2009 International Chefs Congress Wrap-Up: Tasting and Mixology Day Two

The "New Zealand and the Art of Sustainable Wines" tasting wasn’t a mere tasting of New Zealand wines, Marlborough vintner George Geris laid out New Zealand’s plan to convert all of its wineries to a sustainable model by 2010. Geris’ passion for the industry and its direction toward sustainable and biodynamic growing and production was evident and inspiring. It’s the right thing to do, he explained, to leave something for future generations. New Zealand is the only country in the world to take such steps, and their three-tier system (with different levels of compliance with sustainable being the minimum; organic the next level, and biodynamic with the most rigorous criteria) is sure to be a model for others to follow.

In Monday’s “Grand Masters Slam,” Masters of Wine Tim Atkin, Lisa Granik, and Charles Curtis had an open-panel discussion (led by our Congress Wine Liaison Julee Resendez) where they talked about their motivation to take the rigorous exam and how they each use their vast wine knowledge. They took a few swipes at the current reigning scoring system that dominates so much of wine opinions and purchasing; touched on the economic downturn (noting its affect on restaurants’ ability to hire experienced (thus higher salaried) sommeliers); explained the US laws that restrict importing; and, of course, fielded questions from attendees. Despite several attempts by attendees to stump the panelists and ruffle some feathers with tricky wine questions, the Masters expertly answered each query and definitely proved their titles.

Master of Wine Tim Atkin led his wine seminar through a tasting of 10 Spanish wines from all over the country. As Atkin explained "wines these days do not remember where they live; we've lost a lot in terms of individuality," yet the variety of Spanish wines show a lot of diversity and sense of place. And later in the afternoon 2009 Rising Star Sommelier Claire Paparazzo (who'd just arrived from Blue Hill where she served wines to the President and First Lady) led participants through a tasting of Sauvignon Blanc with six bottles demonstrating its range of characteristics. "The thing I enjoy most about these wines is their hidden elegance," she said. After tasting a traditional style, Paparazzo moved us on to wines from New Zealand, California, and France. By the end of the tasting, participants had a thorough sense for not only what to expect of Sauvignon Blanc, but when and how to pair it perfectly with food.

Albert Trummer of Apothèke kicked off the day's mixology workshops by introducing his "apothecary" approach to the world of cocktails. Trummer and fellow mixologists (including 2009 Rising Star Orson Salicetti) took us through the thought process behind the bar's menu and its decidedly "medicinal" bent. Apothèke serves up a roster of cocktails that act as anything from mood-lifters to aphrodisiacs. "I get my special herbs and botanicals shipped in from the South of France, from Italy, and from places in the US...The artificial component in my cocktails is totally cut out." The drinks we sampled had ingredients as diverse as goat weed, dill-infused vodka, Israeli mint, Malay pink sea salt, a hibiscus reduction, black cardamom and a habanero pepper infusion. Beyond the incredible flavor they imparted, all the ingredients were chosen—not to mention house-made—for their physical or medicinal effect, proving Trummer's vision of the bartender-apothecary to be a win-win situation.

In his afternoon workshop, mixologist and author Scott Beattie introduced us to his artisanal approach to cocktails. As a rule, he approaches cocktails with the same respect as cuisine - rather than treating the cocktail as a mere liquid accompaniment or, worse yet, an afterthought. He advocated for avoiding artificial products entirely, using vegetable juices, seasonal, local herbs and fruits, adding pickled ingredients for acid, using salt, sugar and spice for glass rims, and garnishing with egg whites, froths, and relevant (i.e. not merely decorative) flowers. We tasted two flavor-packed creations, the "Autumn Apple," which was redolent of vanilla and apple spice, with a delicate cider froth on top, and the "Irian Jaya," made with hot peppers, kaffir lime leaves, and candied lemongrass.

Seasoned yet youthful mixologists Christy Pope and Chad Solomon are sought after consultants behind the bar, no doubt in part for their extensive knowledge on all things ice. In their afternoon presentation, Pope and Solomon took us through the history, science, and practical applications of ice in mixology. The two recommended a variety of ice programs for bartenders depending on the size of their establishments and the capacity of their freezers. Ice isn't merely a cooler in cocktails, they explained; more and more bars are taking the quality of their ice seriously. "Ice has become an artisanal ingredient," Pope said, which is why many bars are turning to methods of ice production that don't build up impurities and oxygen content. Attendees left with a crystal clear understanding of the science in ice.

by Amanda McDougall, Katherine Martinelli, Emily Bell, and Carolina Daza Carreño