Be Fearless and Passionate About Food and Life

My essay:  Anthony Bourdain’s Medium Raw book challenge: summer 2010

Rank #475 of 1949 voted on by other contestants.

Cooking is the ultimate expression of true sensuality, passion, and love. It is the essence of a life well lived. Eating and drinking are among life’s greatest pleasures.  Preparing a meal is the beginning.

A well-prepared, thoughtful meal is a celebration of life and of love.  Cooking is the ultimate expression of true sensuality, passion, and love. When it is done well, it is the essence of a life well lived. Eating and drinking are among the greatest pleasures in life.  Preparing a meal is the beginning.  When we take the time to cook food well, we take the time to eat slowly, taste our food, engage in conversation, experience with one another, and enjoy the moment.  Nothing is more primal than the desire for love and connecting with what it means to be human. Sustenance is intrinsically linked to that connection.  Emotion is felt in the stomach: sadness, fear, happiness, passion, and bliss.  Hunger feels reminiscent of butterflies in the stomach.

Being fearless and adventurous with ingredients and preparations is the key to passionate cooking. Dare to throw away your recipes and ‘paint with food,’ be creative, be bold, be an artist. It’s not about necessarily about training, but paying attention helps.  My favorite food is fairly restrained and simple but it is still creative. Not everything needs to be a complicated fusion mess of flavors and textures.  Pairing a fresh watercress salad with steamed asparagus, leeks, crumbled bacon, and a couple of over easy, fried eggs sprinkled with tarragon is simple and delicious.  Add a crisp, cool glass of Chablis and it is heavenly.

Cooking well is about knowing yourself and knowing your surroundings. Being connected to your food is about being connected to the land; it’s about something real. Don’t be afraid to taste some dirt. Plant some herbs or visit a farm.  Know where your food comes from.  Cooking well implies opening yourself up to diversity in culture, flavor, texture, scent, and color from the world.  Perhaps you are traveling to foreign lands or simply traveling vicariously through the cuisine you prepare. It’s about exploring. Living.

When I am dreaming of France I cook simply, yet beautifully.  Every time I braise coq au vin or taste a gorgeous Chinon I am transported.  While fantasizing about Italy, I make a frothy cappuccino, sprinkled with cocoa and nibble on a crunchy, handcrafted, pinon nut biscotti or I sip smoky Aglianico.

If I crave Spain, I prepare Paella.  I painstakingly select every ingredient from the fragrant saffron threads to the freshest scallops, mussels and clams I can find in my mid-western desert. I play Paco de Lucia in the background and serve my guests cool, floral, Albarino.  We dine on my creation, drizzled with Vinegar de Jerez and smoked paprika, garnished with lemon and a bit of ripe, red pepper…and we dream.

Living in the city can be isolated and lonely at times.  We are busy.  We are stressed. Cooking a meal is a perfect time to reconnect with humanity and our loved ones.  It begins when I select the dish or menu.  I visit the markets to select the freshest ingredients.  And then, I cook, and I cook well.

303 Magazine: Chasing Grapes: The Wine Dinner, a Great Way to Learn About Wine

1515 Restaurant just before the Feast
Learning about wine is just as much fun as kicking back with your favorite glass at the end of your day.  It’s easy to grab the same bottles every time.  It’s much more fulfilling to take a few risks and foray into new and different wine regions to explore something you’ve never heard of.  In previous articles I have discussed various ways to expand your wine knowledge, from developing a relationship with your local wine vendor, to taking a class or two, and even attending one of the amazing Wine & Food festivals in your region.  This week, I am going to clue you in to one of the most pleasurable ways to learn about wine: the co-hosted restaurant and wine distributor  Wine Dinner.

1515 Restaurant
Wine dinners have come into the spotlight in the last decade or so as a great way to learn about food and wine focused on a specific cuisine, wine region, or even winery.  In the Denver Metropolitan area, you can find a wine dinner scheduled just about every night of the week. Chic restaurants such as Frasca Food & Wine in Boulder, Bistro Vendome on Larimer and the Kitchen on Wazee in Denver, or Indulge Wine Bar in Highlands Ranch are legendary for their expertly executed wine dinners.

 

Every autumn, The Hospitality, Tourism and Events Department of Metropolitan State University hosts an affordable wine and food focused, learning opportunity, for its wine students, in the form of a classic wine dinner.  This year, the event took place at 1515 Restaurant, an iconic gem specializing in modern American cuisine, located on Market Street in LoDo. This past Tuesday evening, more than 80 faculty, students, alumni, and friends turned out to feast on the specially crafted dishes of Chef Jon Brown and owner Gene Tang paired with strategically selected wines offered by wine distributor, RNDC.  Chef Brown created a menu specifically for the event inspired by the wine regions of northern Italy.

