An Affair to Remember: Pebble Beach Food and Wine 2024

Chef Billy Ngo

Sacramento chefs represented the city on a glamorous and global stage.

 “Chef, will you cook at Pebble Beach Food and Wine?” is a dream request of many in the culinary industry. Numerous Sacramento Chefs received that shoulder tap and whisper ahead of the 2024 event.

Chef Kelly McCown at Pebble Beach Food and Wine.
Chef Kelly McCown

California’s capital city was represented by its two Michelin star restaurants – The Kitchen Restaurant with chef Kelly McCown and Localis chef Chris Barnum-Dann – and recent James Beard Award Finalist for Best Chef California, Kru’s Billy Ngo. A total of eight local chefs were welcomed to Pebble Beach Food and Wine 2024 (PBFW). 

Chefs Amanda Smith and Chris Barnum-Dann

So, why all the hype and what’s the big deal? Well, there are a few ways to answer that question. 

Chef Perspective: The prestige, the honor, the work. 

PBFW alum Chef Ravin Patel of Seventh Street Standard has attended the festival five times. He says working the event is both prestige and a major time commitment. “It’s a huge honor to represent Sacramento on an international stage,” Patel stated, noting that he felt the group of chefs attending well represented the region’s culinary community and comradery. Billy Ngo of Kru Contemporary Japanese Cuisine echoed the sentiment that was shared by all the chefs interviewed for this piece, adding, “We are a food city. I think of our group, we’re the only Asian-Sushi restaurant, so we want to make sure we represent us very well.”  He was most excited to work with his team outside the walls of the restaurant and to experience this opportunity together.

Chef Ravin Patel proudly displaying his tasty bite. Photo by Anastasia Murphy
Chef Ravin Patel

Each chef is permitted to bring a few staff or volunteers to help at the event. Chef Dennis Sydnor of Bawk/Urban Roots Group planned to bring chefs Greg Desmangles and Garett Rodriquez, also from Bawk/Urban Roots, as well as Shana Risby from the Audubon Society who facilitated his beef sponsorship from Avanales Ranch. Sydnor, a first timer at the event, aspired to get that “Golden Ticket” to PBFW that he saw others receive in years prior. So, when he was invited, it was a crowning moment in his career. “I am excited about meeting all the other chefs attending,” he shared ahead of the event. 

Dennis Sydnor with team Gregory Desmangles and Shana Risby serving guests at the grand tasting event. Photo by Anastasia Murphy
Dennis Sydnor with team Greg Desmangles and Shana Risby serving guests at the grand tasting event.

“Just the honor, being in the space. I’m excited to be a part of an internationally recognized culinary event.”

Dennis Sydnor

Dreaming ahead to his next career goal, Sydnor now has his sights set on a James Beard Award.  Though there was notably little representation among female chefs from Sacramento, Sydnor went on to say of the local chefs who attended that, “It shows the might of the Sacramento foods scene. If you look at the diversity of the chefs going to represent Sacramento, we are all uniquely different but what we share is this beautiful bounty of Sacramento food. The farms… this beautiful bounty of our location in the center of agriculture.” 

Chef Dennis Sydnor and Greg Desmangles enjoying some off time.
Chef Dennis Sydnor and Greg Desmangles enjoying some off time.

Given that all the attending chefs have kitchens to run and this event doesn’t generate revenue, why do they do it? While there is a stipend to cover the costs of ingredients – and some chefs have sponsors that provide branded ingredients, like Antonius Caviar for Chef Patel or Driscoll Berries for Chef Sydnor – the event requires a lot of work for no cash reward.

All the labor, which in prep alone can rack up 30 to 40 hours plus onsite event prep and the events themselves, is pro-bono. So why participate? The status and recognition of hard work, plus a little VIP treatment. 

Chef Brad Cecchi, Bucky Bray and Patricio Wise representing for Cantina Pedrigal. Photo by Anastasia Murphy
Chefs Brad Cecchi, Bucky Bray and Patricio Wise

“It’s an elite event, a lead culinary event in the country, that invited me to come along with people from all over. There is prestige to that,” said Brad Cecchi of Canon East Sac and soon-to-open Cantina Pedrigal. “And they take really good care of us. It is not a vacation, but it is a perk. Access to that level of hospitably, it feels good. It’s fun.” 

Part of the perk is lodging. No matter which property, The Inn at Spanish Bay or The Lodge at Pebble Beach, the lodging is arguably one of the most beautiful places, dare we say, in the world.

