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A Voyage Through Palm Desert’s Gourmet Dining

Written by: Dr. Paula Trimble-Familetti Palm Desert Food and Wine
Photos By:Yasin Chaudhry

What an elegant production! The roof of the parking structure at The Gardens on El Paseo had been magically transformed into an elegant lounge with crystal chandeliers, comfortable conversation seating, a sophisticated bar, and a garden courtyard complete with sparkling fountains. Past the courtyard, stood a tent with the capacity to shelter 3,000 people. Twenty-two tables were set to feed a gourmet lunch to more than 300 diners and this was just the first day of the three-day, seventh annual, Palm Desert Food and Wine at the Gardens on El Paseo.

Walking into the courtyard guests were greeted with a flute of sparkling champagne. Inside, each table was elegantly set with four wine glasses, each appropriate for the wine being served, a water goblet, and flatware for a four-course lunch.

The James Beard Luncheon is a wonderful celebration of food driven wine pairings, coupled with philanthropy in the Coachella Valley. The money raised for financial aid is given annually to celebrate, nurture, and honor chefs across the culinary industry. Every Palm Desert Food and Wine ticket purchased provided 35 meals to the FIND Food Bank.

The luncheon featured four renowned chefs. Each chef prepared, on stage, the course being served to the enthusiastic and appreciative diners. People were served delicious, hot, fragrant, beautifully presented food, simultaneously. A team of happy, friendly, well organized volunteers served food, filled water goblets, and whisked away plates.

Each chef was assisted by a student from the culinary programs at Rancho Mirage High School or La Quinta High School. Gale Gand, two-time James Beard Award winner, prepared bacon-wrapped, shrimp-stuffed sweet pepper on a bed of polenta. What is the magic chefs possess that can make such a simple dish so utterly delicious?

Tory McPhail’s turtle soup was as luscious as it was unique. McPhail, from New Orleans, assured the diners that the turtles were farm raised, not endangered, and were, “Nasty little fellows that would get you if they could,”

The main course, prepared by Chef Casey Thompson, was also quite unique. “Pork cheek is the muscle right under the eye that gets exercise when the pig smiles,” she said. She encouraged home cooks to get excited about trying new things and fabulous ingredients with deep flavors.

Before dessert, diners were treated to Chef Zac Young strutting down the catwalk in a pink tutu. His playful take on an American dessert, Frozen Strawberry S’Mores, was served interactively, meaning family style. Each course of this sensational meal was paired with an exceptional wine designed to bring out the nuances of food.

On Saturday morning, the elegant lounge, dining room, and courtyard had been transformed into two grand tasting tents and an outdoor barbecue. Demonstration tents flanked the perimeter where chefs displayed the preparation of signature dishes. On this day, instead of the flute of champagne, guests were presented with the world’s best lanyard. In place of the plastic sleeve for a name card was a plastic collar to hold a wine glass. The operation was so seamless that most guests were unaware of the massive effort needed to make the Palm Desert Food and Wine event a success.

Palm Desert Food and Wine
Take a Trip Through the Delicious Fare of Palm Desert