Caramelized White Chocolate Pistachio Brownie with Strawberry Balsamic Swirl and the Meals on Wheels Star Chefs and Vintners’ Gala Fundraiser

by Irvin on June 25, 2012 · 24 comments

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Let’s talk inspiration. Like what inspired me to come up a variation of a white chocolate brownie with these Caramelized White Chocolate Pistachio Brownie with Strawberry Balsamic Swirl. I go to a lot of food events, but the single one that I look forward to every year is the Meals on Wheels Star Chefs and Vintners Gala. I’ve been supporting it for 8 or 9 years now and I’ve seen it grow from a smaller intimate black tie event to the brilliantly fantastic extravaganza that out does itself each year. Of course, Gala Chef Chair Nancy Oakes of Boulevard is largely responsible (along with the stellar staff of Meals on Wheels) rounding up a group of top-notch chefs and top shelf wineries to support the San Francisco Meals on Wheels. As usual, AJ and I ate ourselves silly, but the event always inspires me in so many ways. Case in point, if I hadn’t had a chance to taste all the decadent desserts at the Gala, I probably wouldn’t have created these brownies  you see above. That said, AJ and I, didn’t just eat the entire time we were at the Gala. We (obviously) took photos and notes about all the food we tried. But we also shot some video as well! Most guests don’t realize the massive undertaking of making meals for such a large group of people, all on location, away from their restaurant kitchen. Here’s a sneak peak video of the behind the scenes of the Meals on Wheel’s Star Chefs and Vintner’s Gala event. (Jump directly to the recipe.)

For those who aren’t in the know, the San Francisco Meals on Wheels event raises money for Meals on Wheels, a non-profit that supports senior citizens by providing for them meals in their home. It’s an awesome organization, and their annual Gala event is, by far, their biggest fundraiser, this year breaking records and raising $1.9 million – that’s something like 420,000 meals! How awesome is that?


The Meals on Wheels Star Chefs and Vintner's Gala


Georgie Turtle Free Shrimp & Soba Noodle Salad w/Lucy Garden RauRam, Carrot & Ginger Yuzu Vinaigrette from Lucy Restaurant and Bar at Badessono


Rueben Sandwich w/house cured pastrami, home made mustard and pickled onions on Tartine Bread bun from Foreign Cinema and Show Dog


Spiced Open Nature Lamb with Cauliflower, Fresh Peas and Pistachios from Safeway


Dill gravlax with avocado & Spanish black radishes on toast from gitane Restaurant


Straus ricotta filled Tortellini with Spring vegetables from Americano Restaurant


Melted Organic Wagon Wheel cheese on bread with greens from Cowgirl Creamery


Spring Vegetable Crostini w/American Sturgeon Caviar from Waterbar

The food, of course, was outstanding as usual. Try as we might, AJ and I ran around trying to sample every single thing and we still missed out on a few appetizers. The Gala event really has become one of the top food events in San Francisco, with nearly all the major players coming out to help support Meals on Wheels. Here’s how it works. You arrive and are greeted with glasses of champagne (it’s a party!) and then you walk into a huge space full of tables where restaurants are giving out appetizers and little nibblies for the guests. From bite sized paella cakes to small individual bowls of ramen, there’s something for everyone.


Paella Cake with chorizo aioli, fennel pollen, sea salt and chili threads from Scala Bistro


Tofu puff with shrimp, jicama, & multigrain fried rice from Martin Yan's M.Y. China


Wild Mushroom medley with goat chevre over toast and spring greens from Greens Restaurant


Braised mole pork shoulder in cornmeal gougère with pickled radishes from Starbelly


Seared Hamachi with Avocado puree, black radish and charred-spring onion citronette from Absinthe

It’s funny, as people always ask me if I’ve been to “Fancy Restaurant _____ in San Francisco” all the time. I love to eat out, don’t get me wrong, but AJ and I mostly eat in. We cook, we occasionally grab a cheap burrito, or do the carry-out thing when we are feeling lazy. But we rarely eat out, especially at fancy restaurants. However, because of events like the Meals on Wheels Gala, we can almost always say “well, we’ve never eaten there, but we’ve had their food.” In fact, we’ve discovered some of our favorite restaurants from the Gala, and have totally sent friends to restaurants strictly on the appetizers we’ve had at the fundraiser.


