Sunday, March 31, 2013

Loreto Food & Wine Festival 2013

As I have mentioned recently in these pages, this past weekend was the second annual Loreto Food and Wine Festival.  The inaugural event last year was a very successful two day celebration with a street party on the Saturday and a golf tournament on the Sunday.  Due to the success of the event, the original goal of purchasing a much needed piece of medical equipment for the hospital in town was more than accomplished, and with the additional funds left over the organizers was able to assist a number of other worthy causes in town.

Following this initial success, the organizers realized that to maximize the benefits of future such events, an umbrella structure was required and the Amigos de Loreto was created, which I profiled here several weeks ago ( ).  During the past year, in addition to administering the distribution of the funds from last year’s Festival and creating a conduit for ongoing charitable donations from the expanding ex-pat community, the small group of volunteers that form the core of the “Amigos” organization had a big “sophomore” challenge facing them – meeting, and hopefully exceeding, the high expectations that were set by the success of the first Festival.

One way they set about meeting that challenge was to expand to a three day event, from the initial two days of last year, with the addition of a kick-off dinner at the Hotel on the Friday dubbed “White Night” with the simple, but effective theme of wearing something white.  There were 200 tickets available for the sit-down dinner menu which featured wine pairings from several different Baja wineries.  Homex had generously offered the Hotel’s large pool patio area for the event and the four course meal was supplied and prepared by members of the Loreto Restaurant Association.

I had been asked to play a small role conducting the live auction later on in the evening and so I arrived a little before the scheduled start time to familiarize myself with the set-up and go over last minute details with several of the organizers.  The Hotel patio was an impressive sight with large round tables for 10 attractively laid with white linens and table centers filling an area in front of a temporary stage platform where the Khnemua Jazz Ensemble, a 4 piece blues/jazz combo from Cabo that would be playing through the evening.

An entrance gateway to the Patio area had been set up where the guests had their wristbands checked and received a tote bag containing a complimentary bottle of wine and the ladies were given a white feather boa to accent the color themed ensembles that almost everyone had managed to put together.  Typical of most Loreto Bay social events, the crowd started to form a line-up before the planned start time and as they filtered through the entrance, picking up their “goody bags” (also white, of course) and began to mingle in the open area beyond, the impact of a couple of hundred people (almost all of whom were at least partially, and many completely) dressed in white was a surprisingly impressive!

After a somewhat extended cocktail hour, we were encouraged to move to the edge of the beach where a fire pit had been prepared for a bonfire conducted by the same fire dancer I wrote about early in the season, ( who had done the same demonstration at the earlier food event I had reported about where they were actually cooking the local delicacy clams.  This time, however, the fire dance was for entertainment purposes only without the delicious results of the steamed clams at the conclusion of the fiery show.  However, when we made our way back to our tables to begin the meal we were greeted by a delightful surprise – an appetizer of Tatemada style cooked Chocolata clams was waiting for us!   

This was followed by a soup course, a “fresh mint pea bisque” according to the menu, and not being a lover of pea soups in general - I was prepared to give this a pass after a sample taste, but I was very pleasantly surprised by the creamy consistency and fresh, slightly minty, very “un pea like” taste and enjoyed the whole serving, accompanied by bread sticks and “gourges”, which I discovered were a small hollow puff pastry balls.  After a small fresh greens salad the entrée was served, a generous portion of Sea Bass presented in a foil “swan” sculpture nesting on a bed of wild rice with a garnish of sautéed vegetables – the attractive presentation added to the enjoyment of the delicious food and I was impressed with how well the Hotel’s staff coped with serving a much larger group than they are normally prepared to handle.

The meal was accompanied by generous quantities of 4 different wines supplied by several of the different wineries who were represented at the Festival and concluded with a light desert of Cream Pablova with mixed Berries.  The live entertainment continued throughout the meal, with the vocalist and stylized blues/jazz repertoire adding an uncommon “dinner club” atmosphere to the evening.  During the first band break representatives of several of the wineries introduced themselves and highlighted the wines we were enjoying with the meal.

