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Sun Valley Food and Wine Festival Brims with Energy and Over the Top Bites
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Sunday, March 12, 2023
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

Brittany Rescigno’s competition came out flashing a big gold champion’s belt buckle bigger than anything on the rodeo circuit as the “Tournament of Champions” got underway with 32 chefs vying to be top chef.

But Rescigno didn’t flinch as the prize fight got underway for the Food Network’s Sunday night show. Nor did she flinch when a spin of the Randomizer wheel landed on eggs and lima beans.

“I love eggs and I figured I could make a ragout stew with lima beans. That popped in my head immediately and I never went anywhere else,” said Rescigno, who had a half-hour to come up with a dish.

She ended up with a lima bean ragout atop garlic toast with a poached egg covered in basil-flavored hollandaise sauce in something reminiscent of Eggs Benedict. She served it with a side of crispy-style potatoes. And she beat that belt buckle-boasting chef in the first round.

Rescigno and James Beard Award-winner Jonathon Sawyer were fresh off their “Tournament of Champions” as they headlined the inaugural Sun Valley Food and Wine Festival with two other award-winning chefs last week. Sawyer’s round was still under wraps until it aired on TV.

The energy and friendship they had cultivated on that TV show set the tone for the Festival, even during a friendly competition showing Festival attendees how to make chicken wings.

“To wow someone, you have to get all the flavors on your tongue—acid, sweet…” said Sawyer as he showed attendees how he torches peppers to peel them and give them a smoky flavor without the texture of skin.

The Sun Valley’ Culinary Institute’s inaugural Food and Wine Festival rocked with energy as a sold-out crowd of food gourmands showed up for a cocktail party, dinner at Trail Creek Cabin, two cooking classes and other events in what was a fundraiser for the Sun Valley Culinary Institute’s professional chef’s program.

“I think it’s important to bring a culinary experience with celebrated chiefs to a community that truly believes in a wonderful food experience,” said Culinary Institute Director Karl Johan Uri. “This is a small group of people coming together enjoying food, enjoying wine.”

The chefs enjoyed the opportunity to ski world-famous Sun Valley Resort when they weren’t prepping. And many of those in their audience enjoyed the opportunity to come off the ski hill into a venue where tasty hors d’oeuvres took the chill off the day.

Attendees bantered back and forth throwing questions at Rescigno and Sawyer as if they were playing catch, laughing as the two told stories about kitchen mishaps and the concoctions they come up with for themselves at midnight when their day’s work is done.

“The way they talk about food makes your mouth water,” said Carrie Morrow. “I love the educational aspects of these demonstrations.”

Rescigno shared how she grew up in a small New Jersey town 10 minutes away from a vineyard where champagne grapes are grandfathered in. Her grandparents’ seafood restaurant was next door and she often awakened to the aroma of chowder.

“I just fell in love with the restaurant business. It’s never work for me,” she said.

Her family didn’t want her to become a chef because, they said, chefs never have a personal life. But she went on to build her own restaurant and a homemade pasta and sauce business that takes Instagram orders.

She recently gave up her restaurant to create pop up dinners and take part in events like the Oregon Brewers Festival and the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in Miami Beach.

“It was crazy. There were thousands of people there and a hundred chefs there. And every dinner I fixed was for a hundred-plus people,” she recounted

The Sun Valley Food and Wine Festival, by contrast, is quaint and intimate, she said.

“We’re in front of people and they get to know about us and ask questions of it. I love how very personal it is.”

Sawyer played bass in an orchestra for 10 years before pursuing his passion with food.

He wrote the book “Noodle Kids” to give parents ideas for cooking with their kids, as he’s done with his own. The book includes such recipes as Grilled Ramen and Cheese, Chilled Soba and Seaweeds Salad and Ricotta Gnocchi with Squash and Garlic Sauce. It also contains ideas for soups and slurps and how to throw a ramen party.

“It’s about arming kids with the knowledge to eat well the rest of their lives,” he said.

Sawyer wrote “House of Vinegar: The Power of Sour” based on his personal interest in creating flavored vinegars before crafted vinegars before an in thing.

“There’s a science to sour. You need a balance, and it makes your taste buds more receptive to taste, he said.

Ethan Stowell, a “Food & Wine” Best New Chef, said one of the latest trends in the food industry has nothing to do with who’s a cool chief or what the latest food trend is.

“We’re shifting our focus to the people who work for us and how we can have happy employees. We went through a lot of turmoil during the pandemic and people began realizing how important those who serve their food are. So, we’re looking at things like employee insurance, giving them time to have a life outside of the restaurant. We want to say: We take care of you.”

Sawyer concurred: “Post pandemic I don’t let my chefs work more than five days. You choose to be a chef. You’re not forced to be a chef.”

Manijeh Brueggeman, who returned from a trip exploring Turkish food a week before the earthquake, said she loved the adventure that a Food and Wine Festival offered.

“And how often do you get to talk to such incredible chefs, find out who they are and why they do what they do?” said Caitlin Gardner.

John and Amie O’Shaughnessy, who are newcomers to Ketchum, thought the festival would be a good way to meet others.

“Plus, I have a travel agency so it’s good to see what’s available for my clients,” Amie O’Shaughnessy said.

Jack and Sandy McCullough were among those sponsoring a chef. “We’re honored to support the Institute. They’re on the ground doing good work,” said Sandy McCullough.

Uri said the festival will return March 6-9, 2024.

“And there will be more pieces to it,” he promised.

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