PER­FECT MATCH

From choco­late and whisky to cham­pagne with Can­tonese food, the rule­book has been thrown out when it comes to food pair­ing

Business Traveller (Asia-Pacific) - - CONTENTS -

It all used to be so sim­ple. When pair­ing food and wine, ev­ery­body knew that red was served with meat and white with fish.

There were a few other spe­cific com­bi­na­tions re­garded as sacro­sanct – cham­pagne with caviar, port with Stil­ton, sauternes with Ro­que­fort, and so on. But be­yond these con­ven­tions, for most peo­ple “pair­ing” meant choos­ing food you liked and wine you liked and or­der­ing them at the same time.

No longer. The old shib­bo­leths are now not just dis­re­garded but ridiculed. An in­dus­try has grown up in pre­scrib­ing new and some­times im­prob­a­ble-sound­ing matches be­tween food and wine – and re­cently also other alcoholic drinks, in­clud­ing beer, spir­its, rice wines and even cock­tails.

Chefs, som­me­liers, bar­tenders and food crit­ics have all weighed in on some­times-heated de­bates about what goes best with what, and why. Some are keen to re­place old or­tho­dox­ies with new. Oth­ers be­lieve that there are no rules.

Dom Perignon’s chef de cave Richard Ge­of­froy is among the lat­ter. The head of the wine­mak­ing team is pre­pared to try any­thing and has al­ready matched Dom Perignon with menus from such culi­nary lu­mi­nar­ies as Fer­ran Adria, He­ston Blu­men­thal, Yan­nick Al­leno and Tet­suya Wakuda. The most re­cent col­lab­o­ra­tion came with long-term friend and as­so­ciate Alain Du­casse, who re­cently opened his new restau­rant Rech at the In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal Hong Kong.

Ge­of­froy vis­ited Hong Kong on July 10 for a spe­cial din­ner to launch Dom Perignon 2000 P2 – a late-re­lease vin­tage, given ex­tra time to ma­ture. The wine has reached a stage in its evo­lu­tion which Ge­of­froy calls a “Plen­i­tude”. P2 stands for“Plen­i­tude Deux­ieme”– the sec­ond of three life cy­cles that will come from the vin­tage.

“We want to cre­ate a mo­ment of ex­treme har­mony,” said Du­casse be­fore the din­ner.“It’s about the right com­bi­na­tion for where you are. We had a re­cent col­lab­o­ra­tion at Ver­sailles, but we don’t want to re-cre­ate that be­cause it wouldn’t be right for Hong Kong – just as this evening wouldn’t be right for Ver­sailles.”

The 14-course menu was heav­ily in­flu­enced by Can­tonese cui­sine, with Du­casse’s in­ter­pre­ta­tions of such lo­cal spe­cial­i­ties as crispy suck­ling pig, har gao (dumplings) and fried rice, and was paired ex­clu­sively with the P2.

Some dishes cer­tainly came closer to “ex­treme har­mony” than oth­ers, but for Ge­of­froy, the ex­pe­ri­ence was less about Du­casse’s sub­lime mo­ments of com­mu­nion be­tween the wine and a par­tic­u­lar dish, and more the dif­fer­ent light that each dish cast on the wine.

“More and more I like the idea of a sin­gle vin­tage of Dom Perignon through­out a meal,” he said.“It’s some­thing I’ve been fig­ur­ing out in Ja­pan with the

kaiseki (tra­di­tional mul­ti­course din­ner) that has one wine from start to fin­ish. With one dish it might not go so great; with the next, it can be ter­rific. In the end, you look at the en­sem­ble and most of the time it’s har­mo­nious enough be­cause there are so many sen­sa­tions. It’s prac­ti­cal and sen­si­ble.”

This singular ap­proach to wine pair­ing is the po­lar op­po­site to the pre­vail­ing trend of match­ing a dif­fer­ent glass to each dish – an idea in­tro­duced in 1985 by in­flu­en­tial French chef Alain Sen­derens.

So with tra­di­tional wis­dom on match­ing food and wine in doubt, how do we go about find­ing suc­cess­ful new com­bi­na­tions?

