On a positive note, I just returned from the Russian River Valley Winegrowers' Grape to Glass Weekend in Sonoma, CA, where Top Chef Season Two winner Ilan Hall and I were guest speakers. It was the first time since his appearance at the Classic in Aspen that we had the chance to spend time together and I was thoroughly impressed by his charm and knowledge. I think Ilan has officially become full-blown grown up since we all saw him last!
Together we gave a wine and food pairing seminar, matching Sonoma Valley wines with some of his favorite Spanish ingredients, such as Manchego cheese, jamÃƒÂ³n, piquillo peppers, membrillo (quince paste), and marcona almonds. Ilan was a hit with festival attendees. His passion for these flavors and his stories of their significance to Spanish culture were very interesting. I was also excited to hear what he has been up to since we were last in touch. He has used his winnings on some incredible epicurean travel (Spain, Romania, London), put a down payment on a home and is slowly, secretly planning his dream restaurant. Pretty fantastic for a 25-year-old.