Aspen Food and Wine: Day 1

What a weekend!  I loved every minute of it and am so excited to share it with you.

Techniques to Create a Great Meal with Jacques and daughter Claudine Pepin took place on Friday, June 14, 2013, at 10 am in the St. Regis Hotel.  This is Jacques’s 30th year at the Food and Wine Classic, and he is still going strong.  Having published 28 cookbooks to date, Jacques and Claudine pulled recipes and techniques mainly from the latest book called New Complete Techniques.  They walked us through recipes for stuffed-boneless (whole) chicken, instant-cured salmon slices, mayonnaise, classic vinaigrette and grapefruit sliced salad.  The techniques involved reminded me of what I loved about my Intro to Culinary Arts class taught by the fabulous Chef Glenn Humphrey at the Arizona Culinary Institute.  In the state-of-the-art showcase kitchen provided by Kitchenaid, Jacques showed us how to chop and slice onions, debone a chicken (in about 2 minutes), how to clean, slice and julienne a leek, mince garlic and chop herbs.

Waltzing on stage together


Claudine uncorked a champagne bottle with a knife (I have ruined many a knife doing this), and used some champagne to deglaze the pan of chicken drippings to make a sauce to pour over the finished poulet.  She and Jacques had fun sharing the rest.  The rapport between the two was wonderful as they cracked jokes and teased one another.  This culinary icon shared stories of Julia Child with us, posed for photos with fans, and was an absolutely gracious entertainer.  To sum it up, we were completely spoiled.

Hard to top a photo op with an icon

Next was Mario Batali’s class called Sicilian Summer Supper and included recipes for Cauliflower Griddle Cakes with Smoked Ricotta, Couscous with Clams and Fennel, and Tuna “Dice” with Mint and Peas, all cooked in 37 minutes…very impressive.  He remarked that Sicily is actually closer to Tunisia than it is to Milan, thus the presence of Arab influences in these dishes such as mint, saffron, couscous, cumin, lime and peppers.  He is a natural entertainer and amused the audience with humorous advice and a wealth of knowledge of Italy and its history.  Batali is a Seattle native who majored in Spanish, Theatre and Econ at Rutger’s University.  He moved to Italy for three years in his early culinary career and used that experience to launch his cooking show, Molto Mario, on the Food Network in 1997.  Next to Julia Child’s show on PBS, I think that Molto Mario was one of my earliest cooking influences.  (Aside from my mother, but that goes without saying.)  I tried to get a good pic, to no avail.  Even though I waited in line for one hour, and was therefore the fifth in line to get into the conference room, at the last minute, they filled up the first 10 rows with people with “Trade” passes, and I was stuck behind a woman with extremely big curly hair.  Asi es la vida.

Our third class of the day, Pairing the World’s Most Difficult Foods, was taught by Marnie Old, sommelier, author, and former director of wine studies at the French Culinary Institute.  Intelligent and classy, Marnie showed us how to take six different wines and pair them with “difficult” food using a few universal pieces of wine and food chemistry.

From left to right, Tattinger Champagne, Gruner Veltliner from Austria, Chenin Blanc from South Africa, Beaujolais, a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, and lastly, a Moscato d’Asti from Italy.  On the plate, starting at the 12 o’clock position, lemon, honey, hoisin sauce, sriracha, salsa, asparagus-steamed and grilled, artichokes-steamed and in a dip (center).

Upon first impression, the champagne is tart and makes the mouth water, making one hungrier and thirstier.  Ever wonder why often in a restaurant you are offered a glass of champagne to begin the meal?  It stimulates your hunger and thirst.  The Gruner Veltliner is dry with a high acidity, while the Chenin Blanc is tart with a hint of sweetness.  The Beaujolais is spicy, fruity and sappy.  The Cabernet smells like stewed fruit and tastes of cocoa, licorice and cherry.  The Moscato is almost candy sweet.

Classic wines are designed to have great synergy with the food with which it is served.  To boil it down to the most simple terms, savory and salty food goes well with dry wines, such as the Gruner Veltliner.  Referring to her posters, salt is dry wine’s best friend.  Conversely, sugar is dry wine’s worst enemy.  Pair the sweet with sweet, the tart with tart, and the dry with dry.  To quote Marnie, “the degree of sweetness in food needs to be matched with the sweetness in the wine for a happy marriage.”  I love how she kept it simple.  Match like with like, essentially.  And don’t forget, fat and high alcohol content are friends.  With a big California Cab, serve with animal fat…a big steak and butter rich cheeses.  I guess that would make Cabs off-limits for vegans.  More for us meat eaters.  Two of the most difficult foods, by nature,  are asparagus and artichokes.  Steamed asparagus will pair poorly with wines that have a hint of sweetness…it is better with dryer wines.  How to change the results?  Add a little fat (oil) to the asparagus and grill it.  Artichokes contain a natural compound called cyanine that interferes with red wine.  The Cab is just awful with steamed artichokes…works a little better with the Beaujolais.  But pair the Cab with artichoke dip, and the cheese adds salt and fat, opening that door to the happy marriage.  What to do with spicy food?  High alcohol content will amplify the heat.  Lower alcohol and sweetness will keep the flames in check.  Asian sauces, like the sweet hoisin, will not work with dry wines.  But pair with the Chenin Blanc, and it is delightful.  When in doubt, and if this all confuses you more?  Per Marnie, drink champagne.  It goes with everything.  Either way, bottoms up!

Big sis’ chatting with Marnie

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