Thursday, August 30, 2012

3 Years and a Blue Moon, Again

Three years ago this week (8/27/09) I began ForknCork.  With not much of an idea about what I would blog, I set forth and let the creative process develop.  It's been a very rewarding experience, and one wholly self-indulgent.  Rather than reflect on posts of the last three years, I decided that in observance of tomorrow's Blue Moon, I would re-post my Blue Moon post from October, 2010.    It's a tribute to really rare wines, delicious food and very good friends.  That pretty much sums up, for me, what ForknCork has been about.  Enjoy.

A "blue moon" is one of those over-used superlatives indicating something so rare and so fancy-pants that everyone should take note.  I admit it's both fun, but trite to use, but then my friends and I didn't really consider that when we dubbed what we thought was a once in a lifetime opportunity to taste uber-rare wines, while attempting to pair lofty cuisine worthy of their pedigree, would be the first of...more?

While a true lunar blue moon occurs when there is a second full moon in a calendar month (that's about 7 times every 19 years), we truly thought our opportunity was more akin to the mythical type (you know- like almost never?) than the literal.  Yet, math was on our side.

Last year, I blogged a dinner amongst these same friends that documented the very scenario above.  Given the enormity of it's rareness, we thought we were not likely to see one again, any time soon.  It featured some of the most precious and sought after wines in the world- including a 1975 Chateau d'Yquem, multiple first growth bordeaux, a 1963 Vintage Taylor Port and a 1919 Chateau Haut Brion, all provided by a passionate food and wine lover simply because he saw the enthusiasm with which we produced the first menu.  It was, like the first time 10 years earlier, a night to remember. 

Two months ago I got the call that our benefactor was coming back to town for business, and he wanted to do it all again, just 14 months later.  As with the first two times, he chose 12 wines from his expansive and impressive cellar, emailed us the selections, and then shipped them overnight with painstaking care.  Except this time, we had not six weeks to prepare a menu and line up our game plan, but three.   

When faced with the prospect of pairing world-class wines from first-rate vintages, you don't think about busting out the molecular gastronomy and culinary bells and whistles.  It's all about the classics.  Example:  a pairing from the first dinner 10 years earlier, which will forever be indelled in my memory, was as simple as it was brilliant.  A 1962 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti "La Tache" was paired with a locally raised, braised rabbit leg with parsnips and local mushrooms.  Simple.  The rabbit was simmered until "confit tender". 

It wasn't until days before our seafood purveyor, of all sources, queried whether we'd be interested in taking some fresh Maine wild blueberries that were being brought in by the same guys who were shipping day-boat halibut.  The answer was a resounding, "DUH?".  And so, to bridge that all important gap between what could be a white wine course or a red wine course, we added the berries to our braising juices and let them simmer.  The result defines the term "sublime" (there was another impressive Burgundy paired with the dish from an equally impressive producer and vintage- but, the la Tache was so incredibly on point, and our elementary rabbit dish was so wonderfully complementary, that it silenced our group).  Its extraordinary complexity and delicateness commanded a moment for us to regroup our thoughts before continuing.  The perfect balance of components, married with a harmony of fruitiness, acidity and earthiness leaves me swooning to this day.  Such is the power of the classics.

Sticking with that formula, a forward team that consisted of just myself and my surrogate "chef brother" Paul met one steamy, humid Sunday eve last month to handle the latest challenge.  We gathered our notes on the latest round of wines, and, to lend some inspiration, we opened and reverently sipped a 1990 Chateau Latour.  As is common, we aligned the wines in order of likely service and fleshed out an outline of the basics:  main component and main flavor profile.  With 12 wines slated for consumption, we decided to pour two per course, with the dinner lasting at least six courses (supplementary wines are often added by equally passionate attendees).  But, we knew the crux of how it would all go down.  We had only three days after that to consult a couple other possible chef friends who would participate to fine tune and finalize the menu, order our special ingredients and prep.  All this while working our full-time jobs, managing our personal lives and performing our duties as Pere de la Maison.  Challenging? Yes.  Fun? Of course!  Nerve racking?  Well... you answer.  The previous two dinners had consisted of no more than 10 attendees, and the most recent was looking more like 7 or 8.  No matter, it like the others, had to be perfect.

Why does great wine command such respect and awe?  Like architecture, it's man's greatest achievement of harnessing nature to produce a product solely for the purpose of his pleasure.  

The menu was finalized and the pieces fit into place, as they so often do.  Pairing food and wine is an art, yes- but, it also becomes an exercise in common sense.  Delicate wines require delicate preparations, aggressive ones need a little push.  Never repeat ingredients.  Create diversity of textures and temperatures.  Contrast and complement.  Multiple courses should build in intensity then back down- begin gentle, finish gently.  Leave the table sated, not stuffed.

