Ok, Back to work!

Happy New Year everyone! I hope the new year was as good for you as it was for me! I started the new year right by working at the restaurant and toasting with guests and colleagues, then I went to PARTY! It’s nice to get that out of your system for a little bit so you can sit down and get some work done.

So, what now? What new developments are there for the new year? There’s not enough space here! Just kidding. It’s very rewarding to keep your eye on the big picture - I just feel happy to be able to spend another year doing what I love most - working with wine and people, and helping to unite people by bringing joy from food and wine into their lives. I’ve got a lot of projects underway for the new year, one of them being to help increase the level of proficiency in service of food and wine here in the city. I’ve become a little obsessed over the past few months - obsessed with refining my approach to wine and spirits, and allowing myself and other professionals a forum in which to tackle some of the issues with wine that we frequently experience today.

Some questions I’ve got in my head right now:

  • How can we drink more wine that is distinct, that expresses it’s origin and uniqueness?
  • How can winemakers and producers give us a clear picture of what type of style of wine they are creating, and how that relates to the overall concept of their operation? Are they making a style of wine to appeal to an already saturated market, or are they working to make a product that will garnish acclaim (no matter the price, low or high) locally or worldwide?
  • How can we more concretely define terroir, and understand how different choices in the vineyard and cellar influence the quality inherent in the ultimate product, the wine?
  •  How can we empower those who are willing to become stewards and vanguards of the traditions of humble sales and service of wine and spirits to the public?
  • How can we further our conceptual understanding of wine…period?
  • What can we do to showcase the unrelenting efforts of producers all over the world, trying to make a unique product that is well crafted, artful, distinct and high quality to share with us as consumers?
  • How can we more accurately ascertain quality of wine? This is something that really appeals to me as a student of wine. How do we appreciate flavors of wines, using consistent criteria, to evaluate what we like, and why we like what we like?

I guess that’s enough musing for now. I’m rededicating myself to taking time to study, reflect, and form perspectives on beverages, and how we can better appreciate them in our lives. Food for thought for the new year! Cheers! 

Holiday Cheer

Hope you had a great holiday! Mine was spent with family and friends, and I quite enjoyed the diversion of holiday gatherings based around meals at the table with various people. It was kinda interesting, especially because of the fact that most of my family members don’t have any real understanding of what I do. Nevertheless, I told them I was doing well when they asked how things fared with my job, and I just nodded my head in despondency when asked how long I planned to be a “waiter.”

I guess it’s just that having a job or occupation in the service industry is not considered a “successful career” with my folks. No matter to dwell on - they’ll be proud when they see me on Oprah one day…

Anyway, I’ve had an amazing holiday, and it kept occuring to me that I need to become more active in community organizations, especially those with the aim of providing educational forums for young people to build an interest in the world of culinary delights (beverages included). The only thing is - I’ve been so busy working and enjoying my time spent at the restaurant, that I’ve not committed any time to volunteering towards this end. Hopefully, I’ll be able to assist our chef in some volunteering down with the various organizations he’s involved with down the road… 

As the new year approaches, I’m deciding on which interest and where to devote my time, energy and resources. I want to volunteer to either teach or talk about the service industry and the various rewards and challenges it provides especially given our economic climate and contemporary attitude towards food and wine. Can I make a small difference in the way young people perceive the enjoyment of food and wine? I definitely think so. I’ll take any suggestions- especially if anyone has ideas for an organization in the midtown area to which I can donate my time. Let me know what you think, and also tell me this - where do you see room for improvement in your life, through volunteering or donating? Can you donate your time to better serve those who are yearning for something more and better than what they currently have available given their means? Think on this, my friends, and let me know what you find.

In realize that last post had nothing to do indirectly with food and wine, but I realize that this (food and wine/spirits/beverages) is the medium through which I utilize to bring joy and happiness to others. Let me pose this question - what is it that you do well - so well that it would be a shame to hide it from yourself and the world? Unsheath your passion, forge it into a razor-sharp katana, and use it to cut down the barriers of our society, and lift each other up. Thanks for reading!

How we became human

Well… here’s an interesting story - goes like this.

We were once great beings, with near limitless potential. We were born from a group of co-existing tribes somewhere (beleived to be on the African continent). These tribes had very contrasting principles and beliefs to those we have today. You see, these tribes were at war, but their interpretation of war was different from ours. The object of the war was not to gain control over the other tribes, or even to gain more land or available resources. The aim of the war was to create something so magnificent, far-reaching, long-lasting, and meaningful - something that had such a great legacy and prestige, that the tribe that created it would have the honor of saying they helped the world the greatest. What’s even more surprising is that each tribe did not do these great works for itself - instead it was more honorable to do something meaningful for the other tribes.

