The Art of Food + Wine

The Art of Food Wine The clock is ticking and the heat is on. You and your Iron Chef allies dash through the Embarcadero’s bountiful Ferry Plaza Market, scoring a mother lode of organic provisions: fresh shellfish from Hog Island Oyster Company, buttery “MT TAM” cheese from Cowgirl Creamery Artisan Cheese Shop, Persian Lime Olive Oil from Stonehouse and Capay Valley veggies from Farm Fresh To You.

It’s time to pit your culinary skills against your fired-up competitors to see who will reign supreme in the kitchen.

“Teambuilding needs a fun component, and food is fun, especially in San Francisco,” says Craig Vandermause, general manager of the local TBA Global office. “There’s such a focus on food-themed events here these days. And cooking challenges are a great way to intertwine local flavor into an event.” Vandermause counts on companies like Hands On Gourmet, In The Kitchen With Lisa and Parties That Cook to spice things up beyond your garden-variety affair. They’ll also take the gastronome show on the road with foodie field trips to Marin County, “gourmet ghetto” treks through Berkley and chocolate tastings at private estates.

Green is always an underlying theme since the Farmer’s Market is operated by the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA). “It’s CUESA’s mission to promote a sustainable food system through operating markets and their educational programs,” says Jane Connors, Ferry Building Marketplace manager. “So cooking demos, farmer talks and cooking classes are a big part of their outreach.”

Vandermause has challenged up to 50 with Iron Chef, while Parties That Cook’s founder/executive chef Bibby Gignilliat says it’s suitable for up to 120 when incorporating both indoor and outdoor Marketplace areas. “When I started this business 10 years ago, I actually had to educate people on what cooking classes and teambuilding events were all about,” Gignilliat recalls. “Now it’s a really hot ticket here.”

PRESS ‘N CRUSH In trendy Yerba Buena near Union Square and Moscone Center, Press Club caters to groups with prestigious NoCal winery vintages for tastings, blending parties and educational ruminations. Wine hall receptions accommodate up to 300, with a host of tapas and artisanal cheese/charcuterie wine flights to create a fun vibe for networking. Intimate pairings for 20 are held in a private dining room. For aperitifs, check out the nearby Basque-themed Gitane restaurant for unique sherries, cavas, madeiras and Spanish brandies.

Crushpad, on the other hand, delivers an actual winery environment in a 50,000-sf urban facility with fully operational equipment, thousands of aging oak barrels and soaring 25-ft ceilings that stream in natural light. “It’s hard to beat Press Club and Crushpad,” says Molly Walsh, vp of biz development for USA Hosts/Key Events. “Crushpad is more gritty since it’s in a large warehouse. You can dial in grapes from specific vineyards and actually make wine. People always have a good time with wine.” Capacity is 1,600 for receptions.

Parties That Cook brings its Swizzle & Swirl event to Crushpad, where up to 40 sip their way through a library of ultra-premium wines. “They learn about it while tasting it, and then come back to the wine barrel room where teams make tapas to pair with those wines,” explains Gignilliat.

JEAN MARC, TONY, TOM + FRIENDS Hop aboard a cable car for The Food Lovers’ Tour with your guide/queen foodie GraceAnn Walden. She’s escorted groups along the streets of San Francisco for 20 years, most recently via motorized replica cable cars to cover more ground.

Make no mistake. “This isn’t a restaurant tour,” says the former San Francisco Chronicle columnist. “I like to turn people on to food artisans.” And that she does, while tossing in a hefty helping of tastings, insight and history. Everyone welcomes Walden’s group with open arms, from the folks pulling focaccia from a 100-year old brick oven at Liguria Bakery to confectioner Jean-Marc Gorce, who delicately designs chocolate masterpieces at XOX Truffles.

Each car holds 48, but operator Classic Cable Car Sightseeing has a fleet that can haul up to 900 for customized tours. The highlight?

“Lunch at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana,” says Walden. A 9-time World Pizza Champion, proprietor Tony Gemignani also runs a popular pizza and cocktail-making school.

Walsh loves tapping into Tony’s. “Right now, cocktail is king with organic ingredients,” she says. “We just had a great event there for 50 and split it up so half would be making pizza while the others made cocktails. Tony’s crew is so personality-plus that it makes for a fun time.”

Tom Medina’s Local Tastes Of The City Tours leads walking tours to explore everything from Chinatown’s fortune cookie factories and Buddhist temples to North Beach’s beat generation hangouts and delis.

