magnificent red enamel ranges that anchor the kitchen on the third floor. But on Saturday night, the entire complex was transformed into an extravaganza that not only made your palate crave the intricate art of food sampling from some of the Valley’s best chefs and restaurants, but the theme- a bit circus, a bit costume, a bit French,- made your heart sign with romance for the lifestyle of food and wine.
The casual elegance was nothing to ignore. Costumed artisan entertainers, swinging high above the 1000 guests, performed art in the sky, while chefs created art on plates. Whether gazing above, grazing below, or just watching as the costumed attendees flirted with a substantial array of appetizers, the night was flamboyant. The Lamb Chops from the Napa Valley Wine Train took top honors among the crowd as the presentation station was packed with those mingling in an attempt to score an entire rack. And, whether a one chop taste, or a possible plate of the tender, perfectly prepared chops, the crowd hovered around the Wine Train table before moving upstairs to the stationed styled dinner in the CIA´s fabulous kitchen.
The highlight of the entire festival, aside from the many events, are the blooms that turn the green valley floor yellow from now until the middle of April. Each weekend, the yellow mustard becomes more vibrant- washing away the winter blues- and reminding us that spring is almost here.
For restaurant owners, it is a great time to bring the valued condiment- mustard into the forefront and on to your menu. Often taken for granted, it is something to build on. Having lived in the deli capital of the world where New Yorkers look at mustard as a sacred sauce, and then moving to Minnesota where a naked bratwurst without mustard is like peanut butter without jelly, I have come to be somewhat of an aficionado.
I love Beaverton Mustard. It´s available in a variety of flavors and is perfect on a cold pork roast sandwich. Oakville Grocery in Oakville, that small hamlet in Napa Valley, also does a great job with mustards. Their stout and shallot mustard is hearty and their roasted balsamic and onion mustard is the perfect condiment for any meal or sandwich.
And, although there are hundreds of different flavors of mustard, most people choose one brand and stick with it, but change those habits, begin an adventure.
It may be the perfect time of year to have your own mustard festival. Snow bound folk in the heartland certainly can’t go out back and pick any mustard, but you can certainly go to a gourmet store in you neighborhood and peruse the selections available, lightly stock up on a dozen styles or so and throw a party that nobody else has done.
Mustard lends itself to hearty winterized foods as well as the summer sausage in a bun. Lamb encrusted with mustard, pork loin with a mustard sauce, or one of the delightful fish dishes that I enjoyed Saturday evening, prepared in the CIA kitchen, Baked Sturgeon with a mustard creme fraiche was wonderful combination.
Take a look at the Mustard Festival’s web site, www.mustardfestival.org, and I am sure you’ll be inspired to host a mustard festival party.
And, if you don’t have a restaurant yet- because your still searching for that rocket-ship location, and that perfect landlord, and that one bank that will lend you the money to go to the dice table, don’t worry, host the party at your house. You could have a great time and attract a few people that may want to go into partnership on that restaurant you constantly dream of.
Of course the other alternative is to book a flight, pack some clothes, fly to Napa and enjoy the real thing. It continues through March.