Ham-Wrapped Rabbit Loin with Carrot Purée

Eight years ago, Peay Vineyards was lucky enough to be invited to Blackberry Farm, an enchantingly beautiful Relais and Chateaux resort nestled in Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains, for a Vintner’s weekend. The personal hospitality at Blackberry Farm was such a warm embrace that my wife, Ami, and I could not fathom leaving. Early on Sunday morning, on our way to the airport, we stopped in at Allen Benton’s glorious church of bacon and ham. Something was afoot down here. Passionate people were reviving, distilling, and exalting food and hospitality by dint of hard work and vision. I knew I needed to further explore the food and food culture of the South.


We like to cook. When we host a guest for dinner, there is sometimes an unspoken competition among Vanessa, Nick and myself for who will cook what dish (and which appeared to please the guests the most, of course). Vanessa cooks refined, multi-step dishes adapted from cookbooks intended for testing coffee table strength not for instruction. I tend to use the grill or the long braise method for meat dishes and like my vegetables crunchy. Nick is the dessert specialist who cooks Asian and has a slew of dishes in his arsenal that he whips up at a moment’s notice. Duck is Nick’s forte.


It seems to me like 2011 was the Year of the Pork. Not Year of the Pig like in the Chinese zodiac but the year of exalting the tasty meat from Homer Simpson’s “wonderful, magical animal!” Not only are great restaurants paying homage to our porcine friend by hosting “whole hog” dinners but entire restaurants are dedicated to serving piggy-centric menus. Inspiring this movement is the travelling event known as Cochon 555. A gastronomic celebration of pig, chef and wine, the Cochon 555 is a 10-city tour that showcases 5 breeds of hog, 5 chefs from that city, and 5 wineries.


Wood Tavern is my local. My wife and I call it our “formal dining room” as the restaurant sits just down the hill and we eat there with embarrassing regularity. At their first restaurant, Frascati, Rich and Rebekah Wood discovered a formula for delivering deep, satisfying flavors that they perfected at their new outpost, Wood Tavern, in Oakland, CA. Regardless of whether the dish is a pan-seared halibut or a sumptuous pork chop, it is the best version of that dish you have ever tried.


People think the most common Chinese roast duck dish is Peking duck but what you see hanging in the windows of Chinatown “delis” is actually the Cantonese version of roast duck from the southern part of China. It, too, has the crackling-crisp skin that comes from air drying the duck prior to roasting but it is moister and savory from the liquid marinade that flavors the duck from the inside as it roasts. I make this dish for the Lunar New Year banquet that I host.


Stuart Brioza has chops. He has run the kitchen in some of America’s best restaurants like the famed Rubicon in San Francisco and Tapawingo in northern Michigan. If you have not been fortunate enough to eat his food yet, seek him out. He is at the top of my list of the country’s best chefs. Since this is the Syrah issue and there is no better complement to cool climate syrah than lamb, Stuart offered up his lamb chop recipe. The smoky, sanguine and iron qualities amplify when eaten together and result in a frenzy of “man, that is so good!”


Every year, a large group of our close friends head up to Peay Vineyards for four days of eating, drinking, dancing to live music, and merrymaking. One of the main culinary focuses of the long weekend is the Pig Feast. Two pigs adorn a long table for the Friday afternoon meal. An 85-pound, free-range, organically-fed pig from Clark Family ranch in Tomales Bay is interred on Thursday night after sitting in brine for a few days. The second 65-pound piglet from the same ranch rotates on a spit from early in the morning on Friday until mealtime.


Cut the sprouts lengthwise in half and lay on a baking sheet or in a Ziploc bag. Coat with oil. Place on grill on medium flame and cook on each side for 5 minutes. While grilling, fry the bacon in a large pan until chewy. Remove the bacon and sauté the chopped shallots in the bacon grease until tender. Chop the bacon and add it to the shallots. Toast the walnuts in a pan or toaster oven and add them to the pan with the dried cherries and grilled Brussels Sprouts. Stir to coat.