“Did you hear the good news about Pelican Hill Resort?’ I asked Chris as I breezed into the office.
“What’s that?” he inquired, turning around from his desk.
I paused for dramatic effect.
“I’m very proud to say that Pelican Hill has been named the Number One Resort in the United States in Conde Nast Traveler’s 2011 Reader’s Choice Awards,” I said excitedly.
“Wow, that’s a huge honor and well deserved,” Chris replied. “But it doesn’t surprise me – they’re a Five Diamond destination for a reason.”
“Yes, and the reason Pelican Hill continues to be recognized and honored with awards is because they think outside the box,” I added, reaching into my briefcase and handing Chris a sheet of paper. “Just look at this list of Pelican Hill fall packages, seasonal events and holiday entertaining ideas. The Fall Epicurean Experiences they’ve designed for guests are unbelievable.”
“Hmmm … the Festa Dell’Autunno on Saturday, Oct. 29, does indeed sound incredible,” Chris read. “It says here that in celebration of its second annual olive harvest, the Resort will present a one-day “autumn festival” featuring traditional Italian foods, wine tasting, live music, street painting artists, Motori Italiani automobile exhibitions, an espresso lounge, and an olive oil pressing demonstration.”
“Keep reading about the Festa weekend offers,” I encouraged.
“Alright,” Chris continued. “They have an Olive Oil Savor Tasting menu and a White Truffle menu, as well as a Bungalow & Breakfast package, Golf & Spa package, and the Ranch-to-Kitchen ‘Hands On’ Harvest Package.”
“That last one piques my interest,” I confessed. “To join Executive Chef Jean-Pierre Dubray on his weekly pilgrimage to shop for organic fruits and vegetables at Irvine Ranch, then participate in workshops in the pasta room or gelato laboratory, and finally enjoy an intimate dinner where dining without utensils is encouraged, sounds fantastic.”
“I think you should definitely do that one,” Chris nodded.
“Well, I can’t decide between that or the Chef’s Fall Culinary Academy.”
“A tough choice,” Chris agreed.
“I know,” I sighed. “Both Executive Chef Dubray and Andrea Chef du Cuisine Luca Cesarini are leading a series of hands-on classes featuring distinct menus paired with wines that take place in one of their luxurious villa kitchens.”
“I have a solution,” Chris offered.
“Pelican Hill has an academy class we can attend in advance. Let’s go.”
“Alright!” I exclaimed.
“That was easy,” Chris laughed.
We arrived at Pelican Hill and were escorted to one of the villas. Upon entry, the sweeping view of the ocean and grounds soon became secondary—the focal point shifting to Executive Chef Jean-Pierre Dubray, who was setting up for the evening’s class.
Seated around the counter, guests sipped champagne as Dubray pointed out various specialty items, spices, herbs, and produce he was using to create the four-course menu.
His instructions were often punctuated by humorous anecdotes from his years of cooking and personal experiences.
“For our first course, I am preparing Dayboat Scallops on a bed of Sweet Corn Purée with Pine Nut Gremolata,” Dubray stated as he shaved sweet white corn kernels off the cob. “When I first arrived in California, 31 years ago, I opened La Vie En Rose in Brea. Someone told me to put corn on the menu and I said, ‘Are you kidding?’”
Dubray placed the corn in a blender, puréeing it to a perfect consistency, and continued his story.
“In France, at that time, corn was grown to feed animals. I never grew up eating corn as a kid. I refused to eat it. Now, I love it and my kids love it, too,” he grinned.
We sat entranced as Dubray seared the scallops, heated the corn purée, prepared the Pine Nut Gremolata and created culinary magic – all the while entertaining us with lively conversation.
“You make it look all too easy, Chef,” one of the guests remarked.
“When you use fresh produce and keep it simple, it is easy,” Dubray smiled.
Throughout the evening there was much laughter and earnest questions answered. When we finally sat down to dinner under an umbrella-shaded table on the veranda, our appetites were whetted with anticipation.
After the Dayboat Scallop appetizer, the dinner consisted of Irvine Ranch Heirloom Tomato Salad with Avocado, Buffalo Mozzarella, Balsamic Vinaigrette and Crunchy Shallots, Pan Seared Jidori Chicken with Oregon Chanterelles and Bean Ragout, and finally Sautéed Peach, Vanilla Gelato, Lavender Meringue and chocolates. Each course was paired with an exceptional wine.
As we departed Pelican Hill, satiated and content, I turned to Chris and the other guests.
“I think I’ll be signing up for the rest of the series,” I said emphatically. “Anyone else?”
It was a unanimous, “Yes!”
For more information on Pelican Hill Resort’s celebration of their Fall Olive Harvest including the Festa Dell’Autunno, Saturday Oct. 29, Art & Olive Tours, the Chef’s Fall Culinary Academy beginning Nov. 4, Fall Epicurean Experiences, Weekend Packages, and seasonal Spa Treatments, go to www.pelicanhill.com. Reservations may be arranged by calling 800-820-6800.