The short an­swer, ac­cord­ing to Ge­of­froy, is trial and er­ror, and not be­ing too wor­ried about the oc­ca­sional mis­step; an ap­par­ently ob­vi­ous com­bi­na­tion may dis­ap­point while an im­prob­a­ble one may turn out to be a tri­umph.

In pair­ing food and wine the ob­jec­tive is usu­ally to find ei­ther the har­mony of which Du­casse spoke – in aroma, flavour, and tex­ture – or a con­trast, sweet­ness to bal­ance salti­ness for ex­am­ple, or acid­ity to cut through fat.

BREW­ING NEW IDEAS

But a ques­tion in­creas­ingly be­ing asked is whether wine is the right choice of part­ner for some pro­duce at all.

“Cheese has long been as­so­ci­ated with wine but usu­ally re­ally pairs bet­ter with beer,” ad­vises Ray Daniels, founder and di­rec­tor of the Cicerone Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion Pro­gramme – the beer world’s equiv­a­lent to a som­me­lier qual­i­fi­ca­tion.

“Its roots lie in grasses that feed the cows and goats – sim­i­lar to the bar­ley and wheat used to make beer. So there’s a natural com­pan­ion­ship there.

“But beer is also bet­ter able to bal­ance the rich­ness of cheese both with car­bon­a­tion and with vary­ing lev­els of bit­ter­ness. And per­haps best of all, the wide range of flavour in­ten­si­ties avail­able from beer al­low us to pick a good part­ner for any cheese. Try a He­feweizen or Wit­bier with a bur­rata, an IPA with an aged ched­dar, or a stronger stout with a blue cheese.”

A grow­ing in­ter­est in food and beer pair­ing partly stems from the suc­cess of the craft beer move­ment, and the grow­ing num­ber of in­ter­est­ing flavour pro­files.

The Dick­ens Bar at Hong Kong’s Ex­cel­sior Ho­tel re­cently in­tro­duced a new beer pair­ing menu, fea­tur­ing dishes such as Guin­ness beef ribs cooked with Sichuan spices, paired, un­sur­pris­ingly, with Guin­ness; and crispy pork knuckle paired with Erdinger Dunkel.

Ac­cord­ing to ex­ec­u­tive sous chef Ju­lian Man, Guin­ness has a bit­ter­sweet malti­ness, which can en­hance the flavour of beef, but he coun­sels against pair­ing it with the more as­sertive flavour of lamb. The pork knuckle he con­sid­ers a natural match for a wheat beer.

“We picked Erdinger Dunkel for its del­i­cate roast­ing aroma which bal­ances the flavour of this hearty favourite of many. The full-bod­ied, strong char­ac­ter of this Ger­man beer does not cover the meat it­self, but rather, brings out the equally strong aroma of the veg­gie­stock-braised knuckle. All in all, it’s about bal­anc­ing the flavour of the drink and the dish,” says Man.

SPIR­ITED DE­BATE

Grow­ing in­ter­est in fine whiskies and bou­tique ar­ti­sanal spir­its has also led to some in­ter­est­ing pair­ing ex­per­i­ments, with a par­tic­u­lar affin­ity be­ing dis­cov­ered be­tween sin­gle malt or deluxe blended scotch and choco­late.

Ac­cord­ing to whisky and food pair­ing con­sul­tant Ewan Hen­der­son, whisky will also gen­er­ally part­ner food that has been sub­ject to the “Mail­lard re­ac­tion”, a chem­i­cal change in food sub­jected to high-tem­per­a­ture cook­ing, so grilled meats such as steaks and yak­i­tori chicken.

“BBQ flavours work very well with things that have been in charred casks,” says Hen­der­son.“From heav­ily charred bour­bon casks there are lac­tones [chem­i­cal com­pounds that con­trib­ute to the flavour in whisky] and there are lac­tones in foods.”

Whisky also part­ners well with many cheeses, and the salty tang of an Is­lay sin­gle malt pairs beau­ti­fully with oys­ters.