Thus, one tribe set off using the most advanced technology, most enlightened ideas and concepts, and the most artistic innovations to create great structures (Sphinx, Shangri-La, Pyramids of Giza, Pyramids in Peru, Pyramids in Mexico, Noah’s Ark, Great Statue of Colossus, etc.). Another tribe decided to unveil new methodology (using the stars and moon to decide when to till, plant and harvest; creating means of sailing across oceans to reach other tribes, creating writing to communicate more freely). Another tribe decided to create joy by growing abundant fields of grains, fruits, vegetables, and herding livestock, so that all the tribes would not want for sustenance (using land that is now the Sahara Desert, Gobi Desert, Atacama Desert, and many more). Another tribe even created the means to heal any and every malady and sickness that existed in the world.

So it came to pass that all the tribes were at war for centuries, using this form of warfare to bring honor, prosperity, and riches to one another. In the pursuit of a legacy of prestige, each tribe worked night and day to benefit the other. So what happened? Here’s how it all came crashing down:

The tribes met, and realized that each tribe was moving and growing exceptionally fast, and that one day, the tribes would run out of great things to accomplish with their near limitless potential. It was unanimously decided by all the tribes to create the greatest gift for one another: emotions (joy, sadness, apathy, fear, greed, anger, selfishness, lust, etc.). Emotions would be the factor that would slow down the advancements of each tribe - a built in safeguard, to make sure only those (only a few people) that could control and use the emotions to their advantage would forge ahead and further civilization. It was even hypothesized that those that could not control the emotions (quite many) would be devastated, static, de-moralized, and even create means to hold back each other, through greed, fear and selfishness. The tribes all knew that in the end, they would all come back together again, but just wanted to make things interesting (you would too, right?).

 Before that time, the only thing they knew or could emote was unconditional love, and from that idea everything else came into place. Love for each other was the main motivation by which the tribes did all the great and glorious things for each other. It was in this pursuit of love that the tribes decided to create emotions, knowing that this would handicap them from moving too fast as a society and allow for more time to pass in between ages. The tribes decided to take all their shared knowledge and experience they possessed, and to store it in the inner workings of their subconscious minds, so that no matter what happened after releasing emotions into the world, people would remember the greatness from whence they came. The tribes then decided on a special day to release the emotions into the world. On this day, at the most amazing ceremony, the tribes would see their greatest creation unveiled in each other. 

Unfortunately, it was not to be. Upon releasing the emotions, the tribes looked upon one another, realizing not how similar they were, but how different they all appeared. They noticed how everyone had different features, looked and saw how the color of their skin differed, how there clothes draped differently across their bodies, how different each tribe spoke, walked, and lived. Why did this tribe have gold armbands? How come that tribe wore long necklaces? Why was this tribe wearing such ridiculous hair styles?What had happened?

Since the tribes had stored their knowledge and sacred history in the workings of their subconscious, they became blinded by their emotions, and evil thoughts began to emerge. Thus the tribes actually began to fight one another, albeit over the most ridiculous things like who had control over the vast fields of grain and vegetables(when there was more than enough to go around - the wars devastated the fields), or even who owned the land (when no one could show proof they had actually created it, and could therefore not claim any ownership), or whose god was more powerful (when most of the tenets and beliefs of the tribes were essentially similar, and all other details somewhat irrelevant to people becoming wise and applying their beliefs for universal good).

Thus, all of the great accomplishments and advancements were all but forgotten, because the tribes didn’t have the key to understanding how to use them, and instead developed other tools and technology - mainly those used to kill, hurt, and maim others; to make money off of other people’s misfortune in health by giving them medicine that will not heal their condition, but weaken their body’s resistance to sickness; tools and concepts designed to separate us from our land, our traditions, and our beliefs. However, there were those souls who dared to do better for themselves and each other by sacrificing their time, money, freedom, and even their lives to advance civilization closer to where we once were, before that fateful day. They were the ones who realized their hidden potential for greatness, and used even only a small portion of it to accomplish great things. Looking back on our history as a people in this way, that we see in ourselves what we have the capacity to become, positive or negative. It is in this way that we each make the individual choice that will steer our path in life. It is in this way, we became human.

Like the story? Some of the details are tricky. Needs a little work in my opinion. Tell me what you think!

b day week recap

So, had a fun birthday week! Started off on Tuesday at Parish by having some killer wines with friends and great conversation. Brought a random bag of stuff from home, and basically started pouring and chatting with friends at the grand table downstairs in the market. Left there, went and had some killer sushi at Zuma, drank a little 2008 Dr. Thanisch Riesling (QbA i think, don’t blame me, I was too thirsty to keep up with details), 2007 Gobbelsburger (Check spelling) Gruner Veltliner, and 2007(?) Gessami Gramona Blanco from Penedes. Great with eel, urchin, roe, basically all the fun stuff. Savory soy sauce and wasabi worked well with the wines. My favorite in this flight was the Gessami.

