Gamble at the Barona Valley Ranch Resort & Casino and you might well notice that, although attendants hand out free coffee, there’s not a drop of alcohol to be seen.
From what I understand, the casino’s neighbors complained that alcohol and the winding roads leading to Barona didn’t mix, and so now the place is basically dry. No alcohol is allowed in public spaces, except for the steakhouse. You can drink at private events, like the National Pork Board’s Taste of Elegance, provided you have a wrist band indicating that you can, and in your room, but that’s about it.
We had been warned about this, and so before going to San Diego I filled my hip flask with good bourbon.
That turned out not to be necessary as the pork board had arranged for alcohol service, because they know better than to get between chefs and their alcohol.
I really like the chefs at this type of event: mostly unpretentious, good-natured, bright folks from mostly Midwestern communities with whose culinary scenes I am not as familiar as I should be.
The New York chef community is close-knit, so imagine how it is in cities like Indianapolis and Minneapolis.
In this picture, on the left we have Rebecca Peizer from Las Vegas and Todd McDunn from Columbus, Ohio, and on the right we have Brandon Hamilton. You might recognize them from the blog entry below, as they were all competitors in the Taste of Elegance. But next to Brandon is Abbi Merriss, who, like Brandon, had received a culinary scholarship in Indiana and came to San Diego to help him. Isn’t that nice?
In the next picture, we have chefs Francisco Vintimilla and Tony Beran, but who’s that guy in the middle, wearing the sport coat? Why, that’s Mark Otto, a French-trained chef from Minneapolis who decided to have a wife, family, an income and reasonable work hours, and became an accountant. But he came out to San Diego to cook with Tony.
I put my camera down and spent much of the official after-party hanging out with Michigan chefs Jake Robinson and Dave Rensi, along with Jake’s little brother, who also cooks in Ann Arbor, and some other guy who’s relation to the other Michiganders I didn’t catch, but he seemed nice enough. How long, we wondered, do you have to stay at a job you don’t like for it not to look bad on your résumé?
Then toward the end I fell in with the Minnesotans and Hoosiers and ended up in one of their rooms for the first hotel room party I’d attended for quite awhile. It felt very college, or maybe high school.
They had vodka, rum, tequila and basic mixers, but I passed around my bourbon flask, too, and we talked about many things, including how competitions shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
Really, they shouldn’t. I’ve judged enough of them to know that opinions vary, votes can go many ways, and the results should in no way reflect your opinion of yourself — it says more about the judges than the competitors. I think that’s especially true in the final round of judging. Getting nominated for something, or making it to the finals, indicates you’ve crossed a certain hurdle, but the final results quite often are a crap shoot.
So, imagine that discussion, but add tequila and bourbon.
As the Minnesotans drifted off I ended up grilling Brandon and another Hoosier, John Adams, sous chef at L'Explorateur in Indianopolis, about chefs I should be paying attention to in their state.
Their list: Neal Brown (John's Boss), Greg Hardesty, Regina Mehallick and, in Bloomington, David Tallent.