Plea­sur­able mix

Our colum­nist won­ders if it is pos­si­ble to pair an XO with his favourite dish of char koay­teow.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIFESTYLE - MICHAEL CHEANG

FOOD and drinks have al­ways gone hand-in-hand. Af­ter all, cer­tain spir­its and wines are com­mon in­gre­di­ents in the cui­sine of many cul­tures around the world.

In Europe, apéri­tifs such as ver­mouth are served be­fore meals to stim­u­late the ap­petite, while oth­ers such as schnapps, bit­ters or herbal liqueurs are of­ten served af­ter a meal or as a di­ges­tif af­ter a good, hearty meal.

But what about dur­ing the meal it­self? We’ve of­ten heard of food be­ing paired with wine, whisky, co­gnac and even beer; but how ex­actly does one know what sort of drink should be paired with a par­tic­u­lar type of food? And more im­por­tantly, just how im­por­tant are the drinks you con­sume dur­ing a meal?

Ac­cord­ing to chef Christophe Pienkowski, the type of drink, whether al­co­holic or non­al­co­holic, is an ex­tremely im­por­tant el­e­ment in pro­vid­ing a cus­tomer with the com­plete culi­nary ex­pe­ri­ence. And he is not just say­ing that be­cause back in Co­gnac, France, he is the res­i­dent chef of Chateau de Chanteloup (the his­toric res­i­dence of Jean Martell, founder of Martell Co­gnac house in 1715, and cur­rently head­quar­ters of Martell & Co), spe­cial­is­ing in cre­at­ing fine-din­ing meals that pair ex­quis­ite French cui­sine with Martell’s finest co­gnacs.

Pienkowski was in town re­cently to pre­pare dishes for the Martell Din­ner Se­ries, a gas­tro­nomic se­ries that took place over five nights in five dif­fer­ent venues and which paired dif­fer­ent cuisines – Ja­panese, Chi­nese and Latin Amer­i­can – with Martell’s range of co­gnacs.

Co­gnac and cui­sine

Co­gnac and food. The first im­age that comes to mind when you hear these two words paired to­gether is usu­ally one of drunk guests at a Chi­nese wed­ding din­ner, yelling “yam seng!” and down­ing co­pi­ous amounts of co­gnac in be­tween stuff­ing their mouths full with food.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Co­gnac and food can go to­gether – the trick is in know­ing what dish to pair it with. And no, we’re not talk­ing about us­ing it in the food, ei­ther.

Food pair­ing is about pair­ing the cor­rect drink with the right kind of food. If it works, the flavours blend to­gether per­fectly, and the dif­fer­ent sen­sa­tions dance around in your mouth like a pair of fig­ure skaters in sync. Get it wrong, and it would jar your senses and de­crease your en­joy­ment of your meal.

“To me as a chef, the drinks are very, very im­por­tant. Many peo­ple or­der drinks just to re­fresh them­selves, but it is ac­tu­ally much more than that,” said Pienkowski. “For ex­am­ple, you can take one of my dishes with just a glass of wa­ter, but it would seem un­fin­ished, like some flavours are missing. It just isn’t the same.”

“The plea­sure is in the com­bi­na­tion,” added Jac­ques Me­nier, Martell’s her­itage di­rec­tor. “In France, it is very, very im­por­tant – the con­sumers are the ones telling us what they want to drink with the food! In the su­per­mar­ket, they’d ask the store owner what sort of wine or drink should go with what­ever they are pre­par­ing that night.”

Guz­zle and gob­ble

Yes, food pair­ing is a much more del­i­cate process than just al­ter­nat­ing be­tween guz­zling and gob­bling, es­pe­cially when it comes to wine and co­gnac.

To help give me a bet­ter idea, Pienkowski whipped up a quick seared lob­ster tail break-

(from left) Martell Cre­ation Grand Ex­tra, Martell Cor­don Bleu, Martell VSOP Medal­lion and Martell XO. Each pos­sesses unique char­ac­ter­is­tics that make it suit­able to be paired with dif­fer­ent foods. Chef Christophe Pienkowski pre­par­ing an ex­clu­sive dish for the re­cent Martell Din­ner Se­ries in Kuala Lumpur. He is the res­i­dent chef of Martell & Co in Co­gnac, France. fast just be­fore our in­ter­view, and set a glass of Martell Cor­don Bleu next to it. Then, he gave me a quick tu­to­rial on how to pair the two prop­erly.

“First, you take a bite of the food ... take all the in­gre­di­ents into your mouth and chew it a few times. Then, be­fore you swal­low, take a lit­tle sip of co­gnac, so then you will have all the flavours mixed to­gether in your mouth,” he in­structed. “When you’re do­ing a pair­ing like this, you don’t drink be­fore or af­ter the food. You drink while you are eat­ing.”

Sure enough, where the lob­ster tasted just like any other lob­ster at first, the ad­di­tion of a bit of Cor­don Bleu ac­tu­ally dove­tailed per­fectly with the food in my mouth, re­sult­ing in a much more sat­is­fy­ing, al­most tan­ta­lis­ing sen­sa­tion that made me long for more.

Ac­cord­ing to Me­nier, the more flavour a food has, the bet­ter a co­gnac will go with it. “It’s all about bal­ance. If it’s a very pow­er­ful taste, you need a pow­er­ful co­gnac. If you’re eat­ing foie gras, then Cor­don Bleu is one of the best (if not the best) co­gnacs to go with it,” he said. “But once you go into spicier or more flavour­ful food, such as curry, then you will need some­thing with a longer af­ter­taste, like Martell XO, so that the taste will linger on even af­ter the curry taste is gone.”

How­ever, Me­nier stressed that the same prin­ci­ple does not ap­ply across the board as ev­ery co­gnac brand has its own char­ac­ter­is­tics. “Many of our cus­tomers come to us for a lighter, cleaner taste while some pre­fer a heav­ier, wood­ier taste of some of our com­peti­tors,” he said.

Now for the ul­ti­mate ques­tion: is it re­ally pos­si­ble to pair a co­gnac with al­most any type of food? What about Malaysian food? Is it pos­si­ble to pair some­thing like say, char koay teow with a co­gnac? (Not that I’d be bring­ing a bot­tle of Martell to the lo­cal hawker cen­tre any­time soon, but hey, you never know, right?)

“There are so many dif­fer­ent cuisines all over the world, so I can’t say all of them can be paired with a Martell. But when I am eat­ing some­thing, I do think: Hmm, this would go very well with this or that drink!” said Me­nier.

“In Malaysia es­pe­cially, there is a huge va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent food. But they all have one thing in com­mon – they usu­ally use a lot of spices in the food,” said Pienkowski. “There are so many dif­fer­ent flavours and it would be easy to find a suit­able pair­ing with one of our co­gnacs. The quest for flavours is a big part of en­joy­ing food in the Asian world. Af­ter spend­ing a long time pre­par­ing your meal, you want to make sure ev­ery­thing is per­fect, even the drink. You don’t just pick up any bot­tle ... that will de­stroy the food!”

Ul­ti­mately, the most im­por­tant thing is to just en­joy what you are eat­ing or drink­ing. “We be­lieve Martell drinkers are so­phis­ti­cated enough to know what kind of taste they like,” said Me­nier. “To us, the most im­por­tant thing is to en­joy life your own

Fine spir­its:

‘The plea­sure is in the com­bi­na­tion (of food and drink),’ says Jac­ques Me­nier, Martell’s her­itage di­rec­tor.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.