Foodies and food professionals converged last weekend at Rough Creek Lodge (www.roughcreek.com), near Glen Rose, to eat, drink, and rub shoulders with the editors of Saveur magazine. New York City-based Saveur chose the luxuriously Texan lodge for the first event in their "Saveur Alive and Cooking" tour, a series of gastronomic weekends around the country meant to bring the pages of the highly regarded magazine to life and to promote a region's culinary artisans. Two of the major artisans featured at the event were Austin's Tito Beveridge of Tito's Handmade Vodka, Texas' only distillery, and Clementine Becker of Becker Vineyards from Fredericksburg.
While guests and members of the press spent their free hours shooting clay pigeons, horseback riding, and lounging around Rough Creek's delicious pool, the real "business" at hand was food, and participants went home wiser in the pecan-cracking, quail-dressing, and wine-spitting categories, among others. I spent the better part of Saturday at the lodge, enjoying several presentations led by Saveur editor Colman Andrews, a witty bear of a man with a resonant voice. Andrews, along with Saveur executive editor Christopher Hirsheimer and Rough Creek's executive chef Gerard Thompson moderated the
weekend, which had a distinctly French focus in light of Saveur's relatively recently released cooking tome, Saveur Cooks Authentic French (Chronicle Books, 320 pp., $40).
If the price tag for the weekend was high ($2,100 per couple), the general mood of the event remained light. At an 11am wine tasting (the senses of taste and smell are said to be at their peak in the late morning), we learned how to sample wines "without raised pinkies" and how to master a "targeted spit" in the form of a true oenophile. (An ounce or more of each of the 19 wines we sampled might have proven too much to stomach before lunch.) Two of Becker Vineyard's wines were lauded at the tasting, among them a dense Cabernet Sauvignon and their surprisingly peachy Viognier.
A late-afternoon cooking class found us gathered outside around a couple of Weber gas grills watching Rough Creek's recreation pro dress a quail in record time. The hunting staff at Rough Creek dress between 85,000 to 100,000 birds a year and as many as 500 to 1,000 a day during hunting season, October 1 to March 31. Hirsheimer, Andrews, and Thompson spirited out a snack of sweet corn slathered with an ancho-cumin butter and grilled quail marinated in orange juice, garlic, soy sauce, and scallions. The high-point of the class, however, was a pecan-cracking demonstration by Clarence Hillary, an elderly gentleman with Rodinesque hands who operates a pecan plantation in Granbury. Hillary cracks all his pecans by hand -- each one individually -- and somehow still manages to be Rough Creek's principal supplier.
A champagne reception launched the evening, which included a dinner that showcased recipes from Saveur Cooks Authentic French, interpreted by Chef Thompson and his staff. The food was straightforward and rustic in its simplicity, and included a salad of butter lettuce hearts topped with a cheese crouton, a warm oyster preparation, a delectable wild salmon fillet cooked slowly over low heat, and a smoky stack of sliced duck breast that was cooked in hot coals. A traditional tarte tatin (apple upside-down cake) concluded the dinner.
While the Saveur editors won't likely be back cooking at Rough Creek any time soon, my third visit to the lodge confirmed that it's a dining destination that ought not be missed. In fact, while I thoroughly enjoyed Saveur's program, I found myself wanting for the foods I've come to associate with chef Thompson and his superlatively talented kitchen staff. The menu changes daily at Rough Creek, but each of my meals at the lodge has offered an abundance of textures and flavors melding harmoniously on the plate. You don't have to book a room to dine at Rough Creek, and the drive from Austin is a short 21é2 hours, the last half-hour of it enjoyably scenic. The warm weather just might be behind us, and the "serious" eating season begun. Think Sherry Maple Glazed Texas Quail With Corky Adams Grits, Smithfield Ham, and Pickled Onions or Roasted Ringneck Pheasant With Sun-Dried Tomato Risotto, Asparagus, and Lemon-Thyme Sauce, and get yourself up to Rough Creek. Fast!
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