As the BNP Wraps Up This Weekend, Memories From Taste of Tennis Lingers

Written By: Quintan Valles Taste of Tennis
Photography Provided By: Taste of Tennis

Foodies and tennis fans gathered poolside on March 6 for the inaugural Taste of Tennis event in anticipation of the BNP Paribas Open. Hosted by the elegant, palm tree studded Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort & Spa, the Taste of tennis is like a swanky backyard barbecue where tennis fans can brush shoulders with their favorite players while grubbing on gourmet treats prepared by world-renowned chefs and the hottest restaurants in the Coachella Valley. This event marks the beginning of the tennis tournament that is scheduled to take place March 6-19 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

So, let’s get things straight, we have fancy foods, tennis players, and a classy hotel? Oh yeah, we are definitely all about that life. We put our summer bod diet plans on hold and paid a visit to this tasty little shindig. Because let’s face it, our guts will never be as tight as those on our rackets.

The night’s mouth-watering spread ranged from sushi to milkshakes and there were plenty of notable athletic faces to be seen like Sam Querrey, Johanna Konta and Taylor Fritz. The combination of master chefs and tennis athletes might seem odd at first, but it’s a spirit of philanthropy that brings the two together.

Yes, it is not just our bellies that benefit from this unique event, but more importantly the two charities that seek to make a real difference in the community. United Way of The Desert and Aceing Autism are beneficiaries of the culinary inspired night that uses our love for flavor and sports to create change.

As James Beard award recipient and the night’s headlining chef Jonathan Waxman put it, “Altruism is a great thing and chefs love to give back. And to be able to do that through tennis is kind of perfect.” Jonathan is both a master of the culinary arts and a lover of the sport, “I love playing tennis and I’ve always been a huge fan of tennis. To have contact with all the pros and raise money for an amazing cause, well, it doesn’t get any better than that,” he said while preparing his table for a cooking demonstration alongside Sam Querrey to showcase a new dish.

“Tonight I’m making gnocchi with asparagus, herbs, garlic, Dungeness crab and uni. We are also doing a crab crostini with macadamia nuts, ginger, lime, a little sesame oil and coconut milk on a freshly grilled baguette; sounds good doesn’t it?” said Jonathan with a hearty laugh. Jonathan likes to keep his cooking progressive by using both fresh ingredients and fresh ideas. “I don’t like doing old things. I’ve actually never made this before. Chefs need to always challenge themselves,” he remarked as he grabbed bunch of fresh Thai basil and encouraged everyone to take a whiff. “Isn’t that beautiful?” he asked with a warm smile.

In regards to the James Beard award, Jonathan views it as a remarkable point in his career, “Being acknowledged by your peers as one of the best of what you do is pretty spectacular. New York is the hardest market for any chef. There’s 35,000 restaurants in New York City alone, so if you’ve been voted the best out of those 35,000, I don’t think it gets any better than that. I felt that winning that award was a culmination of a career and after that, things now get easier,” he said with an air of contentment.

When we asked about some of his favorite Palm Springs restaurants, Jonathan noted Catalan Mediterranean Cuisine in Rancho Mirage as a noteworthy stop. So, on his recommendation we decided to head over to Catalan’s table to see what was cooking.

As the sun went down, the cool desert night air was filled with the wafting aromas of foods from a variety of different cultures. There in the midst of the lively crowd was Chef Drew Davis form Catalan Mediterranean Cuisine hovering over a giant paella pan from heaven filled with Spanish octopus, purple potatoes, garlic, Fresno chili, smoked paprika and herbs that sizzled as he carefully stirred and seasoned. Just across the way from Catalan was cutting edge cocktail crafter Chad Austin from Bootlegger Tiki in Palm Springs serving up a lip smacking beverage they call Short Shorts made with a tasty mix of Pineapple Rum, Thai chili infused mezcal, Campari, coconut, lime, cinnamon and grapefruit liqueur.

And speaking of Thai Chili, celebrity chef Andy Ricker of Pok Pok LA was there to set your taste buds ablaze with an exciting traditional Thai plate. Andy Ricker who is a two-time James Beard award winner and a real MVP in the Thai cuisine game, was excited to showcase the unique flavors of Thailand, “I think this is a really good event,” said Andy. “It’s nice to be out here in the desert and introduce some of the food we do to folks that might not necessarily have a chance try it otherwise.” While the hollow clunking noise of wooden pestles thudding against mortars in which his crew muddled a mixture of herbs and chili’s sounded in the background.

“We have two dishes, one is called Laap Isaan, which is a minced duck salad. It’s got duck breast we chop by hand with this crazy knife,” chuckled Andy as he held up what resembled a small machete. “There’s also some offal like duck heart, liver and skin that gets boiled and added to it. We cook the duck and the offal and season it with fish sauce, lime juice and a little sugar. We also make a mixture of aromatics with lemon grass, lime leaf, dried chilies, mint, cilantro and rice powder, which adds texture, flavor and smell.”

Those zesty aromatics and the irregular beats of the clunking pestles made Andy’s table like a little piece of Thailand. “We are also doing a papaya salad called Som Tam, and that’s just green papaya made in a mortar and pestle with palm sugar, lime, fish sauce—the indispensable seasoning for Thai food—chilies, garlic and peanuts. It’s a really healthy, bright, vibrant and spicy salad,” explained Andy.

Andy was aware of the adventurous nature of the meals he was preparing but wanted to create an experience of Thai cuisine that was as educational as it was flavorful, “ I don’t expect everyone to like it, but I hope that even those that don’t like it are at least intrigued,” he said. And intrigued we were as the dishes prepared by Andy were an explosion of flavors, both of which left the tingle of spice on the palette. Good thing the folks from Crater Lake Vodka were not too far away to cool our tongues with a refreshing craft cocktail.

So, whether you are a tennis fan or you just like to eat, add the Taste of Tennis to your list of must-do desert festivities. Just remember, keep your waistband loose, your racket tight and practice that topspin; unfortunately, just watching tennis won’t burn off as many of those gourmet calories as playing it.

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Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort & Spa
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There IS Love in Tennis, and Food, of Course