My brief stint as Auctioneer was scheduled to take place during the second band break and, following some descriptions of the items on offer by Elaine, the Auction Chair of the event, I did my best to coax a total of over $3,300 US out of the crowd for the four items that included a private catered dinner for four (later enlarged to eight) in winner’s home by Chef Kieran from Restaurant 1697, who was the Head Chef for the meal we had all just enjoyed.  There was also a private return flight for two from Loreto to San Ignacio with a Whale watching tour included, a two night stay at a golf resort in Cabo and a stay for up to six at the Guest House at an organic olive orchard in central California.

The next morning preparations were underway early on the Paseo, with cars being cleared from both sides of the street to make way for the approximately 500 diners who would be seated at tables in both lanes of the street, on either side of the open intersection in front of the two Posada buildings, where the bandstand was set up for the evening’s entertainment.  In the center median between the tables on either side of the street, shade tents were being set up for each of the 13 participating restaurants, all members of the Loreto Restaurant Association, along with other tents where the wineries offer tastings of their products, and more tents where bottles of wine could be purchased, and still others selling beer, water and soft drinks.

When people started arriving for the Street Party in the late afternoon their appropriate wristbands were checked by volunteers at reception tents at either end of the blocked off section of the street and then everyone received another a souvenir wine glass imprinted with the Festival logo, and a commemorative T-shirt in a similarly logoed tote bag and an all important restaurant “passport” listing the names of all the food venues and the specialty they were serving.

Apparently, one of the “areas for improvement” following last year’s Festival was controlling the food distribution so everyone could sample from all the restaurants, and so a passport was implemented this year so when you picked up food from one location that vendor could check themselves off your sheet with the intention of limiting everyone to one visit and sample per restaurant.  Space limits me from listing all the restaurants and their offerings, but suffice to say that the selections ranged from a pork paella, several preparations of clams, ribs , chicken and sea-foods, traditional Mexican specialties and even a desert table of iced cupcakes and other sweets.       

Early in the evening Los Beach Dogs, supplemented with some guest musicians sitting in, kicked off the entertainment with a classic rock and roll set – never sounding better, by virtue of the professional sound system that had been set up for the headline act Bahia Show de La Paz, back by popular demand following their appearance at last year’s Festival.  This 10 piece show-band with a horn section, two percussionists, keyboards and two vocalists did not disappoint with their return engagement and kept up a fast paced blend of popular English and Spanish songs that kept the dance area in front of the stage hopping most of the night.

Interspersed between the wide variety of food and drink to be enjoyed and the great music, there were more fundraising activities including a popular silent auction area with a variety of donated art and crafts along with gift baskets and décor items among other offerings.  Featured among some raffle items was a beautifully reconditioned golf cart supplied by a cart dealer in Cabo and I was once again recruited to auction off two final getaway packages; one to a Napa Valley resort and spa and another to a high-end Cabo beach and golf resort.

There were still some hardy dancers enjoying the hard-working band when I called it a night, well after the usually early “Baja Midnight” and found my way home again, feeling tired after the uncommon back-to-back nights of partying – but for a couple of dozen more resilient golfers, the scramble start of the second annual Festival tournament got off to an early beginning with an 8:00 am tee off!  I trust you, my patient Readers, will forgive me from passing on the early rising and the golf that followed, but by all accounts a good time was had, and many prizes were awarded during the lunch at the 19th Hole that followed the tournament, which further contributed to the fundraising purposes of the entire Festival.

Last year I was disappointed that I was away on a visit to Canada during the first Festival and could only report on it second hand (, as a result I have been looking for to this year’s event all Season – and suffice to say, I was not disappointed!  While in any large event like this, organized and staffed by volunteers, many of whom put in hundreds of hours of meetings and work for months leading up to the weekend, there can always be room found for improvements, but there is no question that this year’s celebration raised the bar much higher and, along with it, raised considerably more funds which will no doubt benefit that much longer a list of worthy recipients than were assisted last year.  More information will be available about the fund raising results from the Festival on the Amigo’s website when the final accounting is completed.

Seeing how this community has pulled together to begin a Festival tradition that will apparently thrive and grow in the future, and by so doing, improve the quality of life for many whom we share this beautiful place with that are less fortunate than we who have recently arrived.  And seeing how our enjoyment of the good things in life can help to benefit so many others – that is truly a special synergy of “Living Loreto”!