Beeswax braised duck and other interesting edibles at Flavor Napa Valley 2013

Abalone congee
Abalone congee

At Flavor Napa Valley 2013 this past Wednesday through Sunday, the chefs rolled out some pretty interesting recipes.

The abalone porridge studded with Fort Bragg wild uni and local manila clams, for example, from food truck chef/cookbook author Roy Choi of L.A. Son, served at the Nov. 21 welcome dinner at Napa’s Silverado Resort & Spa.

Black pudding waffles
Black pudding waffles

Or the black pudding waffle topped in poached pear and foie gras butter from chef Brad Farmerie of The Thomas in downtown Napa, served at The Appellation Trail tasting at the Culinary Institute of America.

But top props have to go to the chef team for Friday’s “3 Beekeepers, 3 Chefs and a Winemaker” tour that culminated with a lunch at Farmstead in St. Helena. The chefs – Kip Ramsey of Farmstead, Timothy Mosblech of Long Meadow Ranch, and Malcolm de Sieyes of Silverado Cooking School – were asked to create recipes involving bee products.

And they did. The resulting menu:

— A salad of chickories sprinkled in granulated honey, tossed with chile- and bee   pollen-rolled goat cheese, persimmon, shaved fennel, pomegranate seeds, almonds and dried cherries rehydrated in Rosé wine
–Honey-roasted Pitman Farm organic duck breast and beeswax braised leg with butternut squash and chanterelles
–Olive Hill honeycomb with Point Reyes bleu cheese and Model Bakery crostini
–Honey bubbles clustered atop lavender ice cream with shortbread
–Tea with honeys from around the world

Farmstead bee salad
Farmstead bee salad

“We could have just said we were going to do honey-yum-yum-something,” said Napa Valley Bee Company owner Rob Keller, who directed the three-hour foray that began with a live hive exploration at St. Helena Montessori, where Keller is a garden and bee instructor. “But the chefs knocked themselves out.”

For the beeswax production, chef Mosblech marinated the bird with thyme, garlic and salt, then encased the top of the cooking pan with raw beeswax that Keller, a professional hive manager, harvested from his own hives. Then the pan went into a 225° oven for a few hours, to cook confit-style under the soft goo.

Beeswax duck
Beeswax duck

The wax was then scraped off, and the meat dipped in hot duck fat to remove any residue and gain a crispy edge.

“It’s one thing to make something if it’s just a novel idea, but it could also turn out disgusting,” said Mosblech, who admitted he experimented with the process before unleashing it on his guests. “But this worked. I think the duck absorbed some of the beeswax perfume.”

To choose the perfect honeycomb for the cheese pairing, Keller consulted his archive file that he says is set up like a Dewey Decimal system of vacuum-sealed combs. The winner was a 2010 vintage of dark honey that the self-titled bee-schlinger had discovered as a wagon-wheel size comb while doing a hive extraction for a client in Napa.

Making the honey bubbles was complicated, too, as chef de Sieyes invented a transparent, pliant concoction from honey, water, egg white and Xanthan gum.

Honey bubbles
Honey bubbles

“It’s tons of fun,” said Keller. “But it’s also part of connecting people to the roots of their food and wine.”

Indeed. Keller also partnered with winemaker Faith Armstrong-Foster of Napa’s Onward Wines, partly because she seals her small production bottles with bees wax from his hives.

Next up: figuring out if there’s a market for duck-scented candles, using the wax reclaimed from cooking.

Flavor Napa Valley:

Napa Valley Bee Company:

Tip: “Bee” cool, like the guests of Flavor Napa Valley were all week, riding to all the events in Pure Luxury shuttles.

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