If the brand name Lexus doesn’t immediately bring to your mind bicycles and fine food, you could probably be forgiven. However, if the first annual Lexus Gran Fondo, held on Cape Cod, is any indication of things to come, that will all soon change. The cycling event, combined with a variety of fine food experiences, is the first produced by Lexus, and its success means we’re likely to see more of these events hosted by Lexus and their partner hotels.
Wait, you say. “Partner hotels”? What you might not have known is that Lexus partners with great hotels around the country, from Sausalito to Aspen to Lake Placid, giving Lexus owners a variety of benefits there.
Wait, there’s more: Lexus also has a culinary program with master chefs and sommeliers, including barbecue wizard Dean Fearing, XV Beacon chef Mauricio Luna, and Carlo Mariachi, chef at the well-known Brooklyn hot spot Blanca. Put together these magicians of cuisine, bicycle marathons of 28, 50, and 100 miles across the gorgeous (and blessed un-hilly) terrain of Cape Cod, and the made-in-heaven locale of Chatham Bars Inn, (Tel: 800-587-4884. www.chathambarsinn.com), the event’s host, a sprawling seaside resort in the quaint Cape Cod village of Chatham. What you get is an event that combines great food and a built-in way to work it off.
Of course, you can always choose to do just the cycling, or just the dining, and you can probably guess which of the two I opt for. I begin my Memorial Day weekend food fest with an event on Chatham Bars Inns’ terrace: a spread stretching across several tables and featuring the talents of the Inn’s Executive Chef Anthony Cole and Executive Pastry Chef Brennan Froeschner, along with Cassidee Dabney, Executive Chef at the Smoky Mountains’ Blackberry Farm (Tel: 865-984-8166. www.blackberryfarm.com), another Lexus partner. This is no ordinary foodie event, with the ocean providing a backdrop and such highlights as Dabney’s poached egg in a cup of smoked chicken broth, with freshly-made grits and a topping of chicken cracklings, grit cracklings, and candied peanuts. Hungry yet? You haven’t even heard about Cole’s rock crab risotto, razor clams with micro cilantro, fluke, chiles, and lime, or farro and asparagus salad. I make my way from table to table, pretending each dish is my first, and secreting away my used dishes (I know I’m not fooling anyone, most of all myself). A quick breather to inhale some sea air, a quick chat with fellow guests, and I’m onto Froeschner’s dessert tables, and such wonders as yuzu/dark chocolate or lavender honey mousse, and crème fraiche panna cotta with compressed strawberries, topped with basil ice cream.
I feel a slight twinge of guilt that I’m not actually doing any of the bike rides, but it’s only slight. At least I’m there the next morning to cheer on the bikers as they head out from the Inn. I join the crowd at the starting line, near the tent where the afternoon’s barbecue will be held. An appropriately-festooned Lexus stands at the front of the line, and soon the cyclists gather, each with a square marker on their back with their racer number and which race they’re doing (28 or 50 mile). They’ll be joined on the road by the 100-mile bikers who are cycling in from Boston (don’t worry, Lexus gives these champs free transport back to the city at the end). The trail runs up through Orleans, where it joins up with the Cape Rail Trail, a former railway now converted to a walking/cycling trail. Fifty-milers take a slightly different route that meanders between Rail Trail and side roads, ending with a beachfront turnaround. There are more muscular legs here than you can imagine, a variety of types about equally split between male and female, and a wisecracking announcer setting the scene. A slight breeze rustles the reeds. The ocean glows under the morning sun. There’s a good feeling in the air, with people knowing they’re the first to ever participate in this event.
I re-greet them as they return a few hours later, as barbecue master Dean Fearing has provided an alfresco finish line lunch under an ocean view tent. Fearing’s lobster tacos with tomatillo/avocado salsa are a revelation, with so many textures, flavors, and colors you can’t even imagine it, and his smoked brisket tacos are rich and flavorful. A nice selection of beers, including some from Blackberry Farm’s own brewery, and a range of desserts (the roasted pineapple on a stick is my favorite) complement Fearing’s tacos. A trio provides musical accompaniment, and there’s a satisfaction in the air of people who have accomplished a personal goal.
Speaking of achieving personal goals, Lexus Master Sommelier Carlton McCoy, one of the youngest people in the world to have earned a Master Sommelier diploma, is featured at that night’s aptly-titled dinner, “Today’s Tastemakers, Tomorrow’s Legends.” His wines accompany such dishes as Squid ink cavatelli with local conch and rock crab, heritage porchetta with fava beans, and this amazing smoked black tea custard, all courtesy of Carlo Mirarchi and Chatham Bars Inn’s own Justin Urso. McCoy also provides some amazing creations to inaugurate the next morning at the “Brunch and Bubbles” event, from a blood orange mimosa to a creation of prosecco, St. Germain elder flower liqueur, and lime.
