Getting Buzzed at TomatoFest


Bucket of Assorted Heirloom Tomatoes @ TomatoFest

tomatofest farmers market bucket of assorted heirlooms

Annie and I attended the NatureSweet TomatoFest in Carmel Valley on Sunday. TomatoFest is the country’s premier festival celebrating heirloom tomatoes. Chefs from restaurants around the Central Coast and Bay Area of California are invited to present dishes utilizing heirloom tomatoes. Local wineries are also featured at this event.

Annie has been wanting to go to TomatoFest ever since she found out about it years ago, but the tickets were always too expensive. Tickets for this year’s event were going for $95 each for just the one day admission from 12:30 to 4:30 pm. However, we went as “Foodie Correspondents” for, which means FoodBuzz arranged for us to get media passes to this event. As foodie correspondents for FoodBuzz, we were able to get in for free to the event early, before the crowds!

TomatoFest is held on the grounds of the beautiful Quail Lodge and Resort in Carmel Valley. There were three main tents where all the chefs were serving their different tomato-based dishes. We headed there first. Who do we run into in front of the Farallon table but none other than Cynthia from Love Apple Farm and Tana from I Heart Farms! They suggested we try Farallon’s Heirloom Tomato Parfait with Champagne Cured Sardines. It was exquisite.

Turn around, and we had a gorgeous Tomato and Shrimp Ceviche from The Forge in the Forest. So began our ultimate tomato foodie experience.

Sierra Mar Restaurant: BLT @ TomatoFest

sierra mar restaurant blt

The chef at Sierra Mar Restaurant did his take on a BLT by roasting Early Girl tomatoes for three and a half hours to concentrate the tomato into a paste. He topped it with an aioli containing Niman Ranch bacon, sprinkled with a touch of sea salt, and garnished with micro arugula. The tomato taste was so fantastic!

Montrio Bistro: Seared Ahi with Tomato Sorbet @ TomatoFest

montrio bistro seared ahi with tomato sorbet

This offering by Montrio Bistro features ahi tuna that is crusted in fennel and other spices, then seared. A small scoop of tomato sorbet added sweet and cool counterpoints to the warm, salty ahi. Here is Chef Tony Baker’s full description of the dish:

  • The cracker was a basic semolina cracker dough with a spice mixture rolled into it before cutting (fennel Pollen, Smoked paprika, kosher salt, black pepper)
  • Tuna was seasoned with fennel pollen, kosher salt and black pepper. Seared, chilled and sliced.
  • Sorbet started as 200# Heirlooms, smashed and hung overnight in cheesecloth. I span it with 2 cups of confectioners glucose per gallon for texture.
  • Celery sprouts (micro celery) this is one of the few micro greens that actually bring something to a dish, the combination of celery, tomato and fennel is classic.
  • The celery sprouts were seasoned with lemon juice, XVO, smoked salt and pepper.

Bouchée Restaurant: Pissaladièrre @ TomatoFest

bouchee restaurant pisaladiene with olive tapenade heirloom tomatoes and spanish sardine

Chef Jesse Kloskey of Bouchée Restaurant created this pissaladièrre, a small puff pastry tart with olive tapenade, heirloom tomatoes, and finished off with Spanish sardines. Just a lot of bold flavors going on here.

Tarragon: Smoked Tomato Panna Cotta, Cured Trout with Rhubarb Gelee @ TomatoFest

tarragon restaurant smoked yellow brandywine panna cotta rhubarb gelee heirloom tomato smoke cured trout and fig vincotto

Tarragon‘s Chef Ryan Smith created this wonderful concoction of smoked Yellow Brandywine panna cotta, rhubarb gelee, heirloom cherry tomatoes, smoke-cured trout, and a drizzle of fig vincotto vinegar. The panna cotta, infused with smoke, paired well with the lightly sweetened rhubarb gelee. Both of these light elements provided the base for the stronger flavored tomatoes and trout.

C Restaurant: Shrimp Cocktail @ TomatoFest

c restaurant shrimp cocktail with cherokee purple cocktail sauce and cured lemon

Offered by the team at C Restaurant and Bar (in the Clement Hotel in Monterey), this huge shrimp cocktail comes with a house-made sauce of Cherokee Purple tomatoes and is topped with shreds of preserved lemon and micro greens. The sauce is sweet, but with a kick at the end. The lemons zests are an inspired garnish.

Gardiner’s Resort: Poached Cherry Tomatoes in Pea Sauce @ TomatoFest

gardiners resort poached tomatoes with peas and pea mint puree

This simple little tart by Gardiner’s Resort chef Hugo Barrigan contains a pea and mint puree, fresh peas, and poached cherry tomatoes. I just loved the fresh, clean flavors from the peas.

The Lodge at Pebble Beach: Heirloom Tomatoes and Herbs in Textures @ TomatoFest

lodge at pebble beach tomato jelly oven dried tomatoes and tomato foam

From the Lodge at Pebble Beach, look out, here’s foam in your food! Actually, it wasn’t that bad. Every part of this dish, from the heirloom tomato water gelee, the heirloom tomato compote, and the heirloom tomato foam, just screams of heirloom tomatoes!

Millennium Restaurant: Sopes, Corn Ragu, Green Tomato Salsa and Tomato Coulis@ TomatoFest

milennium restaurant masa harina huitlacoche roasted corn avocado relish smoked gold tomato and chipotle coulis

This complicated dish by Eric Tucker at Millennium Restaurant in San Francisco starts with a corn tortilla sope, some roasted corn and huitlacoche ragu, an avocado relish and smoked gold tomato with chipotle. Huitlacoche (or corn smut) comes from a fungus that grows on corn. It’s not as bad as it sounds. The sweet corn flavor shines through.

These are not all the food that we sampled. Not seen are the aforementioned Farallon heirloom tomato parfait with champagne cured sardines, the excellent roasted tomato soup with Crème fraîche and tomato crouton by Chaminade of Santa Cruz, the beautiful :Caviar d’Aubergine” by Christophe Grosjean of Aubergine, the Thai-inspired Chilled Green Curry and Yellow Tomato Bisque by the students of the Art Institute’s Culinary School, or the Monterey Marriott – Three Flags Cafe’s Fried Green Zebra slider with softshell crab.

Our personal favorite was the Lemongrass Freeze with Heirloom Tomatoes, Crystalized Wasabi and Ginger-Shiso syrup. Chef Joshua Nudd of Silks Restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in San Francisco came up with this powerfully tasty offering. It’s the only one we wanted for seconds after eating almost everything.

It seems our instincts for good food were right. This dish actually won the award for most creative tomato dish at TomatoFest! Chef Nudd was kind enough to give us the recipe, so I look forward to trying to make it in the future.

In addition to all this great food, over 50 local wineries were set up to pour samples of their latest wines.

Lockwood Vineyard @ TomatoFest

lockwood vineyard wines

Surprisingly, I only found a few wines that I liked today. I preferred the delicious craft root beer by 101 Root Beer.

101 Root Beer @ TomatoFest

101 root beer

When you think about it, $95 per person really isn’t all that expensive. Consider the fact that you have 65 different restaurants putting forth their best tomato amuse-bouche and small plates, unlimited pours of wine, beer, and other drinks, plus access all the other vendors (like olive oil, cheese, and barbecue companies) there. You can’t get that anywhere else, for any price! $95 for all that is a deal, and FoodBuzz got us in for free! We’re so blessed.

Now, don’t think that this festival is about the food. Nuh-uh! There’s a reason why it’s called TomatoFest. Find out why in Part 2 of our TomatoFest recap.

Aloha, Nate

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