Ask the Chef
Pairing food and wine has always been tricky task and if you have ever taken EVOO on a few spins around a pan, you know that preparing the food is half the battle. The other half is getting the wine right! Executive Chef Tracy Flores sits down with Wine Oh TV contributor, Lindsey Roffey and chats about how she perfectly matches food with wine. Chef Tracy’s no-nonsense, practical approach in the kitchen can help the novice to the expert plan that perfect dinner with wine. She can make the ordinary become extraordinary with just a few tricks up her sleeve.
Chef Tracy: Food and wine is love and passion. You must follow your heart. If you love a dish and a have a favorite bottle of wine, perfection doesn’t matter anymore.
What is the first step when planning a great dinner that pairs well with wine?
Chef Tracy: I always start with the wine. Food is much more flexible and can go anywhere on a menu, but wine is wine! I don’t start a menu without tasting the wines so I suggest either tasting or doing a little research on the wines before you buy them. Personally, I believe in taking a favorite wine and working in great foods. My motto is wines always first and food second.
How do you pick that perfect wine for a dinner that you have already planned?
Chef Tracy: If you like how it feels or appeals to you, you will get it right 100% of the time. Don’t be intimidated by “scores.” It could be a 99 point wine or something that you found in a grocery store that just sounds interesting. I believe this difficult economy pours into our glasses. Value is very important. I thrive on challenge because a value wine shows my culinary creativeness. Lower cost proteins and produce make my job that much more fun
I’ve read that when planning a menu that you should use either complementary flavors or contrasting flavors that are found in both the food and wine. Which do you prefer to use?
Chef Tracy: As we know, the definition of contrast is to show unlikeliness or differences. Instead of contrasting flavors, I prefer to focus on the complimentary aspects of food and wine. For example, a rich spice like nutmeg goes well with a big, bold, spicy Zinfandel and savory flavors like dill pairs well with the grassiness in a Sauvignon Blanc.
What are some all-time classic food and wine pairings that you recommend?
Chef Tracy: Traditionally, white wine pairs with seafood and red wine pairs with red meat. But what has been interesting with the resurgence of the wine industry in the United States is watching the learning and experimenting of chefs. We now have something that is called wine country cuisine! I think there is a great deal of emphasis on the consumer who wants to try new and interesting food pairings instead of the same thing.
I’ve heard that the way you prepare a dish can have drastic changes to the way a food is paired with wine. For example, fish or chicken can be baked, fried, or broiled. Does that affect how it pairs with wine?
Chef Tracy: Absolutely! A nice baked halibut can pair nicely with a Pinot Grigio. Or, we can take the same fish grill it, but top it with a beurre blancc and have a match made in heaven with a Chardonnay.
Have you ever met a dish you couldn’t pair with wine?
Chef Tracy: No. I believe there is something for everyone and that applies to food and wine. There are some items like artichokes and asparagus that are more challenging. However with the varietals available on the market today, there’s something you can always find that will pair with food. I am not sure there is a right and wrong pairing. I have prepared many winemaker’s dinners and always take advantage of the local resources available and what foods are in season.
Any final thoughts about easing the pain of creating that perfect food and wine pairing meal?
Chef Tracy: Food and wine is a marriage. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s OK if it doesn’t work because we learn by it. Does that make sense? One thing the human body cannot live without is food. We need the nourishment. Foods best friend is wine. With the nourishment of both, we thrive. I am a wine lover and food is my passion and I struggle with the priority of my love and passion when I cook. Which should I highlight more? I’ve come to the conclusion that they go hand in hand. They can’t live without each other, just like a good marriage.
What is in your glass tonight?
Chef Tracy: 2009 MacMurray Ranch, Central Coast, Pinot Noir
Stayed tuned! Next time Chef Tracy talks about the best food and wine pairings for springtime cuisine!
About Executive Chef Tracy Flores: Growing up in Sonoma Wine country, Chef Tracy’s love of food and wine began early on. Starting in the kitchen as a teenager, Chef Tracy has experienced all aspects of the kitchen. Learning from the best, Chef Tracy apprenticed under Jurgen Weise, the 16th chef to be certified Master Chef in USA. She then ventured on her own and became Executive Chef at The Embassy Suites, Silver Creek Valley Country Club, Villages Golf and Country Club, and San Jose Country Club. Her current position is Executive Chef at Castlewood Country Club in Pleasanton where she creates memorable experiences for small parties of two to large parties up to 500. Not straying far from her roots in wine country, she is also the chef at Rodrigue Molyneaux Winery in Livermore Valley.