      Worked Wednesday night at Eugene, had an epiphany about wine and food pairings, and got a call from my brother to meet him for breakfast at what the flip are you doing up?- thirty on Thurs. morning. Java Jive for great coffee and breakfast. Go give that place some business. Really tasty stuff. Soft biscuits. Don’t normally eat breakfast but it was lovely. Hung out with mom n dad and thanked them for birthing and raising me (yes, I do this every bday), then went and had more food at lunch with dad. Skip to work, hosted Cheese Eugene and had some killer cheese/ wine pairings, and related my epiphany about food and wine pairings to some guests - what is it? Just do it. Like Nike. Why not? I got a little unconventional and went crazy with it. And it was good. Got a buddy of mine to try some high-acid, off-dry to med-sweet whites with some savory/rich courses, and then killed it with some Montirius Gigondas ‘04. What were the specific pairings you ask? Come to see me and find out. Gentlemen don’t kiss and tell.

After work, went over and met some friends at H n F and got treated to some ridiculously good cocktails made by my colleagues, snacked on the carbonara (please try it -I’m craving it now) and did bday shots(what’s better than that? More shots!) It’s a celebration, dammit!

All kidding aside, I look at every bday as an opportunity to reflect upon where I am in my life - professionally socially, financially, spiritually…all that. I feel like I’m at a pretty good place for being 26 years young, and know that there’s always time to improve upon the foundation already there for more success. At the same time, I came to a realization that I should take more time to enjoy interacting with the people around me, discovering new ideas and opportunities never before known. And of course, realizing the give-and-take aspect of loving and sharing with wine and food. It’s an act of love (yes I’m getting gushy) to be able to provide delicious wine, food, attention, and conversation to guests on a regular basis, and totally give myself to the process of just that. It makes it easy to work the long hours, and get up early and go to sleep late, realizing that the culmination of all this hard work is just a few peaceful, relaxing hours in people’s lives. Happy bday me.

Thoughts on an evening well done

While having my morning coffee at Parish today, I had the fortune of running into a couple who dined with me at the restaurant a couple of months ago. The gentleman ordered a half-bottle of Nicolas Potel Volnay 2006(this wine rocks). He had some lamb, the lady had a vegetable plate, and I beleive they split some foie gras. He proposed to her that night, and we brought some delicious sparkling wine to toast the occasion, while wishing them well on great moment in their relationship. It’s nights like these that make me realize how fortunate I am to do what I do, and be able to partake and contribute in some way in the experience of my guests. It also occurred to me that I, as many of my colleagues who work in the industry, have been a part of enough engagement dinners, promotion celebrations, anniversaries, and birthday celebrations to last a lifetime. In fact, I can genuinely say my livelihood is in some way based on these events that take place in other people’s lives. In that respect, I would say I take a vested interest in making sure my guests are well cared for when dining with me.

Another surprising realization came when I could easily think back on their complete order from appetizer to dessert, and the wine they drank with dinner.  Now that I think about it, I can do that for a number of my guests that have dined with me. Is that weird? I guess my mind is just wired to work that way. Anyway, it’s rewarding to be able to provide a great complement of food and wine to the experience that diners have with each other. I just guess today I am fully in awe of that basic truth. Cheers to you, Frank and Bonnie.

What’s “balance?”

 Okay, I’m going to be super ”real” for a moment and talk about something I really am obsessed with. I may be going off on a limb by doing this, but I think it’s utterly important especially with so many people obsessed with ”perfect” pairings of food and wine, or even food and cocktails.

What is the objective of a food and wine pairing, essentially? Is it to make the food explode in your mouth, creating a wave of never before experienced flavors? Or is it to consciously feel good about yourself, saying you tried a combination, original, or classic, and it be just that? No, seriously, I want to know - which is it?

The reason I ask is because I want to be sure if we are really pushing the envelope on pairing comparable or contrasting flavors. I’ve been reared in a belief that the wine you pair with the chosen dish should reveal new flavors you wouldn’t notice if you’d only tried the dish alone. Also, said dish should reveal an experience of flavors you wouldn’t get from the wine alone. So in essence, the experience is more than the sum of its parts. Well, I’m not saying everyone should start requesting pairings for every meal they enjoy (unless they are a geek like me) but if you really want to heighten your perception of flavors during a special meal, do you  really want to go with the “safe” choice?

