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Local restaurant takes the gold

Hawks in Granite Bay wins big at Lake Tahoe food fest
By: ToLewis, The Press Tribune
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One restaurant tucked away in a small corner of Granite Bay beat out 23 prominent area restaurants for top honors at the 24th annual Tahoe Autumn Food and Wine Festival. Hawks Restaurant, located in the Quarry Ponds Shopping Center, took the gold in the Best Food category, and also the silver medal for the Best Food and Wine pairing. The three-day event took place last weekend at the Village at Northstar just outside of Truckee and concluded with Sunday’s culinary competition. Husband-and-wife chefs and restaurateurs Michael Fagnoni and Molly Hawks said they felt their biggest competition at the event was the Manzanita restaurant at the Ritz Carlton at Northstar. That restaurant is run by Fagnoni’s former boss and acclaimed San Francisco chef Traci Des Jardins. “They took us down last year,” Fagnoni said. “So this year we kind of figured we’ll just take it easy and go up there and have a good time. It’s kind of funny because we ended up winning.” Competing in the event for the fourth year, the couple showcased a sample of their restaurant’s charcuterie with cured salame and ciccioli, a pork tureen, and paired it with a sparkling rosé by Jana Wines. Fagnoni began making the ciccioli by slow roasting a pork shoulder with bay leaves, thyme and fresh-cracked black pepper for about four hours. He then pushed the pork into a tureen, a ceramic serving dish that is used quite often with cured meats and casseroles. The gold-medal ciccioli was sliced and served chilled with house-made salame that was cured for 45 days, along with cornichon, tart pickles made from tiny gherkin cucumbers, and a generous allotment of mustard. “This is what we like to eat,” Hawks said. The day began for the two chefs by making seven tastes of their dish and sending it off, along with a bottle of Jana sparkling pinot noir, to what Fagnoni said was a “highly secretive judging panel hidden deep in the underbelly of Northstar.” “They tasted everything blind and then came up with their favorites,” Fagnoni said. While the names of the judges were kept secret from the competitors, it was rumored that Sacramento Bee food writer Mike Dunne was among those on the panel. As it turned out, Dunne was indeed on the panel, along with Bill Ryan (former vice president of exports for Beringer Wine Estates), Lars Kronmark (chef and instructor at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena), chef Douglas Dale of Wolfdale’s Cuisine Unique in Tahoe City and Kim Caffrey, senior wine educator with Silver Oak Cellars. The judging began at 10 a.m. and tasting for the 3,000 festival-goers began at 1 p.m. According to Hawks, and evidently the judges at the festival, the ciccioli paired perfectly with the Jana sparkling rosé of pinot noir. “Cured meat and sparkling rosé are a really great combination,” Fagnoni said. “You get high acid, a little bit of fruit. It goes really well with cured pork.” The restaurant offers a charcuterie plate on the regular menu that has five to seven different cured meat items at any given time, Hawks said. “It’s something that growing up as chefs we’ve practiced for a long time,” she said. “And it’s something that we do a lot of at our restaurant, and it’s near and dear to our hearts. It’s something we do really well.” When asked about his philosophy and style of cooking, Fagnoni, who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. in 1999, replied modestly. “I just buy high-quality ingredients and try not to do to much to them,” he said. “We really want to let the ingredients shine. We try to put ingredients on the plate that go well together so you know what you are eating and it’s not convoluted.” Toby Lewis can be reached at tobyl@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @TobyLewis_RsvPT.