Up to 100 enjoy these cuisine-focused cultural outings by interacting with local artisans in their creative domain. “From a food standpoint, we empower groups with the know-how to find these same great things where they live,” says Medina. “That elevates the mood of the group, and they take home something practical.”

“Groups rave about this tour,” adds Heidi Jensen, operations manager for DMC Benchmark Destinations. “You learn a lot about the history, architecture and traditions of the area along the way. It’s always a hit.”

TREATS OF SAN FRANCISCO Four years and $500 million in the making, California Academy of Sciences (CAS) in Golden Gate Park is the city’s greenest repository, housing an aquarium, planetarium, natural history archive and scientific research facilities under one roof. CAS expects to be the largest public LEED Platinum building in the world.

“We held the 2009 Meeting Professionals International gala for 400 planners there and it was phenomenal,” says Vandermause. He has also teamed CAS with the de Young Museum next door, for up to 4,000.

CAS environmental aspects clinched the deal for Cindy Atkinson, director of meeting/expo services for DC-based Edison Electric Institute (EEI). “These are especially important to EEI’s member companies, which represent 70% of the US electric power industry,” explains Atkinson.

“Its flexible exhibit areas allowed us to feature different entertainment vignettes to support the grand event’s overall theme of ‘Celebrate the Big Blue Ball’.” Approximately 550 attended that green networking soiree held in conjunction with EEI’s Annual Convention/Expo.

USA Hosts/Key Events’ Walsh organized a reception to coincide with the “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs” exhibit at the de Young.

“The King Tut exhibit was promoted far in advance,” she says. “Since it’s not showing in very many cities, it was really a wonderful opportunity. We worked the theme through a scavenger hunt, food, music and entertainment. So it’s all very interactive.”

In May, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) unveiled an $18 million Rooftop Sculpture Garden. The 14,000-sf exhibition space is already popular with groups because the venue is so unique, it’s partially covered and it comes with all kinds of networking icebreakers due to the wealth of sculpture.

“The most memorable events are those that integrate our art exhibits with the function itself,” says Fiona Humphrey, event marketing manager. “We can open galleries to groups, with guides explaining what the show is about so it’s more relatable.” If you missed out on margaritas and guacamole during SFMOMA’s Frida Kahlo exhibition, plan for champagne and cake during special shows celebrating the museum’s 75th anniversary next year.

“San Francisco has so many great venues to choose from,” says Debra Dotson, senior planner for the American Bar Association’s Tort Trial & Insurance Practice. “It works well for us since there are large ones for our entire association and smaller ones where our 20-plus sections can tuck right in.”

To meet her group’s lofty criteria, Dotson looked to the San Francisco Opera House and City Hall. “We really wanted something different. And since architecture is such an interest with our members, these two are naturals, especially the Opera House with its beautiful rotunda and staircase.”

HOTEL SAN FRANCISCO Situated on 22 acres up in the Berkeley Hills, about 12 miles from downtown, The Claremont Hotel, Club & Spa has welcomed the likes of Garbo and Barrymore since 1915 with gracious warmth and exquisite period design. The setting is at once secluded with an air of exclusivity, yet not too distant from the lures of the bay and city. The 279-room hotel is looking clean and refreshed following a complete multi-million dollar renovation to the guestrooms, 28,000 sf of meeting space and public spaces like the lobby, decorated with black and white photos depicting the hotel’s history and famous guests.

This month, the new Meritage at Claremont restaurant opens below 2-story ceilings framing one of the city’s most magnificent views. The menu is fun: cider-braised kurobuta pork belly and bay shrimp tacos with Old Bay aioli.

In the South of Market Area (SoMa) next to Moscone Center, the InterContinental San Francisco is scheduled to win LEED certification in early 2010. Since opening last year, the 550-room tower with 43,000 sf of meeting space has been a champion of green meetings with locally sourced food and a recycling program managing 70% of generated waste. Likewise, the hotel’s (I) SPA is militantly eco-efficient with all organic ingredients and spa products. It’s ranked among the top 10 urban hotel spas in the world by SpaFinder.

When talk circles around to Luce restaurant, our knees go a little weak. Chef de cuisine Dominique Crenn was Esquire’s Chef of the Year in 2008, thanks to her “unique interpretation of New American cuisine.” Translated: black ink trofiette pasta with baby squid and smoked pancetta. Let the food swoon begin.