A tour through the best of Food and Wine

Victoria Daley, of Water Street Restaurant, smiles behind their chicken livers. — Photo by Michael Cummo

Do we explore cheese, charcuterie, and wine at the Black Sheep, or check out the steak and wine at Winnetu? Maybe eat oysters and drink wine at the Atlantic? Or learn about locavore and northern Italian wines at the Port Hunter? Fortunately, there’s that Grand Tasting at 1 pm, so we’ll get to try out the wares of numerous on- and off-Island chefs. But there’s that Wine and Chocolate Pairings seminar at the same time, right? The tasting runs until five, so maybe we can hit both. But will we miss the chefs’ cooking demos?

That’s the dilemma we face at the second day of the Martha’s Vineyard Food & Wine Festival, held last weekend in Edgartown. So much to do, and all so interesting that we’d need beam-me-up-Scottie technology to do it justice.

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A Rock Star Adventure with Cheese, Charcuterie and Wine

This event is as much about personalities as gastronomy. As Lisa Kaplan, who oversees Charles Smith Wines, K Vinters, and Secco Italian Bubbles of Washington, explains, the “rock star” title comes partially from the bio of vintner Charles Smith, who began his career as an agent for rock talent. His personality and labels are bigger than life — “Kung Fu Girl,” “Boom Boom!” and “Vino.”

But the wines can’t outshine the California cheeses and international charcuterie, selected by The Black Sheep’s Judy Klumick. Nancy Fisher from Weymouth, who, with husband Chris Fisher is enjoying a first year wedding anniversary, is pleasantly surprised by the three chevres. “I was afraid of the goat cheese,” she tells us. “Most goat cheeses are sort of…” She wrinkles her nose to illustrate. “But these are good. They’re not as pungent.”

Encouraged by the delightfully unexpected flavors, she dives right in when the Proscuitto de Parma, Air-Dried Bresola, and Smoked Duck Breast were brought out with three red wines.

After, we ventured out into the sunlight and landed at…

Farm to Plate

At the Port Hunter, Ron Descheneaux of Oak Bluffs and Arlington, Va., gets teased for being the only man at a table full of women. He laughs and indicates an open seat. “There’s still a chance,” he says. The women, only a few of whom knew each other previously, connect quickly and engage in lively banter.

Laura Park of R.I., lifts her eyes from the menu when Amanda Spratley of New Bedford repeats a question. “I’m sorry,” Laura says. “I was distracted by the prospect of a mini-Pavlova with whipped cream, Chilmark blueberries, and birch bark syrup for dessert.” They continue to chat about food and health until Jan Buhrman, Jeremy Davis, Lily Walter, and Michael Goess-Enzenberg step to the microphone to talk about farming on the Island, seeking out local providers, and growing wine at the Manincor estate in Italy.

Everyone at the table raves about the rustic root salad, but the star of the show comes with the next course: the fried Allen Farm egg yolk that sits atop bluefin tuna tartar with Morning Glory purple potato chips, and wasabi greens from Mermaid Farm.

Unfortunately, we can’t stay for mini-Pavlova as we need to get to…

Shucks, it’s oysters!

We arrive at the Atlantic Fish & Chophouse as the event is winding down. Tables are practically overflowing with plates of oyster shells (seminar participants received a dozen each) from Sweet Neck Farms. Tablecloth real estate not covered by plates is occupied by empty wine glasses (eight per taster) until one little bump of hip could create a catastrophe. The previously full glasses were cleverly laid out on paper placemats with the names of the wines in guiding circles.

The participants are engrossed in Dan Michaud’s (of Ruby Wines) animated discussion of white wine vineyards throughout the world. Dan, who is the Festival Wine Director, is silver-haired, bespeckled, and gravelly voiced. His body language unmistakably transmits passion for his subject. Indeed, he seems almost a guru to his audience. They cheer when he ends with a sympathetic quote by Ernest Hemingway about cold white wine and oysters.

We recognize Lee and Gia Sroczenski of Weston and Oak Bluffs from the first seminar. They have, according to fellow foodie Natalie Conroy of West Tisbury, “run away for the day, left their children with their grandmother, and are enjoying a mini-honeymoon.” It’s the Weston’s third M.V. Food and Wine Festival and, when asked their favorite dish so far, they agree in unison, “the oysters.”

The participants reluctantly leave a few uneaten bivalves and continue on to…

The Grand Tasting

“Grand” doesn’t begin to describe it. About every second table is occupied by a wine company. Indeed, all of 26 are listed in the program. We get a second chance to taste the wonderful Manincor Moscato Giallo that we sipped at The Port Hunter, and the reds we missed because we had to skip out. Everywhere, chefs and assistants are doling out generous samples and explaining what’s stacked on what and why and where the ingredients came from. Treats like devilled duck egg with tuna tartare, black olive tapenade, micro greens and chive oil (Jason Santos, Abby Lane, Boston); chicken liver mousse, pickled butternut squash and toasted hazelnuts (Nathan Gould, Water Street, Edgartown); pork belly crepes with fig and lovage (Christopher Coombs, Deuxave, Boston) and duck confit with menjool dates, Spanish blue cheese and a pepper aioli (Rachel Klein, Liquid Art House, Boston). If you walk away hungry, you just aren’t trying.

Tucked in among the chefs and wines are tables touting bottled water, sea salt, soft drinks, health drinks, publications, jewelry, and a raffle.

We hear someone ask a young woman if she’s getting drunk. “No,” she says. I drink and spit.”

We run into the Sroczenskis again and they beam at the excitement and diversity of the offerings. We ask, now that they’ve been to other seminars, what’s the best thing they’ve eaten today. “The oysters,” they say.

“This is our third year with Dan (Michaud),” Lee explains. “Dan, by far, has to be the most intuitive and he explains all the regions.”

“He’s so knowledgeable,” Gia adds. “So passionate.”

We take a break from the crowds in the tent to slip over to the Kelley House for…

Wine & Chocolate Pairings Made by Mama

After the hubbub in the Grand Tasting, this seems a much more subdued event. Participants are assembled at large round tables, a white plate in front of each, dotted with squares of Not Your Sugar Mamas chocolates. Bennett Coffey and Kyleen Keenan of Not Your Sugar Mamas play tag-team with Italian wine specialist Iris DiCicco of Palm Bay International to explain their contributions and why they paired this with that.

Iris talks about the muscato that accompanies the ginger pomegranate chocolate. “It’s a natural pairing,” she explains. “Pomegranates grow in the same region as the grapes.”

There’s an audible group intake of breath, followed by slurps of wine, when the participants taste the piquant ginger in the chocolate.

Then it’s back to the big tent for…

Cooking Demos

While Chef Nathan Gould of Water Street in Edgartown makes magic with gnocchi dough, Swiss chard, and a Vitamix, Dan Michaud relates the story of David Dolginow and Colin Davis, co-founders of Shacksbury Ciders. Their Lost Apple project is an attempt to revive New England’s old cider orchards to create “the perfect cider.”

Nathan pulls a steak from what looks like a vertical fish-tank and explains how it heats the meat to a controlled temperature, so that when the steak is grilled, it will be cooked evenly throughout.

Dan circulates among the audience with bottles of Shacksbury cider. After his first go-round, people hold out glasses with please-sir-I-want-some-more expressions. Someone close by comments that he hopes Dan doesn’t run out before he gets his second taste.

Outside for air and a break, we encounter Laura Park (from the cheese and charcuterie seminar) with her friend Karen Durante of Edgartown and Newbury. We ask if they had a good time.

Laura drops her head back, closes her eyes, and lets out a long sigh. “You can quote me.”