Two new cookbooks embody dramatically different approaches to food and wine. Both appeal to me, but their juxtaposition suggests a major fault line in our current culinary culture.
The South Beach Wine & Food Festival is held every February in Miami, and it is an amazing party. Wine Spectator is a longtime sponsor, so I get to leave New York in the middle of winter to spend time on the beach with terrific chefs and vintners (and lead some exceptional wine seminars).
If you can't make it to Miami, you can share vicariously in the fun, thanks to the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival Cookbook (Clarkson Potter, to be published in November, $35), by Lee Brian Schrager with Julie Mautner.
Schrager is vice president, corporate communications and national events for Southern Wine & Spirits of America, the massive wine-and-spirits company that puts on the festival. He's the guy who brings together all the celebrity chefs, winery people and sponsors. Mautner was longtime executive editor of Food Arts, a sister publication of Wine Spectator. Together, they have really brought the event to life.
The book has plenty of recipes, but equal space is given to photos of and stories about Emeril, Rachel, Paula, Bobby and all the other television stars who have made cooking such a major part of American popular culture in recent years. A glance at the table of contents shows what kind of cooking that is: barbecue, burgers, comfort and casual food, desserts … It's all about kicking back and having fun.
What role does wine have in this book about the "Wine & Food Festival"? Well, the "drinks" chapter is all about cocktails. Including something called "Frozen Margarita Pops," which sound just right for Miami Beach but probably wouldn't age very well in your wine cellar. And though there is some good advice on "the best wines for barbecue," as far as I can tell, not a single recipe is specifically paired with wine.
In contrast, there's Grands Crus Classes: The Great Wines of Bordeaux, with recipes from Top Chefs of the World. This massive book (published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $65) celebrates the 87 Bordeaux châteaus of the Médoc and Sauternes that were recognized as classified growths in the famous classification of 1855, and pairs each estate with a dish.
It apparently took an army to produce the book. Descriptions of each estate (by Sophie Brissaud) touch on historical and technical details, and are accompanied by lavish photographs (most by Cyril Le Tourneur d'Ison, in formal Architectural Digest style). And for each château, a highly-regarded chef offers a recipe (photographed by Iris L. Sullivan), matched with a specific vintage by a notable sommelier. The recipes, like the wines, are not for the inexperienced or the impecunious.
Many of the dishes are classic in approach, featuring beef, lamb or poultry with reduction sauces. For Château Mouton-Rothschild, for example, chef Joël Robuchon proposes Caramelized Quail with Truffled Potato Puree. Actually, once you procure the ratte potatoes, the acacia honey, the fleur de sel and the fresh black truffles, the dish is fairly straightforward to prepare. Sounds delicious, too, especially with the 2005 Mouton (currently selling at auction for about $700).
But there are plenty of surprises, with flavors that range from Italy to Greece to Japan. Nils Henkel, chef of Dieter Muller in Germany, proposes Pears, Beans and Bacon to pair with Château Brane-Cantenac. The photo is a lovely study in minimalism and while the recipe seems complicated, the match is promising.
The Crus Classés are determined not to be pigeon-holed in culinary terms, and I admire them for that. But the book places them firmly in a fine-dining culture that seems completely foreign to the South Beach lifestyle. Is anyone really going to open a bottle of Lafite to pair with their Cubano Burger with Mango-Black Bean Salsa?
Both cookbooks have their virtues. And in many ways, they’re not so far apart: There are recipes in each book that would be right at home in the other. But I fear the books are glimpses into two worlds that are drawing farther apart. For myself, I'm equally happy with a white tablecloth in a palace, or a blanket on the beach. I hope those of us who love to eat and drink can continue to find common ground.
Johnny Espinoza Esquivel — Wine World — November 3, 2010 2:14pm ET
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