Brasato al Barolo

The evening started with a crunchy soft shell crab tempura, tangy fennel slaw, compressed watermelon infused with peach schnapps drizzled with a delicate basil syrup paired with smoky and crisp 2010 Michele Chiarlo “Le Marne” Gavi. The second course was an Italian pork roulade with spinach, nutmeg, ricotta, crusted pecans and a tangy San Marzano tomato sauce which was paired with a very traditional, crisp and aromatic 2010 Borgo Conventi Pinot Grigio from Collio. The main course for the evening was a succulent Brasato al Barolo; a braised short rib dish with rosemary and truffle polenta, spinach with candied bacon demi which was offered with the juicy yet complex 2010 Pio Cesare Barbara d’Alba. And finally, the dessert course was a festive Carnival Tasting of Cracker Jack gelato, white chocolate funnel cake, and cherry cotton candy served with a classic peaches and cream 2011 Ruffino Moscato d’Asti.

Carnival Tasting Dessert Tray with Moscato d’Asti
 

Instead of sitting with other faculty, I decided to sit with a few of my students.  While the students were enjoying, what was for many of them, their first fine dining experience, the faculty and wine company representatives visited their tables to discuss and critique each dish, wine, and pairing.  Although, slow to offer their opinions on the first course, wine as a natural social lubricant worked its magic and by the second course opinions, anecdotes, tasting notes, and evaluations were free flowing.  The students and their friends and family were joyously discussing the finer points of wine and food pairing, teaching one another about the wines or the food preparations.  Bantering about aromas and mouth feel, and how certain aspects of each dish affected the wine and vice versa. By the end of the evening, everyone was satisfied, both in their gastronomic and in philosophical senses. Of the courses, the first and main course were thought to have offered the best pairings, but everyone raved about the dessert tray.

The Metropolitan State University and 1515 Restaurant wine dinner was an amazing value at just $48.  Wine dinners are easy to find and can range in price from $40 to $300 depending on the restaurant and the wines to be presented.   Grab your love and your friends and treat yourself to this fun and educational wine experience.  You won’t be sorry you did.  And, who knows, you just might find a new wine to kick back with at the end of your day.

photos: the author and open table

303 magazine: Chasing Grapes : Sultry Reds to Warm Up Your Cool Nights

Piedmonte

Falling in love and indulging in truly sensual experiences are the last bastions of an innocent, childlike wonderment that an adult can experience.  The world may lose its luster but it doesn’t have to lose its joy. Sensuality brings us pleasure by engaging our tactile, visual, audio, gustatory, and olfactory perceptions of the world around us. There is nothing in the world better than being in the embrace of the one you love, feeling the warmth of their skin and their breath as their lips brush against yours.  Some people are thrilled by the sensation of silk against their skin or the feeling of fresh, cool soil in the garden in the spring.  Others are turned on by the sounds of a heartfelt, raging guitar solo or the coo of a sleeping infant.  Rich golden, orange and red leaves hanging on autumn trees against amber and pink skies at twilight bring happiness to the people who happen to notice.  But for some, the truest expression of sensuality is found in the aromas and tastes of an amazing bottle of wine paired with a fantastic meal.

Something about autumn stirs my own cravings for more sensual wines with layers of complexity only found in the sultry red wines from the northern shores of the Mediterranean and Ligurian Seas.  These wines awaken my appetite for more luxurious cuisine and a more serious dining experience.  Gone are the casual, steamy, dog days of summer with its crunchy salads, cool soups and icy cold white or rosé wines. In Denver, days may still be warm but evenings are a bit chilly. It’s the perfect time for cuddling in front of a roaring fire with mon petit ami Jerome, and indulging our senses. Wonderful, rustic pasta dishes and smoky grilled fare complemented with the wines of Piedmont or the Rhone Valley bring a sensuality that has been missing all summer back into my kitchen and into my life.

Ready for Harvest in the Rhône Valley

The following wines illustrate my quest for this sensuality to warm these shorter days, cooler evenings, and fulfill my desire for a sultry, aromatic, and flavorful wine to pair with a more substantial meal at the end of my day.  These are wines I have selected to honor the passions of mon petit ami Jerome; his favorite regions and wines that I know he will fall in love with.

