"Pesto King" chef Roberto Panizza is coming to Mentone on May 14-15.
(Via Facebook)
Food & Drink

Lily Belli on Food: Pesto King comes to Mentone, cherry challenges and (rumors of) a new Garlic Festival?

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… Mentone is welcoming “Pesto King” Roberto Panizza, ambassador for the World Pesto Championships, to the restaurant in Aptos on May 14 and 15 for a weekend that’s all about the famed, fragrant Ligurian sauce. Anyone who’s now thinking, “World Pesto Championships — that’s a thing?!” has obviously never tried to make pesto with an Italian. My husband’s family is from Tuscany, which borders Liguria, the home of pesto, and they honor the process and ingredients with a kind of religious dedication. I once added lemon juice to mine, and I still haven’t heard the end of it.

Mentone celebrates Panizza’s visit with Taste of Liguria dinners next Saturday and Sunday featuring the cuisine of Genoa, the capital city of Liguria. Panizza, who has a restaurant in Genoa called Il Genovese, will guest-chef and create three dishes for the six-course meal, while Mentone will create the other three. Guests can expect traditional Genovese dishes like braised rabbit with tomatoes, olives and potatoes, and a pansotti ravioli dish with bitter greens and white walnut pesto, Chris Sullivan, general manager at Mentone, tells me. As of press time, there were still a few seats left for the 7:30 p.m. seating on Sunday, May 15. Reservations are $125 per person.

Also on May 15, pesto makers will throw down their gauntlets at the Pesto Competition, a regional qualifying event sponsored by the WPC. Ten contestants will have 20 minutes to use a mortar and pestle to make the best traditional pesto they can using only seven ingredients provided by Mentone. The winner receives a dinner for two at Mentone, a spot at the World Championship in Genoa and a travel credit to get them to Italy. The judges: Panizza, Mentone chef David Kinch and one more judge TBD. Spectators are welcome to come cheer contestants on and join in the fun with one of Mentone’s famous spritzes, and maybe even get a taste of the winning pesto. No reservation is needed, and admission is free. The competition begins at noon inside the restaurant.

If you’re interested in competing or know someone who should, Sullivan says applications are due this Friday. The team will select six applicants from the general public and has reserved four spots for students at the culinary department at Cabrillo College. Email info@mentonerestaurant.com with “Pesto Applicant” in the subject line to apply.

… Last week I passed on the sad news that the Gilroy Garlic Festival had been canceled indefinitely. Yesterday, my heart leapt when I saw a flurry of headlines from Sacramento news outlets — “Is the Gilroy Garlic Festival back on?” asked the Sacramento Bee, while KXTV declared, “Gilroy Garlic Festival back on, will be hosted by Noceti Group.” But before you get too excited, the source for these stories is murky. These headlines appear to be drawing information from an announcement posted to Facebook on Sunday by the San Joaquin Asparagus Festival, another crop-specific festival in Stockton, organized by the Noceti Group: “The Noceti Group is thrilled to announce we will be hosting the Garlic Festival this year. More details to come!” However, the next day the group seemed to temper its statement, saying, in brief, that it only wished that the festival would continue, and that a garlic-themed community event might be revived by the Noceti Group — maybe! Ken Christopher, the grandson of Gilroy Garlic Festival founder Don Christopher and VP of the nation’s largest garlic company, left a scathing comment that accused the Noceti Group of using the sad news of the Gilroy festival’s demise to promote its own event. Sacre bleu! The Asparagus Festival appeared to try to smooth things over by replying with a paragraph of platitudes, and ended by saying that it is “exploring all options and opportunities to keep these types of community events alive wherever possible.” Under all that mud, it doesn’t look like the Gilroy festival that we know and love is returning after all.