Despite how it may read, the following menu and wines were the final choices, and they followed all the guidelines above.  The pictures, of course, tell the real story.

Warm up: A little pre-game with Charles Gardet & Co.

1st Course
Ragout of Veal Sweetbreads “Blanquette”- with beech mushroom, local sweet corn, tarragon and veal jus (not pictured)

2000 Chevalier Montrachet~ Bouchard Pere et Fils
2000 Montrachet Marquis de la Guiche~ Joseph Drouhin

2nd Course
Braised Oxtail over quinoa and Doctor Martin lima beans - with thyme infused braising juices

1989 Chateau Mouton Rothschild~ Paulliac
1989 Chateau Lafite Rothschild~ Paulliac
A little "fuzzy", I know- but trust me. 

3rd Course
Crispy Colorado Lamb Rillettes – risotto style “potatoes” and hen of the woods mushrooms
(Rillettes in prep stage)

1990 Chateau Latour~ Paulliac
1966 Chateau Gruaud Larose~ St. Julien (not pictured)

Fourth Course

Pink Peppercorn Crusted New Zealand Veal Rack - truffle scented heirloom eggplant and lingonberry demi glace

1995 Colgin~ Cabernet Sauvignon
2000 Inflagrante SQN~ Syrah

5th Course
Coconut Milk and Rum Braised Short Rib
With mole sauce and savory baked ricotta

2003 Harlan Estate~ Cabernet Sauvignon  
2006 Erna Schein “Fat Boy”

6th Course
Roasted Black Mission Fig – gorgonzola dolce, pulverized prosciutto, pistachio and honey

1971 Chateau d'Yquem~ Sauternes

7th Course
Chocolate Espresso Pot d’crème with blackberry

1963 Graham's Vintage Porto

Chef Contributors: 

Paul Bouchard, Matt Crist and Robert Lhulier
Wine Inspiration:
D. Paige and Ron Bouchard

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Saluting a Mentor and Master

When cooking for someone of importance, there is an undeniable motivating energy that comes while doing so.  You have an extra "umph" to your slice, an extra "snap!" to your dice.  When I first got out of school, I made a goal of setting a standard: "Never put out a plate that you wouldn't be proud of serving one of your instructors [from CIA]."  I still use that credo today.  But, when you're cooking to posthumously honor someone- and a very famous someone at that- not only do you step it up, but you feel a twinge of apprehension and a pang of pensiveness.  "Must- not- mess- this- up."  

Mind you, high-end restaurants do their best work when the conditions are just right.  That is, the tone is set by the chef and drives the rest of the kitchen.  Create some "healthy anxiety" (as Charlie Trotter would say) and you'll get a lot more out of your people.  They know it, too.  When preparing the same food, day-after-day, this kind of diversion can be a welcomed change in the line-up.  Such as it was earlier this month at The Whist Club.  We honored the late Julia Child on what would have been her 100th birthday with a special Chef's Table event.  All the courses were chosen from or inspired by her essential cookbooks and ground-breaking cooking show.  

As I spent the days leading up to the dinner, I became engrossed in Julia's books (Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vols. 1&2 and The French Chef).  Having met Julia while employed by the Virginia Hotel in Cape May as dining room manager, I felt a certain connection that brought me back to her memorable presence.  And, what's not to love about her off-the-cuff, self-deprecating style of charm?  You can actually hear her voice when you read the recipes.  I can't say that about very many cookbooks I own.  And so, with precision and determination, my team performed admirably.  A great time was had by all.  Here is the menu and some shots from the dinner.

at the
AUGUST 16, 2012
Diner en Bleu
a nod to Julia's alma mater, Le Cordon Bleu

Gosset Brut Excellence, NV
Outstanding, robust style of sparkling
from the oldest Champagne house in France
Chicken Liver Mousse, p. 559 Mastering the Art of French Cooking  Vol. 1, here on toasted brioche with fig jam and chervil
Our version of "palmiers" or elephant ears- savory;
one with sundried tomatoes, the other with pesto and goat cheese


A not-so-timid bite to begin:
dusted lightly in almond flour with cognac demi-glace and mushroom

Domaine du Carrou Sancerre "La Jouline"
Vieilles Vignes 2010

Velvety and fresh- the oysters from Cape May (Salts), NJ

J.M. Boillot Meursault, 2008

Delicate fillets of Dover sole with shrimp-scallop vin blanc,
black truffles and mushroom


with candied ginger

Château Bahans Haut-Brion, Pessac-Leognan, 2000    

Julia recommends buttered peas- but, we couldn't resist the Doc Martin limas we got earlier that day.
Hand-cut pappardelle noodles for the stew.


Mas Amiel Muscat de Rivesaltes, 2009

layered meringue, genoise, espresso mousse with almond Anglaise


As always, a little last few bites: apricot petit fours, chocolate-cherry and strawberry macarons.



