A Perfect Pairing: Muir Glen And Chef Will Gilson

Photo courtesy of Muir Glen
On Monday night, I had the opportunity to attend a tomato tasting dinner courtesy of Muir Glen and Garden at the Cellar, one of my favorite restaurants and a stop on the Muir Glen Tomato Vine Dining Tour. Muir Glen teamed up with five award-winning chefs across the country to create the tour. These chefs actually traveled out to Yolo County, Calif., back in August to help harvest this year's limited edition Meridian Ruby tomatoes.

Photo courtesy of Muir Glen
The five chefs then created recipes using the Meridian Ruby tomatoes and are featuring those dishes at their restaurants for a limited time. To kick off the addition of these dishes to Garden at the Cellar's winter menu, Muir Glen and Executive Chef Will Gilson held a tasting of the dishes. I was lucky enough to be invited to this special tasting. As a lover of Muir Glen tomatoes and Garden at the Cellar, it took me only moments to RSVP yes to this event.

Chef Will is known for using local, seasonal ingredients, but even he can admit that it's pretty impossible to get local tomatoes here in the Boston area at this time of year. The restaurant had been importing tomatoes from Italy and was able to go a little more local after pairing up with Muir Glen. Chef Will describes the tomatoes as "perfect for anyone who is looking to bring a bright tomato flavor to their favorite dish." This bright tomato flavor was evident in all of the dishes we tried at Garden at the Cellar on Monday night.

Photo courtesy of Muir Glen
The Tomato Tasting

Monday night was exceptionally cold, and Garden at the Cellar was the perfect place to be on such a chilly evening. I started to warm up as soon as I got inside. I found Meghan and Brian, and we all headed to the bar for a glass of wine and checked in with each other to see if we had recovered enough from Sunday's brunch to eat more -- of course, we had.

Soon after I had a few sips of wine -- a smooth, easy-to-drink red -- the bartender set out plates of flatbread pizza with smoked tomatoes and roasted cauliflower.

I had never had cauliflower on a pizza, and it's now something I might make at home. I loved this little bite, with deep tomato flavor.

Next came a platter of grilled bruschetta with tomato, eggplant, and smoked feta. This reminded me just a little of a Muir Glen recipe I made a while back with fire roasted tomatoes and feta but was kicked up with the addition of eggplant.

I think all of our eyes popped out of our heads when we caught sight of the slow-cooked pork belly with sweet and sour tomato jam set out on pig-shaped cutting boards.

The pork belly was absolutely heavenly. It was so crisp and the fat just kind of melted away in my mouth. It was everything pork belly should be. And the tomatoes were the perfect complement.

Chef Will later told us that the pig came from a farm in Connecticut, and he cooked the pork belly sous vide. I think part of the amazing flavor is owed to the fact that the pig was so fresh, not having to spend much time in transit, while the rest is owed to Chef Will's way with pork. (Meghan even got a tweet from @GardenatCellar during dinner that said they don't call Will "Notorious P.I.G." for no reason!)

The last appetizer was the famous tomato soup in shooter form with wedges of grilled cheese sandwiches. Chef Will joked that this soup is what pays his mortgage, and yeah, it's that good. It has such rich tomato flavor and it's so creamy. And who can deny that tomato soup and grilled cheese is one of the best combinations? I can't wait to make this soup at home!

After we snacked and sampled all of the appetizers, we made our way to the tables, listened to an introduction from Muir Glen and from Chef Will, and got ready for the "larger fare."

First to the table was a local seafood and tomato stew served in a wooden bowl. With each bite of the stew, I got the strong flavor of cilantro, the sweetness of tomatoes, and then a little kick at the back of the throat.

I could definitely go back for more of that stew.

After the stew, we were brought two dishes intended to be served family style. I had Meghan, Brian, Katie, and Rachel at my table, and somehow, despite the deliciousness of the dishes, we managed to share nicely with each other.

I tried the braised lamb with tomato and curry leaf confit and edamame first.

I was a little wary of this dish because curry is one flavor I cannot grow to love, much as I might try. Fortunately, there was no strong flavor of curry in this dish. I'm not even sure I tasted a hint of it. What I did get was tender lamb, mixed with soft tomatoes and potatoes, and waxy edamame.

After the lamb, I dug into the pasta with grilled sausage and parmesan. The sausage was so garlicky -- in a good way, of course. I can never get enough garlic. And the whole dish was very simple and rustic, like many dishes at the Garden. I could definitely see myself making this one at home as well.

The entire evening was perfect, and it was encouraging to see a local chef incorporating the canned tomatoes in his dishes. Muir Glen hopes this will inspire home cooks to use the flavorful tomatoes when they can't access locally grown tomatoes as well. I've already made one recipe from the Muir Glen Tomato Vine Dining Tour recipe book (hoping to have a post up soon), and I can't wait to try some of the others. And I know I'll continue to use Muir Glen tomatoes in the tomato dishes I make regularly at home.

Thank you to Muir Glen and Chef Will for this incredible evening filled with so many dishes using one of my favorite vegetables (or fruits, if you want to get technical!).

A Few Words About Muir Glen Reserve Tomatoes

While I was already a huge fan of Muir Glen (cooking with their canned tomatoes often), last year I became an even bigger fan when I discovered Muir Glen's limited edition Reserve Tomatoes. I ordered two crates of these tomatoes last year, and when I saw there was another variety of Reserve Tomatoes available this year, I ordered another two crates. You can imagine my delight when I found out our after-dinner parting gift was yet another crate!

Photo courtesy of Muir Glen
The Reserve Tomatoes are grown under certified organic practices, hand-harvested at the peak of ripeness, and canned within 8 hours, so they have amazing flavor. The crates are $8 each (shipping is free) and include one can of Meridian Ruby Diced Tomatoes, one can of Meridian Ruby Fire Roasted Tomatoes, one can of Chipotle Seasoned Petite Diced Tomatoes, and one can of Tomato Sauce. You can order them by joining the Muir Glen Connoisseur's Club, and I highly recommend that you do because each crate also contains a booklet of recipes created by the five chefs on the Tomato Vine Dining Tour. (That means you can make Chef Will's tomato soup!)

Have you tried Muir Glen tomatoes? Have you been to Garden at the Cellar? What's one of your favorite winter tomato dishes?