This past weekend, Todd English was one of many celebrity chefs in attendance at Mohegan Sun’s 11th Annual Winefest. Thousands of guests headed to Uncasville, CT, by car, train, ferry or even their newest commuter service, chartered helicopter, to attend the weekend-long festival celebrating food, drink and even more drink.
Celebrity Chef Todd English, whose restaurant Tuscany is a prominent feature at Mohegan Sun, sat down with us (in a cozy private booth under the waterfall at his eatery) to talk about food and wine and how that two are pretty much inseparable.
As many already know, wine completes food and food completes wine. “I can’t imagine one either out the other,” English says of food and wine. “One completes the other — this is the love of living.”
As a chef, English has found that connecting with winemakers help influence his cuisine. Especially in France and Italy, it’s hard to find winemakers who do not understand wine’s importance with food. Some of English’s favorite regions include Bordeaux, Bourgogne and Rhones, where he’ll visit châteaus that understand how to bring out the best food-pairing flavors in their fermentation.
“I find the wines that have the most characters have a beautiful balance of acids to fruits,” said English.
As for choosing a bottle, English is currently veering towards younger wines, even 2013 vintages. “Wines are not being aged, they’re meant to be drunk!”
Wine inspires what English decides to cook and how he pairs his dishes with specific wines. As a chef, he’ll taste each component of the wine individually, receiving a special box that contains tanins, acid, citrus, blackberry and other aromas to explore the palate. “When you taste pure tannin, you’ll never forget it,” he said. “When you taste acid, you know what that is.” Knowing the basics allows a chef or any wine aficionado to get deeper into tasting notes, understanding how notes of apple, citrus or even chocolate can appear in a bottle of fermented grape juice.
English compares tasting components of wine to cooking. Once you know what a truffle or a mushroom tastes like, you can cook with it and bring out the nuances to complement each other, similar to matching food wine. “We know that spicy food is best with high acid wine because of each component,” said English.
Of course, pairing different dishes with different wines can bring out a wide variety of flavors. A steak dinner with Chardonnay can taste totally different than if it were enjoyed with a Cabernet. “You don’t always need red wines with red meat,” English encourages, “Try a white wine with red meat or a red wine with fish and see how the variety totally changes the dish.”
Experimenting with wine in cooking can turn classic dishes into totally new concepts. English has recently enjoy making traditional coq au vin but with the addition of soy sauce, ginger and sugar to the wine. “It transforms the dish into something really amazing,” he said. “You have all these flavors, and umami that resonates with that sweet spot that makes us happy. I don’t think I can go back to regular coq au vin!” English also recommends drinking the wine you cook with along with the dish its used in. In this case, a hearty red.
As in cooking, wine trends change too. Coq au vin was originally designed to use red wine to tenderize old rooster meat, but now fresher meat is available. Similarly, less aged wines are more en vogue. English sees local wines becoming a huge trend: diners in D.C. enjoying Virginia Wines, New Yorkers choosing bottles from Long Island’s North Fork. “Wines from Georgia won’t be so strange one day,” he said.
In addition with being sustainable due to smaller transportation emissions and lesser amount of pesticides needed for smaller vineyards, local wines can be made from local grapes not seen elsewhere. Different varietals that are native to certain areas can be harvested for totally new wines!
From old recipes to bottles barely old enough to celebrate a one-year anniversary, 2015 is an exciting time for wine and food– together!