Matching Masters: Three Famous Chefs and a Restaurateur Duel for the Best Wine-and-Food Pairing
Chef Eric Ripert found restaurateur Danny Meyer’s wine lacking at the Wine Experience's raucous chefs seminar. He said the Chablis, chosen to match his salmon rillettes recipe, “lacks richness in the mouth, and is short.” Meyer retorted, “What’s wrong with short?”
And when Ripert chose the California Chardonnay selected by Wine Spectator executive editor Thomas Matthews, Meyer said, “You were already on the cover, you don’t have to kiss ….”
Once again, the annual wine-pairing seminar brought fun, deliciousness and a love of great food and wine to the Wine Experience. And mixed in with the laughter, there was insight too.
The matchmaking contest's rules are straightforward: Each chef (in Meyer’s case, his North End Grill chef, Eric Korsh) makes a dish to feed 1,000 hungry guests. Using only a description of the dish, another chef tries to find the ideal wine pairing. Matthews chooses another wine for each dish, and after a taste test, the audience votes for the most successful match.
Returning talent included chef Emeril Lagasse, back for his 13th year; José Andrés, born in Spain, based in Washington, D.C., and a U.S. citizen as of last year; and Meyer, who is as renowned for fine dining as for his ubiquitous Shake Shacks. New to the game was Ripert, chef at Le Bernardin, one of the best fish restaurants in the world. Corralling their energy and keeping things moving forward was Matthews.
The rillettes consisted of smoked and poached salmon chopped into a spread bound with mayonnaise and served with a piece of toast. Meyer explained his wine selection: “You could go like with like, and pick smoky, buttery. But I like to go opposites attract. I’m a Jewish guy who married a nice Catholic girl.” He pointed to the lemony and salty qualities of the Chablis.
Lagasse favored Matthews’ pick, a rich but elegant Chardonnay that went the creamy, smoky route. Andrés went off the map, saying, “I am so disappointed that both chose Chardonnay. It’s so obvious. I would love that you choose a Pinot Noir.”
The audience was almost evenly divided. After a re-vote (demanded by Meyer, who threatened to go to the Supreme Court and asked, “Is anyone here from Florida?”), Matthews called it for Meyer.
Emeril brought a version of a ham biscuit, with cured, lightly smoked tuna subbing for pork (“And you know how I feel about pork,” he said); the mini-sandwich was accented with fig marmalade and a little bit of braised collards. Ripert, who had chosen a vibrant Sonoma Chardonnay that shone on its own, was flummoxed when he decided Matthews’ match, a lush, bright Châteauneuf-du-Pape white was better: “I blame Aldo [Sohm, his sommelier, who helped choose the wine].” Meyer, who had jumped ahead, pointed out that Andrés' choice of a sparkling wine for the next course “wrapped itself around the dish unbelievably well.”
Andrés, after expressing confusion that “a Frenchman chooses a wine from America and a gringo chooses a wine from France,” went with Matthews' pick too. The audience concurred.
Meyer’s slices of torchon of pig trotter with parsley salad and red wine vinaigrette was next. Andrés, who described the dish as “brilliant,” said he chose cava to match “because it’s like a party in the mouth.” Meyer, trying to parse his accent, asked, “Potty?” Matthews admitted that the pickles were “a little tough on the Chianti” he chose.
Emeril described the course as “like Fat Tuesday; my palate is telling me to go home." Meyer called the Chianti an inspired choice, and said, “I thought the wine would be great with the trotter but did not appreciate that the acid would have absolutely no problem with the parsley, shallots and mustard.” The audience chose the Chianti too, by a clear margin.
The last dish was Andrés’ “foieffle,” a small waffle stuffed with foie gras pâté and lightly dressed with maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, crème fraîche and toasted hazelnut. It was a hit, with Emeril the first to praise it, though he did say, “I thought your dish was going to be richer.” Andrés replied, “Yeah, but we have an obesity epidemic in America.”
Meyer liked Lagasse’s supple, fruit-filled Pinot Noir, but said here his preferred match was visual: “The Sherry looks like maple syrup.” Andrés made the kind of point you would hear few places other than the Wine Experience: “Emeril’s wine is great with it, but you’d have to drink a lot, like 3 ounces." (Emeril then chimed in, "That’s what we do in New Orleans.") Andrés continued: "The Sherry, if you put 1/4 to 1/2 ounce in your mouth, the pairing is unbelievable.”
The crowd sided with Emeril.
Another moment that would only happen here came during the first dish, with Matthews explaining his choice of Hanzell Chardonnay. He pointed to the Burgundian principles behind this California wine, but more important noted, to great applause, “Wine is personal, and I have long been a fan of the winery, and of the winemaker, Bob Sessions, who died this year after 40 harvests with Hanzell, so this is a tribute to Bob, and to Jean, his wife, who is here today.”
The Chefs' Dishes and Their Matches
Salmon Rillettes: Salmon poached and smoked, blended with white wine, mayonnaise and chives
Meyer’s wine: Domaine Romain Collet Chablis Les Pargues 2012 (NR, $25)
Matthews’ wine: Hanzell Chardonnay Sonoma Valley 2009 (90 points, $75)
"Country Ham”: Cured yellowfin tuna, buttermilk biscuit, fig mustard
Ripert’s wine: Ramey Chardonnay Russian River Valley 2012 (NR, $40)
Matthews wine: Domaine des Sénéchaux Châteauneuf-du-Pape White 2012 (93, $50)
Danny Meyer (with chef Eric Korsh)
Torchon of Pig Trotter, with Parsley salad and red wine vinaigrette
Andrés wine: Agustí Torelló Brut Nature Cava Kripta Gran Reserva 2007 (NR, $113)
Matthews wine: Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico Riserva 2010 (93, $29)
The Foieffle: A crisp and airy waffle topped with foie gras cream and maple syrup
Lagasse's wine: Red Stitch Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Soberanes Vineyard 2011 (88, $52)
Matthews' wine: Emilio Hidalgo Oloroso Jerez Villapanés NV (91, $75)