Yesterday’s cycling becomes today’s indulgence. After McCoy’s liquid breakfast (yes, there’s actual food too) comes the culinary highlight of the Gran Fondo: the farm lunch at Chatham Bars Inn’s own farm, about 20 minutes from the resort. People arrive by their own pedal power or in Lexus transport to this eight-acre spot that provides much of the produce used at the Inn. Greenhouses burgeon with floor-to-ceiling tomatoes. Rows of plastic gutters hold every variety and color of lettuce imaginable. The vast landscape of agricultural beauty includes beets, sweet potatoes, fava beans, squash, fennel, chives, mint, row upon row of garlic, peppers, and much more. It’s a spot that in and of itself shouldn’t be missed, and guests of the Inn can take a trip here on their own (others by appointment).
We take our places at an al fresco table outside a wooden shed, overhanging trees providing shade, and rolling hills the backdrop to an astounding lunch provided by the Inn’s Anthony Cole. Country pate is garnished with pickled cauliflower and green tomatoes. Greens and radishes from the farm are boosted by shavings of fennel. A Cobb Salad has Applewood smoked bacon, a cave-aged cheddar from nearby Vermont, and local organic eggs. A Nicoise salad is a picture of vibrant color, with deep red yellowfin tuna, glistening blue/purple potatoes, bright green haricot verts, and sleek white anchovies. That’s a great lunch, right? Wait, there’s more. Grilled chicken wraps with grapes and smoked almonds. Beef tenderloin sandwiches with Vermont brie. Focaccia with roasted vegetables. I lean over to the woman next to me (she and her friend have driven up from New York for today’s Lexus Gran Fondo events) and warn her, “You know, after all this there’s going to be dessert too!” Sure enough, it’s as bountiful as the rest. Carrot cake is topped with an apricot gelée, candied carrots, and puffs of white chocolate buttercream. Chocolate/raspberry devil’s food cake boasts candied beets, fresh raspberries, beet/ginger drizzle, and whipped goat cheese. Little farmer’s cheese and blackberry “hand pies” carry a honey/lavender glaze.
Later, it’s time to create our own culinary wonders. We take our places in teams at long tables covered with cookers, half making blueberry/thyme jam and the other half doing pickles. My friend Katherine and I form a “team” in front of the pots, the women from New York next to us and this sweet couple named Dalton and Caitlin across from us. The chefs give us our instructions. We pour water and pre-measured amounts of sugar into the cookers. As it starts boiling, we add the blueberries, then some lemon zest, then apple pectin. As it bubbles away, Katherine and I go wild, raiding the pickle supplies for some crushed chiles and ginger. Finally, the stirring getting more and more strenuous as the mixture thickens, we turn off the flame, add some lemon juice, and pour the mixture into jars into which we’ve put a few thyme sprigs. Ten minutes of processing in hot water, and our gorgeous jars of jam are ready to go. Okay, it’s not a 100-mile bike ride, but at least I’ve accomplished something besides eating over the weekend!
That evening, we’re driven back to Chatham Bars Inn where there’s one final event waiting: a clambake. It feels more like a glorious buffet dinner than a campfire-y kind of thing, but it’s still pretty bountiful, with clams, mussels, fresh lobster, swordfish, steak, barbecued chicken, about three thousand salads, and about fifty thousand desserts. Live music lends a retro flair to the outdoor event, and it concludes the Gran Fondo in style.
As I head back to my room, I think about the weekend’s activities, the perfect combination of exercise and food. It’s for the dedicated cyclist (some people have actually had their bicycles shipped here) and the casual food lover. People have booked in for the whole weekend, or chosen specific events they want to attend, with the ability to do the cycling, the dining, or both and in any combination. It’s been a low-key event, a perfect inauguration. As it grows I hope to see more of the truly special events, like the farm lunch/canning and the glorious tasting menu dinner of the first night. I expect ever-bigger crowds as the event becomes a must-do beyond Lexus owners and selected others who have made this first-time occurrence so successful. With its unique culinary offerings and beautiful bike trails, this is going to become one of the premiere Gran Fondo events of the country. I was there at the beginning, but you can be there next year. Escape to the Cape, to a world of splendid biking and even more splendid food and drink. See you next May, okay?
For more information on upcoming Lexus Gran Fondo events, visit www.lexusgranfondo.com