Great Gourmet Getaway

"All alliterations aside," my Tahoe weekend was a frenzy for food fanatics!  We arrived at the Hyatt Lake Tahoe on Thursday evening, much to our surprise, to a couple of bottles of sparkling and still water, a platter of Point Reyes cheese, figs, dried pears, vanilla cashews and lavosh, and an iced bucket of champagne on our private deck.  As the host hotel for the 2013 Rymark International Meeting and Incentive Summit, the Hyatt on the north shore of Lake Tahoe was off to a stunning start!  The room was gloriously spacious with gray-washed wood flooring and headboard, mountain-style plaid carpet, and a dazzling marble bathroom.  A perfect place to rest for the culinary coup d'état occurring the next day!  

On Friday morning, I had an event walk-through with the talented Todd Disbrow, acting as the Master of Ceremonies for the evening, and the oh-so-gracious Christina Stevens from Destination Services Corporation.  All soup cook-off plans in place and all 5 dozen Ski Town Soups cookbooks signed, we were able to gallivant along the north coast of Lake Tahoe for the afternoon. We drove to Gar Woods and walked the pier, afterward treating ourselves for lunch. We enjoyed the scrumptious Bom-Basil-Berry cocktail and the sweet, creamy, velvety Shrimp & Lobster Bisque (featured on page 100 of the Ski Town Soups cookbook).  We also had a chance to visit our newest retail partner - Panache, Tahoe's boutique in Incline Village.

On Friday evening, as I entered the beautiful room for the "Iron Chef Tahoe" debut, I was immediately impressed with the impeccable transformation of the already welcoming room design. The Hyatt staff, Rymark team, and DSC group aimed to host a memorable event - complete with farm trestle tables covered with wildflowers and potted herbs as centerpieces, a large center table with the freshest and more desirable ingredients available (including, but not limited to, pheasant, lobster, shrimp, clams, prosciutto, and ribeye steaks), and 10 soup-cooking stations with Le Creuset dutch ovens.

To kick-off the event, Todd introduced the rules and gave go-ahead to the teams for their "quick fire" challenge. If you are familiar with Bravo's Top Chef (on which, two of the Ski Town Soups chefs have competed - Chef Kelly Liken and Chef Traci Des Jardins), you know that these challenges are fast ones: teams had to name the 3 herbs presented on each table. Once the first team answered correctly, the 40-minute clock started for the soup cook-off.  Todd exclaimed, "Ala Cuisine", which in Iron Chef-lingo means, "Begin"!

Only manned with the ingredients (prepared and measured), the teams had to determine a game plan in order to most properly and palette-pleasingly develop the flavors of the soup.  Each of the 10 teams were given a different soup recipe from the Ski Town Soups cookbook: Award-Winning Chart House Clam Chowder from Mammoth MountainFreshies Vegetarian Tofu Chili from Heavenly, Kabocha Squash Soup from Manazanita in Northstar, Shrimp & Lobster Bisque from Gar Woods by Northstar, Beer Cheese & Jalapeno Sausage Soup from Full Belly Deli by Northstar, Manhattan Clam Chowder from Plumpjack Cafe near Squaw Valley, Pheasant Soup by Alexander's at High Camp in Squaw Valley, Rosemary Chicken & Mushroom Soup from LouLa's in Whitefish, Montana, Beef & Barley Stew from Merry-Go-Round in Aspen Highlands, and Mad River Chili from the East Coast at Mad River Glen.  And, as this was a team-building competition, judging criteria needed to be in-place for determining the most satisfying sip of liquid comfort:  50 points for taste, 20 points for execution (which entailed preparation and overall presentation), and 30 points for teamwork.

The esteemed judges were, none other than, Brian Lang - Director of Catering & Convention Services for Hyatt, David Lockard - Director of Food & Beverage for Hyatt, Chef Glen - Hyatt Banquet Chef, and me.  All the soups (if I do say so myself), were exceptionally good - some teams even doctored the soups from the pantry and the bar.  But, the execution absolutely captured my enthusiasm, teams rolled-out the red carpet for the judges: pairing each soup with wine, champagne or whisky, arranging place settings for each judge, tucking $20 bills under the napkins as a tongue-in-cheek bribe, and mainly living up to the "hospitality industry" namesake.

Ultimately, after searching the 10 perfect bites: the Award-Winning Clam Chowder from Chart House in Mammoth Lakes won, by 1 point out of 400.  The Shrimp & Lobster Bisque from Gar Woods came in second place. And, Manzanita's Kabocha Squash Soup received the bronze.  From the "buzz" around the room, I certainly believe that Full Belly Deli's Beer Cheese soup was the "People's Choice".

On Saturday, Ross and I hiked along a trail outside Kings Beach, which overlooked the beautiful mountain lake. We also traveled to Northstar to visit Full Belly Deli, pictured above with the chef and owner, Tom Marrin.

We enjoyed lunch at Manzanita at the Ritz Carlton, and I delighted in the wedge salad with buttermilk dressing, bacon, tomato, pickled red onion, and blue cheese crumbles and a delicious, hot cheese flatbread with kalamata olives.

And for our last culinary indulgence, we enjoyed a short walk to the Incline Village beach and dined at Lone Eagle Grill.  I started with a living butter lettuce salad with sun-dried tomato, boiled farm egg, pickled shallots and Shaft's blue cheese cream.  I finished the evening with a Brandt Beef filet mignon with watercress puree and bearnaise rouge and Winnemucca potato gratin with white cheddar, gruyere, and nutmeg.

I believe I need another hike!

Jennie Iverson
Jennie Iverson


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