Sonoma duck prosciutto on Marcona almond waffles, strawberry, English peas and Fines Herbes from Bon Appetit Management Co.


California lamb loin on spring pea salad with curry-vanilla infused oil from Meritage at the Claremont


Buttermilk biscuit with seared filet, bone marrow butter and horseradish cream from Luella


Individually portioned ramen bowls from Terra & Ame Restaurants


Grilled local Halibut with apple kimchi, spring onion crema and chicharones by Sutro's at the Cliff House


Charcuterie selection, including chorizo, andouille, molasses rum ham, pork proscuitto, porchetta, bresaola and more from Epic Roasthouse

This was the 25th Anniversary Celebration of the Meals on Wheels San Francisco Gala and the fundraiser really does bring out the best of the best of San Francisco and the surrounding area. Martin Yan (debuting bites from his new venture M.Y. China), Tyler Florence, Traci Des Jardin, Charlie Phan, the list goes on and on in terms of the slew of amazing chefs from the SF Bay Area all came together to help support the awesome cause.


Mourad Lahlou from Aziza Restaurant


The chefs and cooks at Americano Restaurant making their tortellini appetizer.


Martin Yan of M.Y. China looking pensive.


Cesare Casella from The French Culinary Institute explaining to me his appetizer.


The chefs from Greens serving up their food.


The chefs from Hana Japanese Restaurant making handrolls to go.


The chefs (they start them young!) from Hecho serving up Motsunabe, a miso and pork tripe stew.


The women from Cowgirl Creamery serving up melted cheese.


Epic Roasthouse with their epic spread of charcuterie


luella restaurant had the youngest chef serving up food.


Tyler Florence explaining his herbs.


Nancy Oakes of Boulevard and Traci Des Jardins of Jardinière up on stage with the auctioneer.

The food seems rather unending, and this year, the sold out event seem to have their fair share of fantastic wineries too. There were cocktails and bartenders (or do they prefer to be called mixologists nowadays? Don’t ask me, I rarely go out to the bars anymore, I’m too busy baking). AJ was quaffing sampling some of the fine wines there and I have to say I was pretty enamored with a few wine bottle labels. What can I say? I’m a design geek.


Hanzell Vineyards


Silver Oak Cellars and Twomey Cellars (left) Anomaly Vineyards (right)


Selection of sake from Joto Sake LLC/Young's Market Company


Freeman Vineyard & Winery

But it was the food was what I focused on, and it had attendees swooning for seconds (though on second thought, perhaps it was the wine and cocktails that had them swooning). I tried to hold back because I knew that there was more in store for us, but it’s really hard to not take one more bite or one more sip. Really hard. But then we also had to think about what was to come. A three-course meal. Yep. We had to sit and eat. Yeah, I think I might have groaned (along with my chair) when I sat down.


Behind the scenes, the chefs are making dinner for everyone as we eat on appetizers.


One course plated and ready for the guests.


Placing the herbs on the plate


Making the perfectly plated dish.


Food, almost too pretty to eat. Almost.


Prepping the food.


Intensely working each plate.


The gorgeous plate.


I swooned when I saw this. I haven't a clue what it is, but I still swooned.


Last minute cleaning the plate with a towel.




Servers ready to serve!

Dinner was a beautiful affair. How could it not be, when étoile Restaurant served us Maine Lobster and Baby Salt Water Uni as our first course (ooh and Fiddlehead ferns and Kaffir lime)? The second course was a brilliant Liberty Farm Duck with green curry, tamarind and galangal by Fifth Floor. By the third course, I was ready to roll out of there, but I really couldn’t turn down Wayfare Tavern’s rack of veal with porcini butter and Yorkshire pudding. I think AJ wanted to ask for seconds on that one but he held back. As we ate dinner, the live auction occurred (aways a fun time: bottles of wine + rich people + fabulous items to bid on = amazing live auction).


