Fresh from numerous honors garnered for an acclaimed wine program developed at St. Helena’s Martini House, Sommelier John Ragan brought his wine expertise to San Francisco’s elegant Campton Place Restaurant inApril 2004. Together with Executive Chef Daniel Humm, he has helped create an unparalleled food and wine program. In awarding the restaurant Four Stars, San Francisco Chronicle Executive Food and Wine Editor Michael Bauer said, “John Ragan is as brilliant in his beverage pairings as Humm is in creating the food.” Humm and Ragan were one of only two chef/sommelier teams to receive StarChefs.com magazine’s San Francisco Rising Star Awards in 2005.
Each night Ragan carefully selects wine pairings for Humm’s different tasting menus. He enjoys selecting complementary wines to highlight the pure and distinct flavors of the food. Ragan eagerly encourages guests to discover new wines and concepts in wine and food pairing.
“I never want the wines to either overshadow or distract from the essence of the dishes,” Ragan says. “Instead, my goal is to create pairings that heighten and bring forth the true flavors of the cuisine. The wine must be ‘for the table’ in the sense that the wines should help tune the dish while also considering each diner’s preferences.”
Ragan’s latest fascinations are on display with Chef Humm’s tasting menus. “For me, a tasting menu is the ideal format to refocus the traditional views of wines for food and introduce the guest to the whole world of wine.” Ideas such as a Junmai Daiginjo Sak é with a trio of tartare, Vin Jaune paired to parsnip velout é with sweetbreads, and a Manzanilla Sherry with young goat’s cheese in olive oil all find themselves on the menu along with traditional notions such as Meursault with an exquisite fish or Ch âteauneuf-du-Pape with Humm’s seasonal squab preparations.
Overseeing a dynamic list of over one thousand entries and managing the restaurant and hotel wine programs, Ragan also has introduced an aggressive, ongoing staff education program. Not surprisingly, this accomplished young sommelier won the prestigious 2004 Chaine des Rotisseures Jeaune Sommelier Competition, Pacific Northwest and serves on the Wines of Germany Advisory Board.
Interview with Chef John Ragan of Campton Place - San FranciscoAntoinette Bruno:
How did you develop an interest in wine?
I worked in the restaurant business through high school and college. I came to California for vacation and never went back.
AB: What courses have you taken?
JR: I am auditing the advanced Quarter Master Sommelier course and taking the test in October.
AB: What is your philosophy on wine and food?
JR: The first thing to remember is that you are working in a restaurant. I will find the best pairings for the customer based on their wants. 75% of the guests ask for assistance and recommendations.
AB: Do you favor Old World or New World wines?
JR: I definitely favor Old World Wines. I need a balance between acidity and elegance. I am also a big fan of German wines – I’m on their advisory board.
AB: Tell me about a perfect wine and food match that you’ve discovered.
JR: Vin Santo paired with vanilla gelato and coffee espresso. Champagne with cheese. Also young goat cheese from Andante Dairy with a dry Spanish sherry.
AB: Why do you think you stand out as a sommelier?
JR: Because I really love my job. I love the instant gratification of when someone loves the pairing.
AB: What wines do you favor for your cellar at home?
JR: For whites, I like German and Austrian wines, and Champagne. For red wines I prefer Piedmont, Burgundy, and Rhone.
AB: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
JR: In 5 years I will still be here. In 10 years I want to have my own place but doing exactly what I am doing now.