I was recently introduced to Proprietà Seprino Uvaggio 2006 by my friend Ashley, at Little’s Wine & Spirits.  This gem of a wine is full of surprises. Hailing from the foothills of the Alps in northern Piedmonte, Italy, the wine was created by father and son team, Paolo and Luca de Marchi.  The word uvaggio indicates that it is a field blend of nebbiolo, vespolina and croatina, fermented together and aged in wood for a medium bodied and firm structured wine. (As opposed to the vinaggio which is a blend of finished wines). The wine shows an inky, purplish tone with classic nebbiolo notes of rose petals, cocoa, and tar rounded out with a lovely spicy scent, jasmine blossoms, ripe pomegranate, and a hint of juicy Morello cherry.  Even though it has a rigid tannin structure, there is just enough acidity to keep this well-balanced wine for years to come.

The Rhône Valley in Autumn

We love France, French wines, and the Rhône Valley produces many of our favorite wines. In recent weeks, mon petit ami Jerome acquired two contrasting styles of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the staunchly traditional Bosquet des Papes  Chante le Merle, 2009, Vieilles Vignes, and the more modern  Le Vieux Donjon, 2008.  Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a fascinating commune of the southern Rhône with a history of unique culture and unique wines to reflect the dramatic history of the area.  In 1308 Pope Clement V relocated the papacy to the city of Avignon. For seventy years, the Avignon Popes did much to advance the wine making of the area.  They encouraged viticultural regions to expand and brought more modern technology to the area. The wines of the region became known as Vins du Papes. Wine of the Popes.  Always rustic and earthy in style, Châteauneuf-du-Pape allows up to 13 different red and white grapes into their blends but relies on four main varietals to signify the unique style. Grenache, Mourvèdre,  Syrah, Cinsault, are the main varietals utilized but Counoise, Muscardin, Terret Noir, and Vaccarèse are allowed along with white grapes including Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Clairette, Picardan, Roussanne, and Picpoul.  Bosquet des Papes  Chante le Merle, 2009, Vieilles Vignes, has been a family owned labor of love since 1860. Chante le Merle is their baby. The bracing and balanced wine is mostly Grenache with a splash of Syrah and Mourvèdre, showing notes of lavender, raspberries, mocha and a spicy, rich finish. Family owned and very small production, Le Vieux Donjon, 2008 is a bit more solid and rustic with assertive perfume and more juicy fruit.  It is broad, plush and solid, with notes of kirsch, juniper, baked spicy apples, and hints of anise seed and cypress.

Ripe syrah grapes bursting with flavor

Côte-Rôtie is the roasted slope of the Rhône Valley known for Syrah often blended with a bit of  Viognier.  This is one of the first and only regions of France to allow, and even encourage the blending of a small amount of white grapes into the red wine to encourage a silky smooth and more floral aroma and mouth feel. The most distinctive characteristic of Côte-Rôtie wine is the beautiful and aromatic aroma. The fragrant notes often include green olives, raspberry, violets, meaty bacon, black pepper, white pepper, blueberry, blackberry, plum, and leather. Most of the vines are very old, with 40 years being an average and some vines being over 100. This produces low wine yields of very flavor-concentrated fruit, leading to lush and flavorful wines.  Domaine Partick Jasmine Côte-Rôtie, 2007 is an elegant and classic representation of Côte-Rôtie. This particular wine boasts juicy cherries, ripe raspberries, tobacco, crushed minerals, violets, and a sprinkling of white pepper.  Jasmine has a lively acidity along with a firm tannin structure and a glorious, smoky finish.

As lovers of most things nebbiolo, it is only natural to find ourselves drawn to the king of Piedmonte: Barolo. Piedmonte is one of the oldest wine regions in the world and yet, it seems always under wraps save for the most adventurous wine lovers. The unique mesoclimate and tortonian soil riddled with limestone marl give way to wines that are heady, aromatic, elegant, and well-balanced with the ability to age for many years. Nebbiolo is a late ripener and was once reserved for sweet wines, but in the mid-19th century an inventive Italian invited a French winemaker into his fold and the pair created the first modern Barolo.  Oddero Barolo is a modern representation of this black-skinned grape known for its tar, rose petals, truffles, licorice and dusty cocoa notes. Friends and I recently shared a bottle of Oddero Barolo 1994 which was just ready to drink.  The most difficult thing about loving Barolo is leaving it alone for years while it matures and becomes the absolute beauty it is destined become.

All of these delectable wines should spend more time in the cellar, but look for them now while they are available.  They are small production, coveted, rare and beautiful gems.  Find them, buy them, lay them down and leave them alone.  In a few years, when they are more accessible, the bliss you experience, much like love, will be well worth the wait.