Relais & Chateaux GourmetFest’s David Fink Spills All

gourmetfest carmel david fink
David Fink

Photo Credit: Courtesy Mirabel Hotel & Restaurant Group

The countdown is on for the second annual Relais & Châteaux GourmetFest Carmel-by-the-Sea, a four-day foodie extravaganza featuring an exclusive roster of Relais & Châteaux chefs and wine estates in a picturesque setting. The 2015 edition takes place March 5-8 and promises to be even hauter than last year’s inaugural event.

Headlining this year are chefs Annie Féolde (Ristorante Enoteca Pinchiorri, Italy), Colin Bedford (The Fearrington House Inn, Restaurant & Spa, North Carolina), Diego Muñoz (Astrid&Gastón, Perú), Gary Danko (Gary Danko), Justin Cogley (Aubergine at L’Auberge Carmel), Lanshu Chen (Le Moût Restaurant, Taiwan), Michel Bras (Bras – Sébastien et Michel) and Olivier Roellinger (Les Maisons de Bricourt, France).

In all, more than 20 world renowned chefs, including an all-female team, will prepare gourmet dishes using locally-sourced ingredients combined with international specialties. Events will include one-of-a-kind cooking demos, intimate lunches, world class wine dinners and an exclusive rarities dinner, among others, and will feature prominent winemakers from Dom Pérignon, Dr. Loosen, Ridge, Gaja and Comte Georges de Vogüé. Auction items—bid online through March 15—range from dinner at The French Laundry to hotel stays at Relais & Châteaux properties around the world, including France, Greece, Maui, Switzerland and South Africa.

We caught up with David Fink, founder of Relais & Châteaux GourmetFest and owner of L’Auberge Carmel, to talk about this year’s gastronomic festival.

HL: How did this idea to do a GourmetFest come about?
DF: I have launched two other festivals in my life starting in 1987 with Master of Food and Wine at the Highlands Inn in Carmel and I wanted to do another luxury festival partnering with Relais & Châteaux collection of fine hotels and gourmet restaurants.

HL: How soon did you know you would do a second one and how did you know you were on to something?
DF: I always planned to do a second one and continue it as annual event. The response first year was overwhelming and now we have chefs and wine estates calling us to participate.

HL: Outside of the participants, how will 2015 be different than 2014?
DF: We have a beautiful new venue where the intimate lunches and dinners will take place called 7th & Dolores in the heart of Carmel-by-Sea. We have also spread our worldwide reach, bringing chefs and wine estates from all over world this year. We have also added a very special Caviar and Dom Pérignon lunch on Saturday.

HL: What’s the easiest thing about putting this together and what’s the hardest?
DF: The easiest thing was picking the new dates and the hardest is the millions of details and not letting anything fall through the cracks.

HL: You have quite a lineup with Gary Danko, Jean-Luc Pepin, Carlton McCoy and Anne Feolde of Enotech Pinchorri in Florence. What’s your secret in getting these great names?
DF: My secret is that these are all personal friends from over the last 30 years and it’s very rewarding when I telephone them to ask them if they will come and if their schedule permits, the answer is almost always yes.

HL: How fantastic is the Rarities Dinner going to be and how many lucky people will attend?
DF: The Rarities Dinner is only for 28 lucky patrons and the guests are in for a real treat. The wine estates feature Comte de Voguë, Ridge Vineyards and Dom Pérignon with all the figure heads of these great estates in attendance and all ultra rare vintages coming directly from their cellars. The chefs Michel Bras and Olivier Roellinger are great friends and Tetsuya is our Relais & Châteaux superstar from Australia. Justin Cogley, Executive Chef of Aubergine, and Ron Mendoza, Executive Pastry Chef of Aubergine, are thrilled to welcome these superstars to their kitchen.

HL: You’re showcasing women chefs during one of the lunches. Why is that so important?
DF: I still feel that in the world of food and wine, women do not get the recognition that they deserve. The chance to highlight these fine women chefs, winemakers and sommeliers at this special lunch is going to be a pleasure for us.

HL: The auction items are incredible! What’s your favorite auction item and why?
DF: I was overwhelmed when our Relais & Châteaux properties responded to the wonderful auction. There is no way I could pick a favorite as the auction lots are all so special. We are thrilled to be able to distribute the proceeds to very worthwhile charities.

HL: The auction benefits Cystic Fibrosis, Monterey Bay Aquarium and Rancho Cielo. How were those organizations chosen?
DF: Cystic Fibrosis has been a personal charity of mine for past 25 years and I was the co-chairman of the Los Angeles Chapter California Wine Masters for the past two years. The Director of CF-LA Chapter is a dear friend and we have seen great progress of life expectancy of someone with CF. We are thrilled to partner with Monterey Bay Aquarium, which has done so much for teaching our chefs about sustainability of the oceans. Rancho Cielo is a fantastic organization started by Judge Phillips that does amazing work for under-served youth in Monterey County.

HL: When this is all over, how are you going to relax?
DF: There is no rest for the weary. We are looking forward to a very busy year but I’ll take a few days for rest with some friends, enjoy a few good bottles of fine wine and a good meal.