Food & Wine Experience of Blue Sky Fest offers best of both, and music, too


It’s a blue sky day.
In Mammoth that means mountains in clear relief against a cobalt sky, lakes and rivers that sparkle and rush.

And it’s Saturday: Day 2 of the Blue Sky Fest, spread out around and adjacent to the grounds of Cerro Coso College.

The newest facet of this festival is the Blue Sky Experience – a cooking competition; seminars on wine and food pairings, complete with demonstrations; 20 wineries pouring exquisite tastings; and a live auction – all wrapped up in music by City Folk, Strunz and Farah, Vance Gilbert and the Tito Puente, Jr. Orchestra.

An experience it will be, according to the chefs and wineries who will bring their best recipes and vintages to the Blue Sky Food & Wine Experience.

Outdoor cooking competition
Saturday afternoon at 4:30 wine tasting begins around the perimeter of the Blue Sky Tent.

Then at 5 o’clock, five chefs will begin cooking up tasty menus in a cooking competition. Visitors will be able to vote for their favorites in a People’s Choice award.

Gary Johnson will bring his Santa Maria BBQ extravaganza. “Santa Maria is a unique style of BBQ,” Johnson said.

Instead of cooking low and slow in a smoke chamber, this is cooking over a hot fire of red oak, using a grate that is raised and lowered according to the heat desired.

Johnson’s Santa Maria Tri-Tip BBQ will be accompanied by pinquito beans, a small bean grown only in the Santa Maria Valley.
While he believes the meat should taste great on its own, he will provide some sauces for those who want to dress their BBQ: probably a mustard based, a ketchup/vinegar based and his own Southwest Cowboy sauce.

In the world of BBQ competitions, the team is critical. Johnson, also known as Lowbelly BBQ, will utilize his seasoned pit man Tyler Goforth, and Richard Price of Sacramento, a chili cook off expert who will contribute to the depth and flavor of the pinquito beans.

Over at his cooking station, Mammoth local chef Dan Molnar will whip up some Baja fish tacos, grilled corn salsa and cabbage slaw. “A little lime, a little heat, the crunch of the slaw...”

Known as “Powder Dan” for his love of powder skiing, and as a private caterer whose cuisine is approachable and straightforward, Molnar dreams of teaching the culinary arts. “I love teaching people about food.”

Skiing and catering: a perfect pairing.

“It’s about the experience, engaging the senses,” said Richard Haake, a chef who will team up with chef David Katz to prepare paella.

He’s got a paella pan that is four feet in diameter; it will make enough for 150 people.

When we spoke by phone, Haake was doing the math on his ingredients. For one pan of paella he needs 12 pounds of rice (It’s all about the rice, he says.)

The ingredients are coming from Spain and Katz is making chorizo sausage in Napa to be used, along with pork, seafood and chicken.

Food and wine seminars
For those who like to drink wine with their food, but might not know how to go about choosing one to go with the other, Friday and Saturday are for you.

In the Edison Theatre (Friday from 1-5 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.) chefs and wineries will enlighten fans into the magic of food and wine pairings, and offer their unique tips and secrets.

“It’s all about education that taps into what people enjoy...passion for wine, passion for food...together a way of presenting it when you get to taste the wine and the food working together,” said Richard Haake.

“It’s sensory. You’re not just sitting there watching, but experts are putting it in front of you.”

Haake calls on his past experience as executive chef of the Robert Mondavi Winery. Haake said the Mondavis brought together wine, food and music back in 1976. And it just keeps getting better.

It’s a balancing act, he said, in complementing flavors or contrasting them. For instance, pairing rich, fatty food with a light, acidic wine.
Haake likes to make analogies. Think of squeezing lemon over your food, he suggests. Sauvignon Blanc acts like a lemon.

Haake is doing two seminars: one with Spanish wine expert Chris Collins. They will pair five different wines with five different Spanish tapas (including salt cod crostini, slow roasted duck breast with a cherry orange sauce, and bogadillo – a panini type sandwich of serrano ham and Manchego cheese).

The other seminar is titled California Vintage.
As consulting chef for one of the first California dedicated wine bars in Hong Kong, Haake will talk about California wines that are leading the charge into China, where there’s a curiosity about California food and wine. He’ll use wines from Peachy Canyon, which are featured in Hong Kong, and California traditional fare like cioppino, BBQ, garlic fries (a nod to Gilroy garlic capital) and tacos.

Yvonne Tally will also make two presentations, using the same menu.

Author of “Your Fit Gourmet,” Tally cooks within the season – “something raw with every meal, healthy and fast,” she said.

“The big thing for me is I love to eat, I love really good food. Healthy food isn’t grass and tree bark.”

Tally found her way to healthy food via France. As someone who put butter on her croissants when she first arrived to study cooking, she returned to the states to find that her mother had to change her entire diet because of having her gall bladder removed.

Change of pace. Now, she says, in place of saturated fats, she uses a lot of olive oil, braising, roasting and pureeing to bring out flavors; “It’s about bringing out the essence of natural food,” she said.

Tally will prepare an avocado, cucumber and blueberry salad with an orange splash; smoked paprika grilled salmon with a reduction spice glaze, which will be served with a red quinoa, Shiitake pancake.

Appropriately enough, Tally’s food will be paired with wines from Talley Vineyards.

Tally looks forward to that extra dimension of pairing wine with food. “All local foods and California wines in a beautiful location, Mammoth.”

To be experienced
This is not all there is; it’s just the food and wine portion. All 20 participating wineries are listed on the Blue Sky Fest website. You’ll also find out about the raffles, the live and silent auctions, the music and the adventures at