AGAINST THE GRAIN

Asia of course has a long­stand­ing tra­di­tion of match­ing cui­sine to rice wines and spir­its. In Ja­pan, even wine con­nois­seurs tend to pre­fer sake with Ja­panese food – partly per­haps be­cause chefs cook with it, and al­co­hol that has been used in the prepa­ra­tion of food is of­ten the best ac­com­pa­ni­ment.

Ac­cord­ing to Su-Zie Chew, di­rec­tor of food and bev­er­age at Shangri-La’s Rasa Sen­tosa Re­sort & Spa, sake pair­ing is also in­creas­ingly fash­ion­able in Sin­ga­pore, and re­cently de­buted at the ho­tel’s Casse­role restau­rant.

“With the ap­point­ment of our new Ja­panese chef de cui­sine Seki Takuma and an in­creased in­ter­est in sake among Sin­ga­pore­ans, we thought it would be a won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity to in­tro­duce a sake pair­ing menu, us­ing in­gre­di­ents and sake from chef’s home­town, Ni­igata,” she says.

Out­side China bai­jiu has his­tor­i­cally been less highly re­garded than sake, but it is be­gin­ning to emerge as a prod­uct for ex­port. Hong Kong Elite Con­cepts’ Deng G pairs Sichuan food with bai­jius from a list or­gan­ised ac­cord­ing to fra­grance, and also of­fers bai­jiu cock­tails to pair with snacks in its bar.

NEW WORLD WINES

Even tra­di­tional wine pair­ing is also start­ing to chart new ter­ri­tory in Asia, mov­ing into ar­eas where beer has been a tra­di­tional choice – spicy In­dian and Thai cui­sine for ex­am­ple.

“In­dian cui­sine comes with a com­plex flavour pro­file pri­mar­ily due to the di­verse spice el­e­ments be­ing used. This makes it an ex­cit­ing challenge when pair­ing with wines,” says som­me­lier In­thran Ra­masamy of the Man­darin Ori­en­tal Ho­tel in Sin­ga­pore.

Ra­masamy rec­om­mends look­ing at wines such as Gewurz­traminer with a sweet­ness to bal­ance the spice, or Pinot Noirs with silky tan­nins.

Now that sev­eral Asian coun­tries are emerg­ing as pro­duc­ers of wine there is also a natural in­ter­est in match­ing those to lo­cal cui­sine.

“In our Thai restau­rant, Thip­tara, we of­fer Thai wines paired with a set din­ner,” says Patty Lerd­wit­tayaskul, di­rec­tor of pub­lic re­la­tions at the Penin­sula Bangkok.

“Ev­ery month, the ho­tel or­gan­ises ‘Vine & Dine – a com­mu­nal ta­ble’, which is a wine din­ner, but at one long ta­ble of­fer­ing din­ers an op­por­tu­nity to share their feed­back and pas­sion to other din­ers.”

For those in­ter­ested in learn­ing more about wine pair­ing, the som­me­liers of triple-Miche­lin-starred Caprice at the Four Sea­sons Hong Kong are hold­ing monthly cheese and wine pair­ing classes, priced from HK$935 (US$120; foursea­sons.com). But re­mem­ber, if at first you don’t suc­ceed, it doesn’t mat­ter. Food and drink pair­ing is, as Richard Ge­of­froy points out, more a mat­ter of trav­el­ling hope­fully than of ar­riv­ing at a des­ti­na­tion; it’s about be­ing will­ing to test pa­ram­e­ters.

“I be­lieve in positive pro­duc­tive ten­sions,” he says. “Har­mony is the fruit of ten­sions. Har­mony is not static. It is the op­po­site. It is du­al­ity, yin yang, and it keeps mov­ing.”

Op­po­site and

above: Dom Perignon’s lat­ev­in­tage 2000 P2; and Caprice at Four Sea­sons Ho­tel Hong Kong

Clock­wise from

above: Lang­ham choco­late and whisky pair­ing; Dick­ens Bar crispy pork knuckle with beer; Man­darin Ori­en­tal Sin­ga­pore’s som­me­lier In­thran Ra­masamy; and yuzu with foie gras at Shangri-La’s Rasa Sen­tosa Re­sort & Spa

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