This past weekend we were seeing stars—Michelin stars—in Carmel-by-the-Sea. The storybook town was the backdrop for a gathering of the most Michelin-starred chefs in the U.S. (A combined 10 Michelin stars to be exact). GourmetFest—the brainchild of hotelier, restaurateur, and man about town David Fink—brings together Relais & Châteaux properties (a collection of international luxury restaurants, and boutique hotels).
The four-day fête included a wild mushroom hunt, cooking demonstrations by three-Michelin starred chefs Daniel Boulud and Michael Tusk, a five-course Black Truffle Dinner with wine pairings, and a Rarities Dinner, which cost $5,500 per person (reference point: a $9000 bottle of Chateau Margaux 1982 Magnum).
The over-indulgent event—20-pounds of Black River Caviar was consumed, and vintage wines from celebrated cellars like Chappellet were flowing—inspired DuJour to turn the table on some of the world’s most distinguished luxury chefs to learn what’s the most over-the-top meal they’ve had. From drinking a quarter of a million dollars worth of wine to a 25-course dinner in Florence, here’s a bite of what they shared.
“Lunches in Paris at L’ambroisie,” says Michael Tusk. The three-Michelin starred executive chef, and owner of Quince in San Francisco enjoyed dishes including their famed sea bass with caviar sauce, dark chocolate tarte, and a blown sugar sphere with a cherry.
Daniel Boulud says that his 50th birthday at namesake flagship in New York City was unforgettable. The charming three-Michelin starred chef, and restaurateur reminisces that 16 chefs who worked for him each cooked a dish that was symbolic to them, and to him. They also enjoyed a quarter of a million dollars worth of wine given by a generous friend. “It was all vintage from 1900 to 1990 nothing younger, and the meals kept coming,” adds Daniel, “We spent six hours at the table.”
Justin Cogley at Aubergine at L’Auberge Carmel says his most extravagant meal came from the heart. The executive chef was in Nepal on a weeklong trek to Annapurna Base Camp, but because of a landslide couldn’t get through. “A local family took us in, and cooked us dinner in their house. They made Dal Bhat (a lentil dish),” he recalls of his 2001 adventure. “It changed my world, because they didn’t have to do that.”
“Annie Féolde’s restaurant, Enoteca Pinchiorri in Italy. It’s a Michelin three-star,” says Nathan Rich Executive Chef at Twins Farms in Vermont. “I had a 25-course dinner. Every course flowed beautifully throughout the night. It was amazing.”
“When I was 18 I ate at Alain Ducasse at the old Essex House in New York. That meal was probably $900 a person,” says Chef Chris Kajioka of Hotel Wailea in Maui of the six-hour dinner. Chris, who cut his teeth at Per Se, recalls a pasta course with sea urchin, and a considerable dollop of caviar. “It was the first time I had caviar. I was blown away,” he beams.
“Pierre Gagnaire, in Paris,” shares Yulanda Santos Pastry Chef at Aubergine at L’Auberge Carmel. “I especially enjoyed that at the end of the meal he sends out all of the pastries at once,” she says of the table that’s filled with tiny, tasty desserts.
On his most extravagant meal, Japan’s two-Michelin starred chef Shinichiro Takagi recalls his visit to New York City in 2008. It was Shinichiro’s first time cooking in the U.S. His guests included Jean Georges, Éric Ripert of Le Bernardin, and Michael Romano, who in return invited Shinichiro to their restaurants. “Each of them prepared their own recipe, and it was so great. I still remember the three of them,” says Shinichiro with a smile.
“Charlie Trotter’s truffle dinner,” begins Twin Farms’s Executive Pastry Chef Christopher Wilson. “Every course was absolutely over-the-top, and opulent. It was perfection,” he says of his dining experience at the late-Chicagoan chef’s restaurant. “I still have the menu,” he admits.
Gabriel Kreuther—the one-Michelin starred chef and owner of eponymous New York-based restaurant—remembers a Christmas meal with his whole family when he was 15 years old. “It was during the beginning of my apprenticeship,” he says recalling opening old, and amazing wines like a 1959 Hospice de Beaune with his uncle. “For every single wine, we cooked a different dish. It was almost a week of preparations, because everything was done from scratch, and there were a dozen courses. That was probably one of the most beautiful times I’ve had. There have been other great meals, but because of everything involved, and the quality, and amazing wines that were involved, it’s a huge memory.”