South Shore chefs are busy chopping, boiling, braising and baking in the kitchen this week as they prepare for Sample the Sierra on Sunday.
Sample the Sierra, now in its fourth year, is an annual culinary festival that pairs El Dorado County wineries and growers with local restaurants to celebrate local food. Local artists set up booths to show and sell their work, and live music is performed throughout the event.
Organizers have made some improvements this year, according to TahoeChamber spokeswoman Jessica Cunningham. Last year, people raised concerns about the lines, so organizers changed the layout of the festival this year to provide a better flow, she said.
“We’ve interspersed the food booths with artist booths to help alleviate some of the lines,” she said.
This year’s lineup includes 12 wineries, two breweries, two distilleries, 16 local restaurants, 16 produce growers and 23 artists. The breweries and distilleries are new to the event.
The Sierra Chef Challenge is also back for its second year. Due to the success of last year’s challenge, organizers decided to add a third chef to the competition.
Executive Chef Peter Brinckerhoff was chopping vegetables Thursday for the sauce he plans to make for the braised short ribs Riva Grill will serve at the event.
He said the idea for the competition came from the Food Network show “Chopped,” in which four chefs have a mystery box of ingredients they must include in their dishes. The chefs operate under a time limit, and judges award points based on the food they’re served by each chef. The chefs in the Sierra Chef Challenge will have 45 minutes to make a dish that includes the mystery ingredients. They must cook and plate the dish themselves before handing it to the judges.
“Mystery box competitions have been around as long as I can think of,” Brinckerhoff said. “Since we’re doing it on the street, each chef can bring three items from his restaurant to use.”
Brinckerhoff said he was part of the event’s organizing committee for two years before suggesting the challenge, which he said seemed like “a natural progression.”
“Chefs are arrogant and like to say they’re better than everybody,” Brinckerhoff said. “It gives them an opportunity to show it.”
networking and exposure
One benefit local businesses say they get from participating in Sample the Sierra is networking with growers and wineries in the area.
“The underlying goal was to see wineries get picked up and we’re starting to see local wines on local menus,” TahoeChamber events coordinator Emily Abernathy said.
Primo’s Italian Bistro owner Jim Primo, who will participate for the second time, said he has brought in wines from wineries that participated at the event to serve as flights in his restaurant to introduce customers to local wines. He said he also enjoys the exposure the event gives his business.
“It’s a big mix of a lot of locals and tourists coming into the area,” he said. “Some (people) come in (to the restaurant) on that day, some come in just randomly and say, ‘I saw you at Sample the Sierra.”
Bumgarner Winery of Camino, Calif., will be participating for its third year. Winemaker Brian Bumgarner said people have visited his winery on their way home from the festival.
“Tahoe is in our backyard and we have lot of regular customers up there,” Bumgarner said. “A lot of people, especially visitors up there, may not be aware that there are wineries right in their backyard, less than an hour away. There are 60 wineries in El Dorado that they can visit. In addition to local exposure, it supports local restaurants that support us. Having a venue to get in front of a bunch of tourists during one of the last vacation weekends up in Tahoe is really good.”