It seems that picnics are not what they used to be. Perhaps studied would be the word to express what they are today.
We're talking about creations; menus that invite fantasy--a picnic with Renoir, a stroll in the Tuileries, poodles padding alongside their mistresses in wide-brim hats and sun umbrellas, picnic baskets swaying in the hand of handsome devils, Beau Brummell , Laurence Olivier or somebody like that.
Like the one we witnessed at a French chefs' annual do, where the food was cooked by teams of the best chefs in Los Angeles.
Maybe a picnic over which the music of Mozart wafts gracefully. Like at the Hollywood Bowl.
Or a Rolls-Royce tailgate picnic at the race track on Derby Day.
Or a Napa Valley wine maker's picnic.
Or . . .
Whatever your fertile imagination can conjure up, as long as it's not old hat.
Well, we've been collecting such picnic menus for several months. As you will see, they are anything but old hat. And they are, indeed, studied.
None better stressed the presence of wine in today's elegant picnics than a Napa Valley-style picnic held in April at wine expert and host Robert L. Balzer's home, which overlooks a haze of greenery and pretty hills of Orange County. It would have pleased Renoir or Beau Brummell, too.
It certainly pleased the gathering of wine makers, such as Carolyn Martini of Louis M. Martini; Stuart Smith of Smith-Madrone Vineyards; Jack Cakebread of Cakebread Cellars, and Ed Sbragia and Tor Kenward of Beringer Vineyards. They all brought wines from their own vineyards to complement the menu, which chef Gary Danko of Beringer Vineyards had prepared. The emphasis was on products of California--avocado, walnut oil, Napa Valley extra virgin olive oil, fromage blanc from Sonoma, fresh herbs and vegetables from the garden, as well as the host of Napa Valley wines.
Warm scallop salad with roasted sweet red peppers and avocado was served with Cakebread Cellars 1983 Sauvignon Blanc. A roasted native veal loin with shallots and wild mushrooms was served with Beringer Vineyards 1983 barrel-fermented Chardonnay. A savory filo cheese tart was served with Louis M. Martini 1981 North Coast Merlot, and an almond pastry with lemon curd filling was served with Robert Mondavi Winery 1983 Moscato d'Oro, a sweet Muscat grape wine.
This menu, using the suggested wines or your own sampling, can be toted to a picnic site, but works much better when served in the garden with a kitchen at close hand, because of the last-minute heating. The foods, however, can be served at room temperature if taken to a picnic.
Then at Santa Anita Race Track in Arcadia on Derby Day in April, members of the Rolls-Royce Owners Club and Bentley Drivers Club were picnicking on the infield. "The picnic aspect has grown to nearly match the importance of judging the cars," said Barney Bornstein of the Rolls club.
Early in the day, owners motor to assigned spots. Linens, crystal, silver and flower arrangements decorate the tailgate picnics, which this year emphasized "duck yellow" as the theme, inspired by a member's pale-yellow Bentley convertible that was custom-built in 1949 for writer Ian Fleming of James Bond fame. Naturally, everyone turned up wearing yellow, too.
The winning picnic menu went to Barbara and John Stephens, Ruth and Howard Gilliam and Ron and Ray Schwarts, who dined on a potluck menu of assorted salads, including curried chicken salad, Chinese beef salad, shrimp salad, fresh fruit, croissants and pastries, arranged in shell-shaped glass bowls nestled in a cluster of balloons.
All the salads are do-ahead and easy to serve from bowls.
A dessert idea for this or other menus came to us from the Domaine Chandon people. Simply marinate strawberries in Champagne to cover, then either drink the Champagne and eat the strawberries, or mix the Champagne with some creme fraiche to make a sauce for the berries.
Up in Berkeley this spring, we ran into Narsai David, a pioneer in pushing California into recognition through his work in the restaurant and gourmet delicatessen field. He had put together a simple delicatessen picnic made up of foods from his charcuterie .
The trick to the menu was to combine some delicatessen items--pate, chutney, chocolate sauce--with some baked items, such as a savory version of the French almond tart called le Pithiviers , which is sold fresh daily, and giant chocolate chip cookies, whose recipes we have tried only to match since David's recipes are unavailable. Savory Pithiviers can be prepared ahead or even frozen to use whenever the picnic mood strikes. The cookies can be prepared from the recipe for Oatmeal Pecan-Raisin Cookies provided to us by caterer J. Spector in Hollywood, or from your own files.