Morocco Meets Napa Valley

On March 13th, 14th, and 15th, Auberge Resorts celebrated the culture and cuisine of Napa Valley and Morocco with three extraordinary events at Auberge du Soleil, Solage Calistoga, and Calistoga Ranch. It was a memorable way to kick off the Food of Place initiative. To capture the true essence of Moroccan flavors, Executive Chef Antoine Perray from Palais Namaskar, an Oetker Collection resort in Morocco, came to Napa Valley to work with the culinary teams at each Auberge location.

Day One
Auberge du Soleil
In collaboration with Executive Chef Robert Curry of the Michelin-starred Auberge du Soleil, Chef Antoine Perray prepared dishes for a Moroccan mezze followed by an elegant five-course dinner. Chef Curry created the canapés for the reception that included charred eggplant with fried flatbread and Moroccan spice, roasted beets with cumin crème fraîche and tangerine oil, and Rancho Gordo garbanzo hummus with cucumber and paprika. Against the backdrop of a stunning sunset, the reception took place on the terrace boasting dramatic Napa Valley vineyard views. The wines served with each dinner course reflected the cuisine of the chef, who prepared it for a nice balance and integration of flavors. Napa Valley wines were served with Chef Curry’s dishes, Moroccan selections with Chef Perray’s. There was a hint of Morocco everywhere you looked, from the decor to the plate. “The event was really wonderful,” said Chef Curry. “The blending of the two cultures, cooking styles, and flavors was exceptional. A lot of the products and ingredients used at Auberge du Soleil work well with Moroccan flavors—such as lemon, olive, cumin, mint, and coriander spices.” Curry often uses Moroccan spices on his lamb dishes.

The Moroccan wines tasted at Solage were from Domaine Ouled Thaleb, and Wine Director and Sommelier Scott Turnbull found them all to be lovely and robust. “The wines we tasted hail from the Zenata AOG, situated between Casablanca and Rabat on the northwestern coast of Africa—incidentally at the same latitude as Santa Barbara to our south. Like the vines of Santa Barbara, the Moroccan vines benefit from the cool ocean breezes, which keep the flavors restrained and the acidity bright. The wines are lower in alcohol compared with the average Napa Valley wine—11.5 to 12.5 percent versus our more robust 13 to 14 percent. We tried quite a few wines: their sauvignon blanc, with notes of citrus fruit and green bell pepper with clean minerality; a white blend of clairette and faranah that is a native varietal (floral and bright with stone fruit and a touch of waxiness); a rose blend of syrah, grenache, and cinsault (juicy red fruit in the nose, with watermelon and wisteria on the palate); a syrah (smoky and spicy, with quite a bit of barnyard funk wrapped around black fruit); a cabernet grenache blend that was a favorite of many that night (bright berry fruit, white pepper, leather, and baking spices); and a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and syrah called “Medaillon,” the fullest body and tannic wine of the evening (full of dark plummy fruit and rich earthiness). The wines take many cues from the French, who helped to start the wine industry in Morocco. The wines have restraint while retaining a certain “otherness”—they taste like they are from someplace specific. The French influence is evident, but the wines would be difficult to confuse with wines from other locales. Bottom line: they are unique and definitely fun to drink!”

Day Two
Solage Calistoga
On Friday afternoon, Chef Perray and Executive Chef Brandon Sharp of the Michelin-starred Solbar presented an interactive cooking demonstration on “The Art of the Tagine,” followed by a tasting of Moroccan wines. “Guests were responsible for composing their own tagines,” explained Chef Sharp. “Chef Perray guided them through cutting peppers, asparagus, turnips, carrots, and artichokes, marinating the sea bass and assembling the tagine in three separate demos.” Using ingredients local to Northern California, Chef Sharpe noted how the Moroccan flavors shined through in the dishes. “The highlight on the evening was definitely working with Chef Perray on this,” he added. Guests got to take home their tagines, compliments of Le Creuset.

Day Three
Calistoga Ranch
The weekend culminated in a gala dinner that mimicked an evening in Morocco. The Wine Cave on the premises was transformed into a Moroccan tent, complete with belly dancers. Chef Curry and Chef Sharpe joined Chef Perray and Executive Chef Aaron Meneghelli of Calistoga Ranch to prepare for the evening’s festivities. Guests arrived at 6 p.m. and were directed to the Lakehouse patio for the reception. Chef Curry and Chef Sharp were at stations where guests could sample small bites. Chef Meneghelli prepared two passed canapés, a kale chip with preserved lemon aioli, and a shooter of green grape gazpacho with almond froth. Dinner was served family style in the Wine Cave with small plates, or mezze, to start. Meneghelli shared his inspiration: “I tried to use the flavor components of Morocco while focusing on the very seasonal and fresh aspects of the Valley,” he pointed out. “Full Table Farm, for example, brought me a lot of small herbs and flowers to garnish my dishes with the day of, bringing a bright color and flavor to the table. I used commonplace Moroccan ingredients, like citrus, dates, raisins, couscous, yogurt, and cinnamon, with the produce and plate appeal you would find in Napa Valley.” Chef Meneghelli appreciated having Chef Perray in his kitchen and felt confident that his ideas and flavor profiles would grace the Lakehouse menu again in some incarnation. “Chef Perray was fun to work with. His mezzes were great and brought a different flavor element than what we are used to, as well as his lamb. I will definitely use some of those ideas again.”

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