The Panasonic Oven I Traveled To Napa For
One plane ride and an uber drive with the most colorful of drivers—to put it extra nicely—and I was there in the riches of California wine country in a mansion of a room at the Vino Bello Resort. Yes, that's about eight hours of travel which had me thinking about two things, bed and the brilliant Sex & The City Carrie Bradshaw quote, "if you're tired you take a nap-a, you don't move to Napa"—nothing splitting a bottle of red didn't cure! As someone who writes all about food and beverage in New York, you may not be wondering why I was in Napa, California—it’s me, it’s wine, perhaps it’s not Champagne, France, but it makes complete sense. Well, this trip was not my planning, for this, I have the masterminds at Panasonic to thank.
Panasonic has developed an exciting Countertop Induction Oven that is about the size of a microwave and does a whole lot more. With several different settings you can grill, bake and broil. Exciting, I know! If you’re thinking, “I so need one of those!” or, “that would make the absolute perfect holiday present for my aunt Jody who love love loves to cook up a storm”, the CIO will be everywhere you want it to be and is sold along with a lovely cookbook comprised of twenty-six different recipes specifically developed for the CIO. From the online world of Amazon to the shelves of William-Sonoma and almost everything in-between, you will be seeing a lot of the CIO.
After all of the opportunities I was able to watch the CIO in action on this trip, I can’t tell you how excited I am to get and play with one of my very own! Let me get you up to speed, so that you are in the exact same headspace with me.
A curated group of media, bloggers and social media influencers were invited by Panasonic to The Culinary Institute of America, aka The CIA, where some of the worlds most famous chefs once studied to become the creative talents that they are today. Our visit started with a wine drenched lunch event in the Greystone Vinters Hall Of Fame Barrel Room where we were briefly introduced to this CIO. From there we were guided into amphitheater styled seating lecture room with a kitchen at it’s base to watch an interactive demo of Chef Gabe Kennedy—whom, if you remember, I had done a Facebook Live with in the Tasting Table Test Kitchen a few months back. Using three Panasonic CIOs, Chef Gabe Kennedy developed three completely different dishes all while showcasing the CIO in action for those of us who were new to it.
“I really equate food to music. One instrument is beautiful, a whole symphony is better” – Chef Gabe Kennedy
For his first dish, there was a stunning a whole branzino with salsa verde, apple, fennel and herbs. His second, a roasted head of cauliflower on a caper brown butter raise puree. The third, a lamb loin with cucumber, dill and mint in a sumac yogurt. With the CIO being so user-friendly, when asked to relay questions, there weren't many to ask. That said, the questions went to a place I wouldn't have expected and quickly devolved from cooking to a more playful nature. “How old are you?” came flying out of a group of giggling "ladies" in the back, “the single ladies in the room would like to know”. Oy vey! Never ever have I been more embarrassed for my gender as whole, nor less excited to be lumped into a statement because of my seating choice. It was clear then that some of the people in the room were focused on the wrong meat in the kitchen. Needless to say, when the invite was extended for people to come down and see the food up close and personally, you could hear a large portion of the room stand up at once and corral their way down. Some of us more sheepishly than others for reason of seeing the CIO unclose and personally and to, well, take photos for this article. The CIO was really great! The one completely uncooked fish now had the perfect char along its skin.
For those of us listening and not daydreaming about the chef, we learned about what makes the CIO’s cooking methods so exceptional. You can bet I’m pulling from my notes about this next part. In my feverish scrawl of truly notable facts intermixed with playful pull quotes from Chef Gabe Kennedy I can make out the facts—note to self, I promised to email him his funny one-liners. Forget that! They’re too fun, I’m going to add them into this article and the photos, you’re so welcome. First thing’s first, here’s some quick notes you need to know about the awesome way the CIO cooks! The induction heater inside raises the temperature of the CIO without preheating so you have full control of your cooking. Pair that with it’s airtight seal, which also is great for temperature control, but also causes the food inside to reabsorb the flavors being expelled from the ingredients and you have a truly masterful kitchen tool. This is the kind of cooking that allows dishes like that branzino that I mentioned earlier to have a crispy skin on the outside and a softer flakier inside.
“Think of the earth, it has a soft gooey center and then you pull out and it hardens” — Chef Gabe Kennedy
After this exciting interactive cooking experience, we were taken on a brief tour of the Culinary Institute of America and it’s surrounding grounds. After which myself and two of my girlfriends, who were also invited on the trip, went out to explore what Napa is known for, it’s wine! Normally, I wouldn’t mention this part but our "downtime" on this trip was exceptional! On a fun note, Chef Gabe Kennedy, his manager and a few great people from the Panasonic team joined our crew. Beyond it being amazing to hear all about the inner workings of the event we had just experienced and the ones arranged for the following day, it was great to kick back and have some downtime with these creative and inspired people on a more personable level. We started with a glass of wine fireside at Farmstead At Long Meadow Ranch and then caravanned over to Auberge Du Soleil listening to the sounds of Chef Gabe Kennedy actually rapping about avocados—it sounds ridiculous as I write it, but it was thoroughly entertaining. I wouldn't have imagined a rap about avocados to be something I'd want to add to my Spotify playlist, but this one has me wondering. I'm sure you'll get a chance to hear it soon, but I'm not allowed to say why. Anyway, we made it to Auberge Du Soleil just in time to watch the sunset over the rolling hills filled with vineyards while sipping bubbly and indulging in oysters, calamari, fries and pizza—ooh, so need to make pizza in the CIO!
Fast forward to the following day, and through the incredible private wine tasting, barrel filled cave and vineyard tour I had with one of my girlfriends in our "downtime" with owner Dennis O'Neil of Checkerboard Vineyards—FYI, when in Napa wine is the perfect breakfast, especially when it’s as incredible as the wine we had on this vineyard. To be completely transparent, red wines were never my favorites, I default to champagnes. This vineyard enlightened me to Napa reds. They are sweeter with a great complexity compared to the French reds I've been exposed to. I won’t elaborate too much in this article but it has to do with the climate in Napa and how it doesn’t get terribly cold allowing for the grapes to fully age before being harvested—this is a story for another day, perhaps over a glass of a Checkerboard vintage! Right, right, right, we were fast forwarding, perhaps in the slowest way possible. From the vineyard, we met up with another girlfriend and Chef Gabe Kennedy to take a private tour of Chef Thomas Keller’s world famous restaurant The French Laundry. Fun fact, the restaurant was originally a laundromat by the name of The French Laundry, then a brothel bearing the same name and keeping with that pattern now stands as The French Laundry restaurant we all know and dream of going to. Exploring the restaurant, it’s under construction new and I must say absolutely incredible kitchen that funnily enough is far larger than the seating portion of the restaurant, it’s current kitchen which was being occupied by lots of busy chefs and had a monitor that acts as a window to the live goings on in the New York City kitchen of Per Se where they too have a live monitor facing back as a window into the kitchen of The French Laundry, and the farm across the street where they grow all of their own produce, ugh, the experience was magical. Still “fast forwarding”. We went to lunch at Redd Wood and then—here we go—to the next Panasonic event, a cocktail party!
This was a really fun idea. There were stations around the space each equipped with it’s own CIO in which they demonstrated how to cook small bites that we could then walk around and eat while sipping more wine. It was at this event that we were all surprised with the amazing gift of our very own Panasonic Countertop Induction Oven! After a trip filled with delicious eats from it, I so can’t wait until mine arrives!