The guests seated for dinner.


Maine lobster and Uni with fiddleheads! I got to eat this work of art.


Course two included duck. Really really good duck.


The rack of veal that AJ wanted seconds of.


The live auctioneer in action! Fantastic and entertaining as usual.

For those who have read my past recaps of the Meals on Wheels event know that dinner isn’t the end. After all, what meal (no matter how lavish) is complete without dessert? I look forward to each Meals on Wheels Gala just for the dessert part, because of the wonders that I come across. William Werner previewing some of his wares for his soon-to-open up Craftsman and Wolves (opening up just around the corner from me). I finally got to meet the fantastic Emily Luchetti of Waterbar and Farallon, who I adore. The ever adorable Yigit Pura had an awe-inspiring display of macarons, samplings from his soon-to-open Tout Sweet Patisserie (which sadly will NOT be opening around the corner from me).


Kevin Kopjak and Yigit Pura (left), Yigit Pura showing off his macaron babies (right).


Citrus cheesecake over biscotti cracker from Prospect Restaurant


Toasted strawberry with avocado, buttermilk cake from William Werner's Craftsman & Wolves


Sassafras Opera Cake from Murray Circle Restaurant at Cavallo Point


Passion Fruit Panna Cotta with Hazelnut Shortbread from Mayfield Bakery & Cafe


The fab Emiliy Luchietti from Waterbar and Farallon serving up an assortment of cookies including Strawberry Linzer, Lemon Shortbread with saffron, chocolate sea salt and Walnut milk chocolate sandwich cookies


Passion Fruit Panna Cotta with fennel gelee, candied violet and black pepper with hazelnut sable and vanilla meringue

Cindy Falatic from the Ritz Carlton San Francisco was there serving up a peanut sponge cake with chocolate marshmallow confection dipped in chocolate (I may have snagged two to go as well). Jake and Sean from Humphry Slocombe had ice cream sandwiches that went faster than you can say “Jesus Juice”. Melissa Chou from Aziza had gorgeous strawberry mousse with kumquat, pistachio, hibiscus and beet. The colors were so vibrant they were practically neon. I tried as much as I could, taking one for the team, but in the end I was defeated. I left without sampling any of Susie Cakes whoopie pies or COI’s lime marshmallows toasted with charcoal (as awesome as they looked). Well, ok, maybe I had a bite of each, sharing with AJ. But don’t tell anyone.


The pastry chefs from Prospect prepping their dessert.


Melissa Chou of Aziza serving up her strawberry mousse with hibiscus, rhubarb, beet, pistachio and kumquat


Chocolate Whoopie Pies from SusieCakes


Chef Cindy Falatic of the Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco serving up her peanut sponge confections


Charcoal toasted lime marshmallows by Coi


Ice cream sandwiches from Humphry Slocombe (left), Panna Cotta cheesecake with carrot cake cubes & braised pineapple from One Market (right)


The macarons spread from the soon to open Tout Sweet patissiere by Yigit Pura.

Of course the one dessert that I was thrilled to taste was the Village Pub’s Pistachio Olive Oil Cake with Roasted White Chocolate Ganache and Balsamic Strawberries. Rodney Cerdan was the chef and he actually recognized AJ and me. Not from going to previous Meals on Wheels events, but because Rodney used to work at BiRite Creamery and was there, scooping ice cream when AJ and I walked in, dressed like BiRite Creamery pints for Halloween. He totally remembered us and was super excited to see us (just like we were thrilled to see him). And his dessert was ridiculously good. I took a mental note of it, and it inspired my own dessert as well, the Caramelized White Chocolate Pistachio Brownie with Strawberry Balsamic Swirl.


The inspiration for my brownies, a pistachio olive oil cake with roasted white chocolate ganache and balsamic strawberries from The Village Pub

As AJ and I rolled ourselves out of the event, we swore we would not eat for about a week to make up for everything we had consumed at the Gala. This oath, of course, was broken by those brownies I made right afterwards. If you have a chance to make it to the Gala next year here in San Francisco, trust me, it’s worth it. Just don’t eat for a couple of days beforehand. Or afterhand. But it’s so worth it.

