James Beard Foundation Presents Taste America: San Francisco

The James Beard Foundation brought its fifth annual Taste America tour to San Francisco on October 27 at the Fairmont Hotel in the affluent Nob Hill area. Attendees were dressed to the nines as they congregated in the hotel's famous Venetian Room to sample hors d'oeuvres prepared by local chefs before heading to the banquet hall to enjoy a four-course meal and a rousing auction benefitting the James Beard Scholarship Fund, efforts to revive wine country, and local businesses.

The night began with a tasty selection of reception hors d'oeuvres by local chefs David Barzelay of Lazy Bear, Val Cantu of Californios, Mourad Lahlou of Mourad, Melissa Perello of Octavia, Evan Rich of Rich Table, and host chef Oscar Gonzalez of the Fairmont San Francisco. Dishes like Cantu's much sought-after lobster tacos and Gonzalez's spring lamb birria with hominy, chicatanas, and salsa roja reflected the rich bevy of Mexican-inspired food culture in the Bay Area and the high caliber of chefs in San Francisco that can execute these dishes perfectly.

A personal favorite was the aged lamb tartare with Osetra caviar and crackers from Lahlou. The flavorful snack seemed to vanish from the table every time a fresh one was set down. (Luckily, this editor has two hands and could sneak multiple tartare crackers away to her table. For her guest, of course.)

Sponsors Kerrygold, Blue Circle Foods, and the Caviar Co. also had stations set up in the enormous room to serve assorted cheeses and bites, some of which were created by James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award winner Nora Pouillon.

The delicious four-course dinner was prepared by James Beard Award winner Hugh Acheson of Five & Ten in Athens, Georgia, and local James Beard Award winners Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski of State Bird Provisions and The Progress. The elaborate meals were expertly paired with wines from Chile and Napa Valley.

One of the most stunning dishes served was the grilled Snake River Farms wagyu New York strip steak with stewed wheatberries and chestnuts, served with broccoli leaf kimchi, charred leeks, and a beef-fat vinaigrette. The beef itself melted in your mouth, and the broccoli leaf kimchi was practically addictive.

Throughout the meal guests participated in an auction that boasted prizes such as personally prepared meals from San Francisco chefs, weekend getaways to Chicago, and a Napa winery prize (whose sale price the James Beard Foundation matched in the form of a donation to the rebuilding efforts in wine country.)

A portion of the evening's proceeds also went towards the James Beard Foundation's Taste America Scholarship Fund, which provides funding for aspiring culinary professionals to pursue educational opportunities. Learn more about the James Beard Foundation and Taste America.