… Cherries typically herald the stone fruit season at our farmers markets this time of year, with a short six-week window during May and June. But this year, get ready to enjoy them while you can. Unusual weather patterns we had earlier this spring, with heat waves one week and pouring rain the next, coupled with a warm winter, haven’t been kind to the local cherry crop. The weather caused the cherries to “split,” and once the skin breaks, it’s illegal to sell them, reports the Monterey Bay Certified Farmers Markets, which operates the Aptos farmers market at Cabrillo College. Although yields are down, local farms Kashiwase Farms, Phil Foster Ranches and Minazzoli Farms still offer more than half a dozen varieties of cherries combined, including pearl champagne, Rainier and bing. You can find at least one of these farms available at your local farmers market.

ON THE MENU

John Bargetto is launching a new wine tasting experience at Regan Vineyard in Corralitos.
John Bargetto is launching a new wine tasting experience at Regan Vineyard in Corralitos.
(Via Facebook)

John Bargetto is the wine director at Bargetto Winery in Soquel and the founder of Regan Vineyard, his family’s estate vineyard in Corralitos. Thirty years ago, he sourced the hilly site overlooking the Pajaro Valley, and in the years following he personally chose each varietal that was planted and cared for the grapes. Regan is his “baby,” says John. Over the years, he has brought wine club members, friends and colleagues to the special site. Now, he has released two single-varietal wines under the name Regan Vineyards Winery and is hosting public tasting and tour experiences in the vineyard to showcase its terroir and stunning views. For John, it’s a step out on his own to share and celebrate the vineyard that he loves so much — although he’s still keeping his position at Bargetto. Last weekend, I went to Regan to see for myself and chatted with John about his passion for this site and his family’s winemaking history. Watch for a story later this week.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Lookout looks into the magic of Luna Sea’s color changing vodka.

Santa Cruz distillery Luna Sea Vodka’s year is off to a great start. Distiller Deven Wek’s clear vodka won a rare platinum medal at the International Spirits Competition in San Francisco, and he released a new, color-changing vodka made with butterfly pea flower that must be seen to be believed. This summer, Wek plans to open his Westside distillery for tasting, cocktails and seafood snacks. Read all about the happenings.

THE NUMBER

$29 – Price per pound for locally caught California king salmon filet at H&H Fresh Fish. Commercial salmon season opened on Sunday, and will continue through the summer if the fish don’t move on first. Few fish compare to the flavorful, beautiful, nutritious salmon from our Monterey Bay. Enjoy it while you can — if you can swing the splurge. Order at hhfreshfish.com.

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LIFE WITH THE BELLIS

My friend and colleague Grace Stetson, who reports on affordability here at Lookout, moved into a new home over the weekend and needed to replace her kitchen knives. She asked me for a recommendation, and I sent her straight to La Toque Blanche in downtown Santa Cruz for a Victorinox Fibrox Pro 8-inch chef’s knife. I’ve used this knife for years and given it as a gift many times — it’s reliable, hardly ever needs to be sharpened and feels great in your hand. It’s my perfect, all-purpose kitchen knife. At $54.99, some might consider it a splurge, but its usefulness and long life make it a great buy, in my opinion. Others might note that high-quality chef’s knives regularly go for $100 or more, which makes the Victorinox a steal. I use mine for everything and get it professionally sharpened once a year. Buy it online at mytoque.com.

THIS WEEK, I’M LISTENING …

… to this delightful Radio Cherry Bombe podcast episode, “Julia Child Was My Boss, With Stephanie Hersh.” I told you a few weeks ago that I’m watching and loving “Julia,” a new series on HBO that tells the story of the early years of “The French Chef,” Julia Child’s groundbreaking TV show. In this podcast, professional chef Stephanie Hersh looks back on her time working for Child on the set of “The French Chef,” and shares stories of how she elbowed her way into the job, her memories from the show and what Child was like as a boss.

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FOOD NEWS WORTH READING

An S.F. baker’s permit odyssey through city bureaucracy had a bitter start, but a sweet ending (San Francisco Chronicle)
This chef researches diners online — and cancels reservations if he sees “misbehavior” (Bon Appetit)
Here are the 2022 James Beard Awards restaurant, chef, and media finalists (Eater)

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Thanks for reading! Eat well, my friends.