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Belinda @zomppa June 25, 2012 at 6:30 am

What a festival! Sounds like a feast…and to top off dessert with those brownies. Have to say, that soba noodle and shrimp is still stuck in my mind!


Irvin June 26, 2012 at 3:17 pm

Oh man. It was one of the first appetizers I had, and it was seriously good.


Lauren at Keep It Sweet June 25, 2012 at 9:46 am

Great recap of the festival! I don’t know how you remembered everything.

These brownies sound amazing, I’ve never tried caramelizing white chocolate but I need to!


Irvin June 26, 2012 at 3:28 pm

Notes. Lots and lots of notes!

Also, you must try caramelized white chocolate. So good!


tea_austen June 25, 2012 at 11:21 am

You are a maestro of the visual, my friend. Thanks for taking us with you!


Irvin June 26, 2012 at 3:29 pm

I love you for calling me a maestro of the visual. Thank you my friend.


Brian @ A Thought For Food June 25, 2012 at 11:23 am

Wow! What an event! Love all the pictures (and video)! And now I want brownies… thanks. 😉


Irvin June 26, 2012 at 3:30 pm

Thanks Brian. First time I did a video. It was fun and I can’t wait to do some more!


Pat June 25, 2012 at 11:24 am

Thanks for taking me along! You capture the experience so enthusiastically!!!


Irvin June 26, 2012 at 3:29 pm

I have fond memories of meeting you there Pat! So glad you could join me (virtually) via my blog post!


thelittleloaf June 26, 2012 at 1:16 am

That festival sounds absolutely amazing and your photos are incredible – I’ve been drooling over all the desserts and inspired by the amazing flavours on offer!

As for the brownies? Wow. Caramelized white chocolate is heaven and paired with pistachios I can imagine it makes for the most indulgently delicious dessert.


Irvin June 26, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Super indulgent. The butter gives is a great density, while the olive oil adds just a touch of rich vegetable fruitiness that works so well with the pistachios.

And yes, the event really is a wonderful inspiration for flavor combinations! I’m lucky to live in San Francisco, where they have fantastic food events like that to help inspire me…


Spencer June 26, 2012 at 1:33 am

Great food pics! Looks like it was a wonderful occasion. Wish I could have been there.


Irvin June 26, 2012 at 3:32 pm

It was great food and for a wonderful cause. I wish you could have been there too!


Meals on Wheels of San Francisco June 26, 2012 at 9:19 am

Thanks so much for the wonderful praise and footage! We are so grateful for your support!


Irvin June 26, 2012 at 3:34 pm

And thank YOU for all that you do for the clients you have. You guys are doing a wonderful thing. I hope for many, many more successful years of the Gala!


Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar June 26, 2012 at 1:49 pm

Oh wow! You always have the most creative recipes. I love this!


Irvin June 26, 2012 at 3:34 pm

Thanks Katrina! I can’t take all the credit, the inspiration did come from the Village Pub. But thank you!


Amy June 27, 2012 at 3:35 am

What a fabulous event! I am saving this blog post just so I can trawl through the photos multiple times for maximum enjoyment!
The brownie recipe is amazing and I can’t wait to have a special occasion to try it out. Good thing it is strawberry season here in Australia at the moment 🙂


Maggie @ A Bitchin' Kitchen June 28, 2012 at 7:10 pm

Wow, I really wish DC had an event like this! Everything looks so delicious, and I love that it’s for a good cause. I can see why you were inspired by that dessert – both it and your interpretation look amazing!


Jen June 29, 2012 at 11:30 am

That is such an insanely good selection of food! How did you not explode!?


Joelen June 29, 2012 at 11:11 pm

Such gorgeous pics & an awesome cause!


sippitysup June 30, 2012 at 8:03 am

I never tire of events like this. Especially with the added bonus of eye candy… (Mourad !!) GREG


Bertha August 13, 2012 at 12:23 pm

Thanks in support of sharing such a fastidious opinion, paragraph is good, thats why i have read it fully


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