If you have ever read any articles about wine, you may have come across the word, “terroir.” Terroir is a French word that loosely translates into “a sense of place.”
The word acknowledges agriculture sites in the same region that share similar soil, weather and even farming techniques that contribute to the qualities of the crops.
Chef Bear Ullman has created his “sense of place” that is unique to the historical corner of Second Avenue and Rose Street in downtown Walla Walla. The Chef’s Table at the Marcus Whitman Hotel is where Chef Bear can be found sharing his very special terroir with others. It is a culinary adventure as Chef Bear’s guests make a connection to the terroir and terrain of the Walla Walla Valley through his “Sense of Place” dining event.
This epicurean experience offers an opportunity to learn about the innovative local partnerships that bring the best of the Valley right to the table. It was an experience I knew I had to indulge in and also share with friends. Jaime Chalk, wine club manager from L’Ecole Nº 41, joined our intimate gathering and
added to the evening’s combination of great people, food and wine.
Our “Sense of Place” package included lunch with Chef Bear at the Chef’s Table, Q&A session with our chef, cooking demonstration, tips on wineries to visit during our free time before dinner and the seven-course, wine-paired dinner.
In this package, special hotel room discounts are available, so one can dine well and be safely guided by the elevator to a well-appointed room.
We started our experience with lunch and were presented with a plate full of spring colors, from the perfectly grilled, moist salmon to its bed of fresh- picked local asparagus, spinach and bite-sized, roasted fingerling potatoes. We watched Chef Bear prepare, at our table, a sauce verte to be enjoyed with the salmon. It was an herb-infused sauce made with aioli, crème fraiche, whipped cream, a green “juice” of macerated herbs, freshly squeezed lemon juice and fresh ground pepper from a pepper mill that Chef Bear had handcrafted from dark hardwood. This fragrant mixture was then hand-whipped into a light and airy emulsion, and once on our plates, it was sprinkled with purple chive flowers. I couldn’t think of a better wine with which to pair our lunch than what was already in our glasses, L’Ecole Nº 41 Fries Vineyard Semillon.
After lunch, we did what any tourist would do: checked into our rooms, jumped up and down on the beds (No, not really. Just checking to see if you were paying attention), opened drawers and cabinets and tried on the monogrammed robes. Eventually, we settled in, went downtown to shop, took many photos and then a nap so we could be vibrant for what was yet to come. Later, we met at the hotel’s Vineyard Lounge for cocktails.
Once again, we were swooped away to the Chef’s Table, which faces a stainless steel inner sanctum — a well-oiled machine of skills meeting flavors. It is a view of the “behind the scenes” where a guest of the hotel can actually see how their food is prepared. Chef Bear gave us a tour of his microgreen garden in the kitchen. Those intense and compact flavors of freshness would later be incorporated into our dining experience.
We were seated at our table and given our menu, which was met with “oohs” and “ahhs.” Some of Chef Bear’s food and wine pairings seemed bold and not traditional, but with the first bite and the first sip, we knew these pairings were well- thought-out — perfection.
You quickly realize some of the foods, such as California Meyer lemons and Spanish Marcona almonds, do not grow in the Walla Walla Valley, and Maine lobster is not plucked from Mill Creek. These items may not be part of our local terroir, but Chef Bear had a vision for these exotic foods, and he artfully combined these non-native foods with our local food and wine and made them part of his own terroir.
We left the Chef’s Table and journeyed to our rooms. Our evening left us feeling giddy, satisfied and overwhelmed. We didn’t have to go around the world or even to the nearest metropolis — an epicurean adventure was just around the corner.CATIE MCINTYRE WALKER writes “Through the Walla Walla Grape Vine” blog at http://www.wildwallawallawinewoman.blogspot.
On the MenuMonteillet
Monteillet chevre, preserved Meyer lemon, Marcona almonds, micro lemon basil and chestnut honey
Maine lobster in a saffron-scented stock with Serrano ham, oven-dried tomato and grilled sourdough
Walla Walla Vintners Cabernet Franc
40-hour sous vide Kurobuta pork belly on fava bean purée
L’Ecole Nº 41 Walla Walla Merlot
Snake River Farms Kobe strip loin, foie gras, hash browns, house bacon and quail eggs
Woodward Canyon Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon
Citrus trio sorbet
Anderson Ranch free-range lamb with cherrychutney and hazelnut persole
Dunham Cellars Double River Syrah
Valrhona chocolate mousse with berry coulis