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Taste of Orange County Part II – The Great Farm to Table Dinner

To read Taste of Orange County Part I, click here.

After some wandering around and enjoying our drinks, it was time for the Great Farm to Table Dinner.  The dinner was initially supposed to be on the stage of the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, but at the last-minute the event organizers decided to have it on the lawn area outside the stage instead.  At first I was disappointed we wouldn’t be eating on stage, but the lawn turned out to be quite lovely.

The Great Farm to Table Dinner was an additional cost to the regular entrance ($150) and all proceeds helped to benefit the Culinary Liberation Front, which was one of the main contributors to the dinner.  Before the meal started, we enjoyed passed appetizers from the participating chefs and Francis Ford Copolla Sauvignon Blanc.

All the appetizers were fun, delicious, and the perfect amuse bouche.  One of my favorites ironically enough was the beet and goat cheese skewer, and I’m usually not a fan of beets.

Other highlights included the nut-encrusted goat cheese with a fruit infusion, sun-dried tomato tapenade on baked crostini, and the fresh oysters with a green salsa on top.

After the appetizer hour, we were seated at two long tables and the participating chefs came out to speak about how important it is to use locally grown ingredients whenever possible and how they incorporated sustainable food into our meal this evening.  Chef Patrick Glennon from the Culinary Liberation Front came out and gave the crowd a bit of background regarding his organization.  Then it was time for the feast!

The meal started out with a salad course courtesy of Chef Paul Hancock from Avalon Grill and freshly baked bread from Dean Kim of OC Baking Co.  The salad was made with a variety of mixed greens and garnished with a light vinaigrette.

The bread from OC Baking Co. ranged from lavosh to sun-dried tomato and a baguette.   This course was nice and light, which was the perfect segue into the seafood courses.

Chef Patrick Glennon presented the crowd with fresh mussels prepared with almond milk, which literally made the mussels melt in your mouth.  I had never tried mussels prior to this evening, and I have to say I loved them.

Chef Craig Connole from K’ya Bistro and House of Big Fish created a beautiful sea bass dish that came with a lovely citrus marinade that included small white strawberries and Chef Ryan Adams of Three Seventy Common served yellowtail that was seared to perfection.

Steve Escobar from Dory Fleet came up during the meal and spoke to the crowd about how he catches all of his fish off the coast of California and then sells it at the Newport Beach Fish Market every Saturday.  It doesn’t get much fresher than that.

The meat course followed next, and Chef Rob Wilson from the Montage Laguna Beach served his unique take on short ribs by having them glazed with a blackberry reduction.  Chef Greg Daniels of Haven Gastropub and Taco Asylum also took a more unique approach to preparing his meat, and had his pork shoulder slow-cooked in cola.  I honestly couldn’t get enough of the short ribs and found myself coming back for seconds of that dish.

But the real star of the show was the roasted vegetables (from LBC Urban Farm) that was prepared by Chef Paul Buchanan of Primal Alchemy Catering.  The vegetables tasted about as fresh as you could get and had amazing flavor.  I wish they had presented these earlier in the evening because people were barely touching them because they were so stuffed from the other courses.

Chef Justin Monson of Vine & St. Roy Chef’s Pub ended the evening on a high note with his Meyer lemon tart  topped with lavender cream and garnished with fresh strawberries and blueberries.  The Englishman and I were pretty full at this point so we only had a few bites, but it was quite good.  I pretty much love anything Meyer lemon, so I knew it would be delicious.

Overall the dinner was a success – the food was prepared nicely and everyone seemed to have a great time.  I wish the chefs would’ve come out more often and talked to the crowd because I definitely had a lot of questions for them about how they got their inspiration for their dishes.

Thanks OC Menus and the Taste of Orange County for the experience!

Taste of Orange County Part I

After a 16 year hiatus, the Taste of Orange County made its triumphant return to Irvine over Father’s Day weekend.  Since the Englishman’s birthday was earlier in the week, we decided to celebrate at the Taste of OC and enjoy some good food and drink.

Because I am also a blogger for OC Menus, we had the opportunity to participate in the Great Farm to Table dinner that featured a fantastic 7 course meal with dishes made from locally grown ingredients by OC’s top chefs.  But more on that later.

The Taste of OC was held at the Verizon Wireless amphitheater in Irvine and featured food from Orange County restaurants, wine pairings and live music, with all proceeds from the event going to the Orange County Food Bank and the Culinary Liberation Front.  The Englishman and I decided we would cruise over to the event in the late afternoon, so we could enjoy some of the food and beverage vendors and then head into the Great Farm to Table dinner.

It had been 16 years since the Taste of OC was last held, and while the overall event was nice, there were definitely some logistics that still need to be ironed out.


Because the event was held at the Verizon Wireless amphitheater, parking was an additional $10 on top of the event entry fee ($25 was the cheapest option) and if you spent any additional money to buy food and drink credits, and you could easily be down $50 bucks or more in a blink of an eye.  I didn’t mind this too much since the proceeds were going to a great cause but may I suggest somewhere with free parking next year?


Since we had bought a special deal online (that included 40 food and drink credits apiece), we figured we would just show up, show our ticket voucher and get inside.  Unfortunately, the volunteers had a hard time finding our name on the list, and we ended up having to go to the VIP area to make sure we got sorted out properly.  Fortunately, the VIP area was awesome and we got our wristbands and tickets and cruised right in (thanks Vanessa!).

Food and Drink Credits:

I’m a big fan of the food and drink credit concept at events like this.  You pay upfront, don’t have to worry about carting around a lot of cash to pay for food, and the credits are easy to keep track of.  The Taste of OC tried to take it to the next level in simplicity by giving you a wristband that was just scanned, but sometimes the wristband didn’t work at various food/drink stations and you either had to find paper credits or pay cash.  I ended up just using the paper credits since my wristband never really worked.

Then there’s the matter of cost.  For small food samples (think 2-3 bites max), it would cost you roughly 3-9 credits, which isn’t too bad at all.  But for any sort of alcoholic beverage, it costs you a whopping 20 credits! (tequila based drinks were 24).  So if you went into the event with 40 credits, you would instantly lose half of your credits on a glass of wine or a beer.  I totally understand the reason to mark up the drinks, but I felt that 20 credits was a bit excessive.  And I wasn’t the only one – many people ended up turning away from the drink stations due to the cost.  Since the Englishman and I were going to the Farm to Table dinner where we knew we would be treated to a delicious meal, we decided just to get a couple of drinks and use our credits that way.

Even though there were some issues that needed to be improved, the event itself was a lot of fun.  It was nice to walk around outside and check out some of OC’s top restaurants, watch chef demos and listen to live music.  There were plenty of areas to sit and relax, and there were also vendors selling items you could take home such as gourmet balsamic vinegar (I was tempted to get the vanilla fig flavor).

Now the real highlight of the event was the special Farm to Table Dinner that the Englishman and I attended, but let’s get to that in the next post…