UPDATE:  See a feature article in the Wilmington News Journal that ran today on the dinner!  And more photos on the Second Helpings Blog.

RE-UPDATED: Ok- and now some video, too!  This from Signature Brandywine Editor Lucia Blackwell (also in attendance for the dinner).

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Happy 100th Julia!

"Just like becoming an expert in wine -- you learn by drinking it, the best you can afford -- you learn about great food by finding the best there is, whether simply or luxurious. Then you savor it, analyze it, and discuss it with your companions, and you compare it with other experiences."

Friday, August 10, 2012

F&C Rewind: Rainy Day

It's that awkward time of a Sunday morning when it's too early for lunch, nothing's on TV, I've read the paper and it's raining like a slow divorce.  Rainy days like this remind me of when I was growing up.  To kill the time, we went to the board games.  

It's funny how your entire life can be relived in just a few Google-clicks.  In looking for an image of the Parcheesi game (above), it sparked a brain cell or two of all the games we used to play growing up on rainy days.  It also provides some added tidbits of trivia; for example, I didn't know Parcheesi was the National Game of India.  Nor did I know it was first marketed to the world in 1867?!  Colorful and simple, it was a game we could all play without getting into a fight (see Monopoly).  

Some of the other games were definitely age and gender specific.  Take for example, the game my sisters loved, Mystery Date.  Say what you will about the simplicity of Parcheesi, but no other game made 10 year old girls scream with delight like when they turned the knob and opened the door of their MYSTERY DATE!  
It was blatant and hilarious stereotyping at it's best, racist and elitist at worst.  Note to all "nerd" types:  our "look" has finally come into fashion.  There was a playboy, a jock, a cab driver...just seeing if you're paying attention.  So, if you were the little brother and wanted to play (of course you did), no matter who you opened the door on, it was cause for tittering at your expense.  

That's about the time we'd cause the game to expectantly fly up into the air.  And then we'd start another we could all get serious about:  The Game of Life.  Dah-dummmmm.  Accumulating a carload of kids and getting insurance for your house while getting tax penalties was indeed a game about life, but not sure exactly what was fun about it.  Oh- that's right- the people.  Funner than filling your pie for Trivial Pursuit, it was the only important thing in The Game of Life:  accumulating kids.  To make it more accurate, they should have had food stamps, school lunch credits and Wal-Mart coupons.

At the end of the road, retirement awaited. When a Lifer reached the crossroads, he repaid his loans and parked the car in Countryside Acres or the ritzy Millionaire Estates, if he thought he had more money than his opponents. When everyone else had joined him, all the players counted their money, their stocks, their life insurance…and surprise, the Lifer with the most loot won. UPDATE: We are the 99%, indeed.

And then, as in real life, you join the local bingo hall and develop an attachment for polyester.

Simpler games were available for less cerebral stimulation.  Take for example, Mouse Trap.  Build a Rube-Goldberg contraption, pull the lever and see if you can get the pre-fab plastic pieces assembled the way they were meant to without tearing a hole in the board and make the little bowling ball go through the trap.  (Hey, I said it was less cerebral)  Note: if you lose the ball, a marble will work. A golf ball will not.  Or, what about the game Cootie?  As in, you've got them.  Construct a cootie bug and you win.  THIS WAS REAL.

Anything that amounted to the suspense of something falling, breaking or buzzing was a big hit.  Operation caused the most anxiety, however, as I began to sweat when it was time to remove the funny bone, only to feel a stronger than usual "jolt" of 9-volt generated punishment for doing so.  Followed by a slight spritz my the Underoos.

Another fave of mine that is apparently still around, Don't Tip the Waiter.  A stupid balancing game whose name was the most clever aspect.   Jenga!, another balancing game, was simply about appearing to be deft enough to not topple the tower of wooden blocks.  Jenga!, by the way, oddly resembles the Spanish four letter word you might actually yell if you were playing with adults and the dog knocked this thing over.

But there was one game I enjoyed only slightly more than Clue and that was  Masterpiece.  A game that involved only luck and collecting famous works of art you've paid for at auction, only to find out they could be forgeries.  But, it included the names of the artists and the titles on the cards.  As a kids' game, you were exposed to the world's most famous artists and their paintings.  I'm SURE one reason Grant Wood's American Gothic is ingrained in the American conscience is because of this game.  Or artists like Whistler and Rothko.  WTF?  Seriously, this was one cool game.

You could always get Mom and Dad involved in a project, like Shrinky Dinks or Shrunken Heads.  Again, I'm not sure where people's minds were in those days, but an activity that involves putting plastic into a hot oven seems dicey at best.

But, by the time you went through all the games under the sofa, it had likely stopped raining.  Or Ultra Man was on.  And, all was as right as rain.


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