Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Stand by your ingredients

"Stand by your ingredients," said Chef Will Artley. Not quite a country and western lyric, it's his philosophy of cooking.

Chef Will Artley

Artley was addressing diners on 5 September at Planet Wine Shop which adjoins the Evening Star Restaurant, in the Del Ray neighborhood of north Alexandria. The occasion was a five-course dinner pairing Artley's food to the wines of Martin Mittelbach, the 9th generation winemaker of Weingut Tegernseerhof in Austria. The setting was the Farm Table, a private table for fourteen in the wine shop.

His preparation, Artley said, reflects "the purity, provenance, and absolute quality of ingredients, rather than on fanciful technique." And, he buys local.

Wild Mushroom Succotash
Wild mushroom succotash with Amish goat cheese,
basil gnocchi, and truffle froth.

Paired with Tegernseerhof Bergdistel Grüner Veltliner 2006.

Located in the Austrian wine district of Wachau, northwest of Vienna, the Tegernseerhof estate slopes sharply down to the banks of the River Danube. The majority of its wine is Grüner Veltliner (also the grape varietal), a spicy, peppery, white wine with nuances of fruits such as honeydew melon and peach. Mittelbach also produces Riesling and a small volume of Chardonnay, and two red varieties: Blauer Zweigelt and Blauburgur.

The estate's main stone house was built in 1166. But in the 1960s, Martin's father, alone among area winemakers at the time, switched to all stainless steel fermentation. This more modern technique ironically allowed the traditional character of the grapes to show their varietal character, unencumbered by oaky flavors.

Spring Rolls


The Menu
  • Black Diamond Cheddar & Fried Dragon Creek Oyster Biscuit
    Wild Mushroom & Braised Spinach Spring Rolls
    served with
    Tegernseerhof Zweigelt Rosé 2007
    Tegernseerhof Riesling 2006

  • Heirloom Tomato Carpaccio
    Smoked Shallot and Arugula Salad
    Shaved Pecorino and Vibrant Summer Vinaigrette
    served with
    Tegernseerhof T26 Grüner Veltliner 2007

  • Amish Goat Cheese and Basil Gnocchi
    Wild Mushroom Succotash & Truffle Froth
    served with
    Tegernseerhof Bergdistel Grüner Veltliner 2006

  • Seared Day Boat Scallops
    Virginia Sweet Corn Risotto & Pea Shot Salad
    served with
    Tegernseerhof Hohereck Grüner Veltliner 2006

  • Indian Summer Fruit Pie
    Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream
    served with
    Tegernseerhof Creation Grüner Veltliner 2003

Winemaker Martin and friends
Winemaker Martin Mittelbach and friends


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Lessons for 'craft' brewers?

These days, many craft beer makers are experimenting with oak and other extraneous ingredients. Could Mittelbach's reliance on the grape itself, the prime ingredient of his wine, be an object lesson of sorts for these craft brewers? Likewise, Artley's reliance on fresh ingredients rather than process?

For centuries, barley malt, hops, pure water, and yeast —that sublime quadrumvirate— served, unencumbered, as the recipe for fine beer. Indeed, there is recent beer scholarship asserting that brewers historically took great lengths to forestall wood flavor in their beers. Not so much today for many U.S. craft brewers who are tossing all sorts of things in their kettles and tanks, and emphasizing oaky flavors.

Are extraneous ingredients fun? Yes. Are they interesting? Yes. Can they be flavorful? yes. But, as Mittelbach does with winemaking and Artley does with cooking, maybe make them the exception not the rule.

Stand by your (prime) ingredients.

-----more-----
  • Menu and photos here.
  • UPDATE: In early 2012, Chef Artley moved to Pizzeria Orso, in Falls Church, Virginia.
  • Caveat lector: As a representative for Select Wines, Inc. —a wine and beer wholesaler in northern Virginia— I sell the wines of Tegernseerhof.

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