Most people that go out want to just have a good meal, right? I think so. There is so much un-untilized potential for improvement upon the art of pairing food and beverages. I guess the trepidation many of us have dealing with it may be the fact that we conceptualize a finished dish one way (Food), while we conceptualize wine (Wine) another way. How come we don’t just see them both as “Food.” A part of this issue is how food and beverages are perceived in our society today - (some of the Puritanical stuff coming back to bite us in the butt) many of us don’t think of food and wine on equal terms, meaning we place more emphasis on the food than the wine. I don’t just mean ordering what to eat and then ordering a beverage to go with it, I mean we don’t inherently value food and beverages equally. Let’s look at the symbolic importance.

We walk into a new restaurant, look at a menu and say, ”Wow, this looks great! Let’s do this!” We look at the wine or beverage list, and instead of having that same feeling of excitement that we had over the food, we breeze over the beverage list and order something that has nothing to do with our choice of dinner(keeping in mind that we are at a restaurant that has a diverse wine and cocktail list to pair with the cuisine). We order a beverage we’ve had before, something we’ve had dozens of times - and fail to transfer the feeling of adventure to our appreciation for the beverage side of our restaurant experience. I’m a culprit in this too. I can think of countless times I have gone to new and exciting spots to eat, and order an amazing and diverse array of dishes to explore new flavors, and then balk on ordering a new and varied wine or beverage to accompany my food, a beverage that will heighten not only the perception of flavors in the dish, but a beverage that will be analogous emotionally to my sense of adventure with the food.

Maybe not everyone wants to dive off a cliff every time they go out to eat - no problem with that. But you have no idea how much sleep I lose at night because I’ve encountered someone who orders a specific dish, tastes the food, then takes a sip from a beverage that will definitely not work well with the dish, and say “It tastes just okay.” Well it may be that you are drinking an extra extra dirty Martini with Blue Cheese Olives and that’s the reason you can’t taste the sweetbreads. Let me put it to you a different way, when you put on your clothes to go out, do you mix plaid with polka dots and stripes? I am not one of those people who just rant to rant - I want to actually help change this weird phenomenon I see occur daily. 

Doing what I do, I often see people order food and wine that are worlds apart in terms of flavor, and depth. Being the hospitalitarian I am, I inherently want everyone to enjoy the wine and dish that make them happy. So now you’re sayin, “Chris, what’s the big deal!?” What if you were to order the diver scallops with sweet garlic, sunchoke puree, and basil oil, and ask for your favorite bottle of Napa Cab to go with it, assuring me you don’t mind having red wine with seafood, and then look to me for approval? The little guy in my head is screaming “NO, NO, NO?!” Maybe you happen to enjoy your bottle of Napa Cab (insert name here) and just want to be able to drink it with your meal. Nothing wrong with that in the least. You’re paying the hundred something bucks for it, you get whatever you want. Just don’t ask me if that’s a great choice, and I won’t lose sleep at night trying to deal with the fact that I nodded my head in aquiescence over the whole ordeal, rather than trying to tell you to try the bottle of Cote du Rhone Blanc that would have made your eyes roll to the back of your head, had you tasted it with the scallops…and it only cost 30 bucks compared to the 150 you just dished out for the Cab!

We often choose the wines we drink with dinner based on our pre-conceived notion of the prestige of the bottle we down (especially when dining with people we want to impress with our sense of taste) or based on a previous experience of having it - but with a totally different meal, rather than consciously think about whether we will actually enjoy the combination of the food and wine. Well, yes, we may enjoy the actual dish, and we may enjoy the actual wine, but together? Uh uh.

And you’re now saying to yourself: “Chris, I’m not a wine expert. I’m not even a wine novice. How do I know what wine will go with the dish I just selected? I can’t speak for every restaurant when I say this, but it may be a great idea to just ask your server to recommend a bottle for you to try. What’s to lose? They want to do their best (hopefully) and earn a great tip, so it’s in their best interest to either recommend an accompaniment on their own, or find someone who’ll help you, right?

Even for the experienced diners and wine drinkers, this can still be a problem. Especially in this recent economic situation, how many places actually employ trained wine professionals on staff to offer this level of service to guests? That’s another post for another time. Back to the question of the moment. So what if you don’t know what CDR Blanc tastes like? What if you’ve tried it before, and didn’t like it? Please, don’t tell me you’ve already been through this before, and give me the whole explanation: “Well, Chris, I don’t like Cote du Rhone Blanc.” Have you ever tried it? With scallops served the way I described? No? Well then how do you know it won’t be “send shivers up your back delicious?” Well? That’s my point.