Arnaud Berthelier, 36, learned how to cook so he could travel—and travel he did. Originally from Lorraine, France, the chef started his Ritz-Carlton career in 1997 at the Ritz-Carlton St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, then moved to the Naples, Fla., property. Berthelier made his home in the kitchen of the Sharm El Sheikh, a Ritz-Carlton resort in Egypt before returning to the States in 2005, when he took on the role of head chef of the 2008 Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence-winning The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead in Atlanta, Georgia. There, Berthelier and sommelier Robert Evans create different food and wine pairings each week for guests. Berthelier spoke to Wine Spectator about cooking, choosing the right wine and why light-bodied German wines are his personal favorite.
Wine Spectator: How did you first become interested in wine?
Arnaud Berthelier: From time to time we had Champagne to celebrate an event or maybe some sparkling apple cider (demi-sec), but I was introduced to wine later on in Naples. The Alsatian and German wine I like have those characteristics. They are light, sweet, fruity, some even slightly sparkling. I like the fresh and citrusy note, also the clean character and the minerality they have. A friend of mine, a sommelier, introduced me to wine [while working in Naples], because the food that I was making was mixing very well with the Alsatian and Germans. The wine that most matched with my food was a little bit sweeter, lighter. So that was the most important thing that helped me try more wine. Also, my wife is German, and her father is a wine distributor in Berlin, so every time he would come over, he would bring me a couple of bottles.
WS: Since you are from Lorraine, are you partial to food and wine from the surrounding regions of Alsace and Champagne?
AB: Yes. I like wines from Champagne and Alsace, but in Germany they are much lighter. If I have a choice of wine to have with my food, I go more with the lighter ones like Alsatian, German, a little bit of Burgundy also. At our [restaurant] wine tastings, there are usually four wines from Alsace, Germany or Champagne.
WS: What are some wines you like to use when cooking?
AB: Glühwein (mulled wine) was actually [used for] one of the first dishes I ever did. Now, I use a lot of red wine. When I make red wine sauce, the most important thing for me is … I need the tannin, the acidity, so you need a particular wine for that sauce. Pinot is good, I guess. For cooking, I also use a little bit of Sauternes.
WS: Tell us a bit about the wine program at The Dining Room. How closely do you work with your sommelier to create food and wine pairings?
AB: We are changing the tastings and dishes daily, so usually what we do at the beginning of the week, we make "try-outs" for the food. We make the dish, and I introduce it to Robert. He tastes it and comes back with a couple of bottles of wine, and we will figure out which ones match the dish.
WS: What is your favorite wine?
AB: I like Joh. Jos. Prüm Spätlese, and sometimes I like Champagne. I also like late-harvest Trimbach Riesling, Zind-Humbrecht, C. Von Schubert Auslese Maximin Grünhäuser, and Domaine Weinbach Clos des Capucins Cuvée Ste. Catherine.
WS: What are some of the more inspiring or unusual food and wine pairings that you've created over the years?
AB: Salmon poached in olive oil with grapefruit rind and a little bit of basil. In the summertime, we do a little twist on the [original] sauce with olive oil with lemon juice and tomato and basil. This time we used olive oil and apple juice, with some tomatoes and a little grapefruit and apple. For the garnish, [we also used] grapefruit and apples, and the wine was a Pinot Noir from Germany. We chose it because of the contrast of the fat (oil) of the fish, and the acidity of the wine matched well with the acidity of the grapefruit dressing.
WS: What are some of your signature dishes at The Dining Room?
AB: We don't really have signature dishes, because the menu is changing quite often. We actually change the tasting menu daily. Some of the dishes change weekly, so you cannot keep dishes for a long time. It depends on the season, the market, the inspiration—everything!
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