Great wines may be the most heavily advertised aspect of the New York Wine Experience, but seasoned attendees know that one of the crowning jewels of the weekend is the annual Chefs’ Challenge, a competition to see who can come up with the best wine-and-food pairing.
An all-star lineup returned to the beloved battle of wit: José Andrés of José Andrés Restaurant Group and World Central Kitchen, Emeril Lagasse from Wine Spectator Grand Award–winning Emeril’s New Orleans, restaurateur Danny Meyer of New York–based Union Square Hospitality Group and Eric Ripert of Grand Award winner Le Bernardin. Before the food was even served, the good-natured ribbing started when editor and publisher Marvin R. Shanken awarded Meyer a 2022 Distinguished Service Award, while giving Andrés, who won last year but missed the presentation, a tiny trophy.
But all four of the famous names in food bonded over a common goal—to beat senior editor Bruce Sanderson, who was at a disadvantage as a first-timer in this contest, taking over for former executive editor Thomas Matthews. Each chef was tasked with bringing a dish of their choice; it was then paired with two wines—one selected by a fellow chef, the second by Sanderson.
“Because it’s my rookie year, I’m expecting you to vote for me,” Sanderson confided to the crowd.
“That’s the wrong answer, Bruce,” retorted Lagasse.
Lagasse’s dish was served first: Raw bluefin tuna from the Gulf of Mexico was perched on top of a blanket of Portuguese presunto ham and dressed with green olives and Vinho Verde. Ripert proposed a white from Portugal's Douro Valley as a great pairing, as it cut through the fat without overwhelming the palate with acidity. Sanderson was inspired by the Mediterranean flavors of the dish and opted for a Vermentino from Italy to complement the saltiness and savoriness. The crowd was convinced by Ripert’s choice, and he won the first round.
Andrés stepped to the plate next. Since the competition was occurring around brunch time, Andrés played off of that with a jamón chawanmushi (Japanese steamed egg custard) topped with a mirror-like nori seaweed gelee and bordered with dainty chrysanthemums and briney BlinQ blossoms. To pair with the ham-and-eggs concept, Legasse brought a bubbly—a rosé version from California—while Sanderson went with a ripe, sleek and spicy Pinot Gris from Alsace. Both had floral and fruit notes that aligned with flavors in the dish, and after multiple rounds of voting from the audience, the contestants declared this round a tie.
“I love Alsace—I think I was actually born in Alsace and then my mom moved me to Spain,” joked Andrés while complimenting Sanderson. “I love this Pinot Gris … I'm actually so happy you finally found a good wine.”
While humble-looking in comparison to others on the plate, Meyers’ smoked chicken salad on an herbed cheddar biscuit (made by Blue Smoke chef Bret Lunsford) wowed the audience. Andrés turned to his homeland of Spain and selected a white Rioja, remarking that more people should be drinking the famed region’s whites. Sanderson presented the only still rosé of the lineup, a “serious” wine with more body and texture than typical for a Provençal rosé. Andrés took the round because of how well his pick cut through the decadent biscuit, much to the chagrin of Sanderson.
Departing from his specialty in seafood, Ripert offered a more technical dish, building it around Fy—a vegan protein-based cream cheese developed out of research conducted in conjunction with NASA. His Fy parfait was served on a bed of warm potatoes and green olives and topped with sunny tomatoes and capers. Likening Fy’s flavors to a goat cheese, Sanderson went for a classic combo with Sauvignon Blanc, choosing an approachable, affordable, herbal Sancerre. Meyer decided to pull out all the stops and served a famed Tuscan red, the 2019 Sassicaia from Tenuta San Guido, which also had herbal and olive accents.
“It’s the greatest wine in Italy. Period,” Meyer stated confidently .“[My team] looked at Bruce’s review in Wine Spectator, and he had already given it a 98— so obviously we’re gonna win it.”
Tuna Presunto, Green Olive, Vinho Verde
Éric’s wine: Pormenor Douro White Riserva 2020 (not rated)
Bruce’s wine: Cantine Lunae Bosoni Vermentino Colli di Luni-Liguria Black Label 2021 (92 points, $40)
Jamón Chawanmushi, Nori Gelee, Egg Yolk, Chrysanthemum, Yuzu and BlinQ Blossoms
Emeril's wine: Roederer Estate Brut Rosé Anderson Valley NV (92, $36)
Bruce’s wine: Trimbach Pinot Gris Alsace Réserve Personnelle 2015 (92, $38 on release)
Smoked Chicken Salad on Herbed Cheddar Biscuit with Honeycrisp, Pecans and Pickled Grapes
José’s wine: Bodegas Fernando Remírez de Ganuza Rioja White 2019 (not rated)
Bruce’s wine: Clos Cibonne Tibouren Côtes de Provence Rosé Cuvée Tradition 2020 (91, $37)
Warm Potato, Green Olive and Fy Parfait (Nature’s Fynd Dairy-Free Cream Cheese)
Danny’s wine: Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri-Sassicaia Sassicaia 2019 (98, $270)
Bruce’s wine: Henri Bourgeois Sancerre La Côte des Mont Damnés 2021 (91, $40)