Two more tips for successful food and wine matching
Advice on food and wine matching tends to focus on such issues as flavour intensity and finding a wine to complement or contrast with the dish in question (not an approach, I admit, of which I’m overly fond) but a meal I had the other day reminded me of a couple of other factors that it’s worth bearing in mind.
The occasion was one of a number of meals that are being judged for a competition called The Perfect Meal, a bit of a take-off of BBC’s Great British Menu. Four chefs, including Pascal Aussignac of Club Gascon, Bjorn van der Horst of La Noisette and Eric Chavot of The Capital restuarant are cooking up a four course meal paired with wines from the Languedoc-Roussillon. The four best dishes will be combined to form ‘the perfect meal’.
The problem about exercises of this kind is that chefs, aided and abetted by the competition organisers who urge them to produce "the most surprising and unusual food and wine pairings” go totally off piste and devise menus they wouldn’t normally inflict on their customers. Thus Pascal Aussignac, of whom I’m a huge fan came up with a couple of really quite bizarre dishes which, OK, just about matched the wines his sommelier paired with them but really didn’t do him much credit. They included a warm mousse of foie gras with truffle (yes, truffle) ice cream and raspberry mille-feuilles sandwiched with chilli-flavoured cream and red pepper flavoured tuiles (flavoured crisps are very ‘now’ in top restuarants - see my report on Noma)
It inspired me to remind you of two points which may sound obvious but are important if you e to to create an enjoyable experience for your guests - at home or in a restaurant.
1) The more ingredients you have in a dish the more difficult it is to find a wine to match. And the more people will disagree about whether or not they like it. So, dish number two, for example, the warm foie gras mousse, was great with its accompanying glass of Banyuls but the match was totally scuppered by the truffle ice cream. (In my view. Some disagreed)
2) The balance of a meal can be completely distorted if you try to make every dish a showstopper (something to which chefs are particularly prone at competitive events). To return to the foie gras and truffle dish, if you serve a wildly rich dish with a sweet wine as course number two, few of your customers or guests are going to have much appetite for the remainder of the meal. It’s better to build towards a climax than to, er, peak too early!
It's worth bearing in mind too that if a wine is pretty ordinary in the first place it’s not going to be improved by pairing it with food. Witness the rather dull Clairette du Languedoc which lacked the acidity and intensity to take on the raspberry and chilli combo (Conversely, if a wine is outstanding it doesn’t matter quite so much if the match isn’t spot on.)
It all comes down to the question you should ask yourself when contemplating either creating a dish or a match: You could, but why would you? In other words, a combination of ingredients or a match might work in theory but are most people actually going to enjoy it? And that’s the acid test.
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