In an L.A.-style food and wine smackdown, Wolfgang Puck defended his home turf from fellow celebrity chefs José Andrés, Emeril Lagasse and Charlie Trotter at Wine Spectator’s annual chefs’ pairing seminar.
“You have like 28 restaurants within a few blocks of here, right, Wolfgang?” asked Trotter, who recently closed his namesake Chicago destination after 25 years. Not losing a beat, Puck replied, “You had your chance, Charlie, and it’s over now!”
The taunts are all just part of the fun at the event, which is always among the most popular Wine Experience seminars. As usual, executive editor Thomas Matthews acted as referee.
The format is by now classic. Each chef prepares a dish and then, often with little more to go on than the name and basic ingredients, Matthews and one of the other chefs compete to see who can come up with the best wine pairing. The winner is decided by a show of hands from the audience.
The first dish was a warm and savory pork hot pot by Puck. “I’m surprised you don’t have any foie gras in this dish,” Trotter quipped, knowing that California had recently outlawed it. “Arnold isn’t governor, so I don’t have pull anymore,” replied Puck, who is originally from Austria. Later, when Matthews mentioned that Andrés had considered using foie gras in his dish, Andrés shushed him, laughing, “Oh my God, my green card will be revoked.” In the end, the audience believed that Matthews’ selection of the Bollinger Brut Rosé Champagne NV worked better with the hot pot than Trotter’s choice of a dry Riesling from Trefethen, a leader with the grape in California.
Trotter’s dish, which he named “A Study in Exotic Mushrooms With ‘Surprises,’” made for a tough decision between Matthews’ crisp Spanish white from the nearly forgotten Godello grape and Andrés’ Bordeaux-style red blend from RdV Vineyards in Virginia. Explaining his dish, Trotter told the audience, “When we closed the restaurant, we had all this leftover food so I thought I would clean out the coolers.” The audience laughed and then voted for the Virginia wine as the narrow favorite.
The final two dishes–Lagasse’s duck ballotine and Andrés’ liquid mozzarella and baby Japanese peaches–proved divisive when it came to selecting the best wine match, but not for the same reason.
The audience split on the Lagasse dish, torn between Matthews’ pick of an Oregon Pinot that paired well with the duck and Puck’s Austrian Grüner Veltliner that bloomed with the accompaniments. On the other hand, not one of the four chefs was impressed with how the wine selections matched Andrés’ dish: Emeril’s esoteric choice of a dry German Scheurebe and a lusciously sweet Riesling ice wine from Washington, picked by Matthews. Andrés had perplexed the pickers with his dish description: Was it dessert-like or not?
Though excellent on their own, both wines, Lagasse announced, “are horrible with the dish.” Trotter and Andrés got in on it, too. “This could be the worst food and wine pairing I’ve ever had in my life,” Trotter said, to which Andrés added, “Let’s call the police!”
As the seminar came to a close, Wine Spectator editor and publisher Marvin R. Shanken came to the podium to lecture the chefs. “You’ve never been so nice to each other as this year,” Shanken complained. Well, chefs, there’s always next year in New York.
The Chefs’ Dishes and Their Matches
Pork Hot Pot with Matsutake Mushrooms, Ginger and Plum Wine
Trotter’s wine: Trefethen Riesling Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley Dry 2011 (NYR, $22)
Matthews’ wine: Bollinger Brut Rosé Champagne NV (93 points, $110)
A Study in Exotic Mushrooms with “Surprises”
Andrés’ wine: RdV Vineyards Rendezvous Virginia 2009 (NYR, $75)
Matthew’s wine: Avanthia Godello Valdeorras 2010 (92 points, $30)
Duck Ballotine with Turnip, Black Truffle Salad, Red Wine Mustard
Puck’s wine: Franz Hirtzberger Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Wachau Spitzer Honivogl 2009 (NYR, $110)
Matthews’ wine: Roco Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2010 (89 points, $30)
Baby Japanese Peaches, Liquid Mozzarella, Hazelnut Praline, Anchovy and Air Bread Croutons
Lagasse’s wine: Weegmüller Scheurebe QbA Pfalz Mittelhaardt 2010 (NYR, $NA)
Matthews’ wine: Chateau Ste. Michelle-Dr. Loosen Riesling Horse Heaven Hills Ice Wine Eroica 2008 (NYR, $75/375ml)