1. Make Polenta with corn meal, not “polenta” (it’s the same thing and ½ the price)
2. Vary a recipe to capitalize on the wine’s flavors
3. Team cooking is fun
The Wine Artist: Collaborative Cooking and Wine Pairing in Irvine
By: Karsten Boone “How much onion?” “It says about half.” “A half, a whole; onions are good for you. Let’s use the whole onion.” “It says a teaspoon of paprika.” “This looks like about a teaspoon.” And so it went. One of us chopped, one sautéed, another mixed. All the tools were there, all the ingredients ready to go. And so we created. The Wine Council made the perfect dishes to pair with some outstanding wines from the La Rochelle and Steven Kent Wineries. Three hours, six dishes, six wines. A truly great afternoon.
An artist’s palate must be precise, and MJ Hong’s is. A tasty collaborative dish unites a team, and paired with its perfect wine compliment, it excites. MJ Hong is the wine artist, and the Wine Artist, a Winery and Event Venue, is her creation. Located in an industrial park in Orange County’s Lake Forest, the venue is a Tuscan charmer from the first step. Half tables, half cooking stations; the Wine Artist welcomes about 1500 to 2000 cooking class and wine tasting participants annually. MJ offers classes in French, Mediterranean, Vegetarian, Chinese, and other cooking styles, primarily on a private event basis. Collaborative cooking, where each member contributes their own skills to a part of the dish, is a fun way to build a team.
After MJ welcomed us with her own Green Apple Riesling Sangria (see the recipe on the blog at www.thewineartist.com), the Wine Council set to work and, in short order, prepared two dishes and enjoyed them with two 2010 La Rochelle Chardonnays, one from the Russian River, one from Anderson Valley, both $65.00. With the Arugula, Pear & Walnut salad, the Dutton Ranch from the Russian River was creamy, buttery, with hints of vanilla. The wine’s pear aroma matched the salad’s pears to a tee. The Anderson Valley Chardonnay was slightly, only slightly, oaky, with melon on the nose. Creamy, with citrus acidity, this wine was perfect with the rich and creamy Lobster Bisque.
The Ricotta, Gorgonzola & Mushroom Crostini (hint, brush oil on one side of the bread only, and you get crostini that is crispy on top, soft on bottom) was a melt in your mouth combination with a 2009 La Rochelle Pinot Noir from Carneros ($75). The wine is light, spicy, with berry fruits smoothly pronounced, and was a happy companion to the appetizer’s creamy cheeses and woodsy mushrooms. A Sausage & Mushroom topping to fried polenta matched its pepper to the pepper of the 2009 La Rochelle Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands (($35). This Pinot was heavier than the Carneros, and its extra bulk brought out the sweetness in the sausage.
Finally, we created stuffed Eggplant with Rice and the fresh garden taste of the eggplant was a perfect match for a 2010 Steven Kent Winery Merlot from the Livermore Valley ($50). The dish’s oregano, garlic, and pepper spices coaxed similar farm fresh tastes from the Merlot. Lamb skewers with Tzatziki Sauce (it takes perhaps 5 minutes to make Tzatziki just the way you want it) was a sensational match up with the 2010 Steven Kent Winery Cabernet Franc ($50). MJ used mint, rather than dill, in the Tzatziki, which brought out the mint in the wine. This Cabernet Franc was earthy, with floral aromas of sandalwood and pepper, and rose was among its complex flavors.
We completed the afternoon with MJ’s own berry mascarpone dessert paired with the Wine Artist’s Black Raspberry Late Harvest Merlot.
Each dish craftily elicited just the right flavors in their wines. Throughout, we tried switching the wines, and MJ Hong’s pairing expertise was immediately apparent every time. Paired as intended, the wines and their dishes dramatically benefited each other. Switch the wine, and while still good, the swooning tastes faded.
The Wine Council members are all good cooks with considerable pairing expertise. To a soul, we were awed by MJ’s perfect pairings.
The experience was fun, lively, and educational to boot. It would be a great way for strangers to come together, as MJ makes everyone feel at home, a guest at your own event. The dishes focus conversation, and served around the table, unite the group. In the week following, I have made each of the dishes again, and they are easy to do. Still, I could use a little help from my team deciding just how much of that good onion to have or halve.