Sly's Seafood, Steaks, Cocktails

Steak, Seafood, Cocktails

Hearst Castle hosts an evening of fine dining (August 1, 2009)

Part of the Central Coast Wine Classic, the annual event benefits the arts in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties

It was a bit like Brigadoon, a musical about a Scottish town appearing for a day and then disappearing for 100 years, then reappearing for another day. But the “Dinner at Hearst Castle” has only a year between appearances. And the food is better.

The dinner was part of the Central Coast Wine Classic, an annual event benefiting the arts in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. The event centers on wine and includes seminars, tastings, auctions, luncheons and dinners. It raises hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The most unusual aspect of the program is the kickoff dinner on the terrace below the foot of Hearst Castle. The surroundings were astonishing. The castle towered over the scene, basking in the sun by day and beautifully lit at night. Below was the Neptune Pool, white and azure. In the distance were the Santa Lucia hills.

But at dawn, the terrace — like the site of Brigadoon — was empty. Then a large pole tent and state-of-the-art kitchen equipment of every kind arrived, in addition to the periphery equipment necessary to use them, including lights, electric generators and propane tanks.

By 11 a.m., the tent was up and the equipment in place. By noon, crews arrived to start setting up the guest tables and chairs, testing and placing the outdoor heaters (it gets cool after sunset), testing and placing large light poles (each table has its own spotlight), and unwrapping and polishing hundreds of plates, glasses, napkins, knives, forks, spoons, etc.

Others started work in the kitchen: slicing, dicing, shelling, cracking, mincing, stirring and piping — all activities necessary to create a world-class dinner. For more than 200 people.

Shortly after noon, most of the guest chefs began arriving from all over the country.

James Sly of Sly’s in Carpinteria was the coordinating chef. He arrived early. As did Michael Hutchings of Michael’s Catering in Santa Barbara. (He prepared six exotic appetizers.) This year’s guest chefs included Michel Richard of Citronelle in Washington, D.C., and local Frank Ostini of Hitching Post II in Buellton. Other guest chefs were Cal Stamenov of Bernardus, Ian McPhee of McPhee’s and Wilhelm Hoppe of Hoppe’s.

The dinner, as you might expect, was fabulous. The appetizers, served at the Neptune Pool with Cristal champagne, included a Gruyere cheese puff with a truffle cream filling (which Chef Michael made that morning with fresh summer truffles); a “BLT” with foie gras substituted for the bacon; venison on a fork; and a Nicoise salad on a spoon.

After appetizers, the guests moved to the dining area, overlooking the pool, where this year they were served a chilled tomato soup, abalone, duck salad and a filet — in separate courses with coordinating accompaniments. All were paired with appropriate wines, many local, including ABC, Qupe, Hitching Post and Margerum. There were 13 wines served at dinner, not counting the champagne. Then guests enjoyed the cheese course and dessert.

After the guests left, the facility breakdown began. By 1 a.m., the terrace was again vacant. Just like Brigadoon.

The Santa Barbara beneficiaries for this year’s event included the Community Youth Performing Arts Center of Santa Barbara, the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, the Friendship Adult Day Care Center of Santa Barbara, KCBX Public Radio and Los Padres Forest Watch of Santa Barbara.

Noozhawk contributor Bob Dickey is a local photojournalist with Wine & Dine magazine. He can be reached at

Source: Bob Dickey, Noozhawk