Chefs make perfect pairings at Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival’s 2012 Vintners’ Brunch
Ah, the old mix ’n’ match game. It never goes out of fashion—wine and food together in harmony. Few manage to do it better or on a grander scale than the 20 or so local restaurant and cooking-school chefs and caterers who populate the annual Vintners’ Brunch, the crowning final act of the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival. (And yes, say the organizers; the Playhouse Theatre Company may be gone but the festival will continue next spring, with California as the theme region and Chardonnay as the theme grape variety.)
You can mix and match anything, wine-and-food-wise. Well, perhaps port and rollmops is a bit dicey, but there’s plenty of sweet stuff to welcome port, as there was at the 24th annual brunch of the 34th annual festival a few weeks ago. In this corner, two weeks ago, before taking time out for our own annual Golden Plates issue, I promised to cite some of the best matches, at least as they appeared to this palate.
There’s always a roving quartet of judges (which always includes the man who’s known as the Hired Belly, Tim Pawsey) who stroll the room, taking notes in order to pronounce the top three, just before the dancing starts. In third place in their tally: Northwest Culinary Academy, under head pastry chef Tim Muehlbauer, whose members acquitted themselves of a blackberry-peach melba bar with basil/lemon-verbena foam, magnificently paired with a Deseado Sparkling Torrontés from Patagonia by Familia Schroeder.
In second place: executive chef Taryn Wa from Savoury Chef Foods, creating a fine repeat performance after the company’s first-time entry last year, this time with ricotta gnocchi with braised pork cheeks, sitting proud alongside Marchesi de’Frescobaldi’s Terre More IGT Maremma Toscana 2009.
First place went to executive chef Scott Kidd from LIFT, who’s the one chef attending who always does something eggy—this being a brunch, after all. This time he offered a lovely little work: quail egg Benedict. And this year he also served it alongside the only rosé in the room (and I think rosé is the quintessential brunch wine): M. Chapoutier’s Beaurevoir Tavel 2010.
That’s what the judges thought. Here’s what I thought. (And yes, I did get to every station, except the two that ran out of food halfway through the brunch.) In third place was Mario Fortin, executive chef at the famous room-with-a-view, the Salmon House on the Hill in West Vancouver, whose elegant crab cake wrapped with smoked salmon, alongside apple and fennel salad with orange vinaigrette, was perfect with Robert Mondavi’s original Fumé Blanc 2009.
Second place had to be a tie. Dino Renaerts, chef and partner at the about-to-open Pier 7 (at the foot of Lonsdale in North Vancouver), fashioned a fabulous clear soup: Prawn dumplings in dashi broth with edamame and hon-shimeji mushrooms. His wine was the one that used to be reputed about town to be Sarah McLachlan’s favourite: the California killer Caymus Conundrum 2009, which, for my money, pairs with anything fresh, seafood-y, or Asian.
The other second-place winner was executive chef Blair Rasmussen, who is, to my mind and palate, the most underrated chef in town, plying his trade for thousands at the Vancouver Convention Centre (where the brunch is always held). Rasmussen was abuzz with talk of umami, the “fifth taste” among the five basics—sweet, sour, bitter, and salty are the others. “Umami” designates a savoury smoothness; the term is borrowed from the Japanese but isn’t limited to Japanese cuisine, now being used anywhere and by every- and anyone. Rasmussen’s creation was an Angus-beef short rib with ancho-dashi–braised daikon, mustard foam, and a vegetable-tempura crisp. The wine was Spanish: Iber Wine’s Sabor Real Toro Tempranillo 2007 ($21.99), a heady powerhouse red, represented here by Landmark Selections.
As for first place, I’m in complete agreement with the judges: had to be Kidd’s dazzling little quail egg Benedict with the Chapoutier Tavel rosé. Long may it wave. Maybe he’ll make you one—or four or five, ’cause they are tiny little things—if you mention it when you make a Sunday-brunch reservation at LIFT.
Some standout wines of the brunch: it was great to see the Luckhursts from Road 13 pouring their brilliant (and hoarded) Old Vines Sparkling Chenin Blanc 2008, which was served with oysters at the Monk McQueen’s station. Others worth tasting include Caymus Conundrum 2009, Robert Mondavi’s Fumé Blanc 2009, the Chapoutier Tavel, Iber Wine Tempranillo 2007, Familia Schroeder Sparkling Torrontés n/v, and Nathalie Bonhomme El Petit Bonhomme Jumilla 2010, a real deal at $14.99, from Spain via Montreal (there’s a story there). Get lots for sundeck parties and meals.
And the best wine in the whole room? A Chilean red: Veramonte Reserva Pinot Noir 2009 ($16.99). It’s a restricted listing, but the agents, Landmark Selections, can help you get a case. At that price—and that level of satisfaction—why wouldn’t you? I intend to down a few when spring finally comes. And well into the summer. It’s a solid, bright, fruity wine, beautifully oaked and integrated.
That’s the lot for now. See you next March for the Californian contingent.