Thomas Cannell, owner Block & Bowl, and Chefs Oliver Ridgeway and Jason Shepherd

“It is stunning, absolutely stunning,” referring to the location, said Oliver Ridgeway of Camden Spit and Larder. Ridgway also shared that the event offered him an opportunity to rub shoulders, collaborate and meet like-minded people from the industry, as well as winemakers, producers, and chefs. He was looking forward to just being part of the culinary-beverage energy.

Chefs Oliver Ridgeway and Jason Shepherd enjoying some out of the kitchen time.

“We have our own circles, but as a collective, being in an arena where everyone has a mission for culinary excellence, is just fun and a cool thing to be part of.”

Oliver Ridgeway

Ridgeway went on to mention that the strides Sacramento has made in the culinary industry – proclaiming the city the “Farm-to-Fork Capital” and the Michelin Guide visit – is a testament to all the hard work chefs in this city have done. With national and international recognition continuing for Sacramento, showcasing it at PBFW is a source of pride. Patricio Wise of Nixtaco Mexican Kitchen and Cocktails and upcoming Cantina Pedrigal expressed a feeling of responsibility for doing right by Sacramento. “We have to deliver and meet expectations,” he said. He was excitedly looking forward to seeing local and distant industry friends and peers, and he shared that this event is the place to be for those, like him, who truly the love the hospitality industry.

A note that resonated from many chefs was that everyone wants to be there — no one gets coerced to work it, it is very rewarding.

“Pebble Beach is a beautiful, beautiful place.”

Patricio Wise
Chefs Bucky Bray, Chris Dooley, Brad Cecchi and Ravin Patel having some fun after hours.

Foodie Perspective

The event is all about food, food, food, and more food from world-renowned and top chefs across the U.S. and the world. Plus, wine and spirits abound. Need more be said? No. But let’s just mention what Sacramento brought to the table to tantalize your taste buds. 

What was voted the fan favorite at the Sunday tasting, a nigiri style raw scallop was served by Billy Ngo of Kru. Lightly blanched and served over sushi rice, this spectacular dish earned the chef a $2,500 prize.

Chef Oliver Ridgeway of Camden Spit & Larder presented a Superior Farms spring lamb sausage roll served with scratch made black walnut ketchup and pea shoots.

A menu favorite and Bacon Fest winner, the Nixtaco pork belly taco was served by Patricio Wise. It features slow roasted pork belly slab glazed with star anise and coriander infused honey, served alongside refried beans and grilled cheese on corn tortilla with peanut-chipotle sauce. 

And Wise also served on behalf of Cantina Pedregal alongside Brad Cecchi of Canon, and incoming head chef Bucky Bray. They offered sope de cabrito, a slow roasted and braised goat on a blue nixtamal sope with grilled picked onions, chile de arbol salsa roja.

Cooking for Canon, Cecchi also served up a grilled chicken kibbeh featuring urfa chile, orange, crispy garlic and spiced yogurt.

A mouthwatering smoked sturgeon topped with Antonio caviar served on everything bagel bite was on offer from Seventh Street Standard Executive Chef Ravin Patel.

Chef Dennis Sydnor of Bawk and Urban Roots presented an exquisite jerk Avenales Ranch beef tartar with escovitch pickles, coco bread, pimento air at the Saturday tasting event and, for an encore on Sunday, a Driscoll’s mixed berry tartlet presented with Ron Zacap rum macerated berries and a strawberry pasty cream.

Fundraising Perspective

PBFW isn’t just for fun – although it certainly is fun – it’s a fundraiser, too. Two nonprofit organizations, in particular, benefit: the Pebble Beach Company Foundation and The Roots Fund. The Pebble Beach Company Foundation focuses on providing scholarships and funding for education to youth in Monterey County, where Pebble Beach is located. The Roots Fund works on securing career pathways in the wine industry for people of color.

After a five-year hiatus, the 2024 Pebble Beach Food and Wine delivered. For a large, multi-day, multi-location event, the coordination and organization was impressive. This clearly wasn’t their first rodeo for the event planners at A21 Production Agency and Pebble Beach Resorts. Throughout the event, plates were continually bussed by exceptionally efficient and friendly staff; DJ’s and live musicians entertained; rest areas were well maintained, and no single-use plastics were used. Connections made among industry peers and attendees ginned up a renewed love for a new vineyard or spirit. And the plates of carefully crafted food were the jewels in the crown of a meal fit for royalty.

A welcoming display of glasses ready for guests to fill with wine. Photo by Anastasia Murphy
A welcoming display of glasses ready for guests to fill with wine.