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Celebrity Chef Series: Jacques Pepin & Eric Ripert, hosted by Anthony Bourdain, chef and host of the Travel Network’s “No Reservations” November 13, 2009

The Wanderlushes attended the Celebrity Chef Series at the Adrian Arsht Center in Miami.  This night’s event featured two of the finest French chefs in the world, past or present, in Jacques Pepin and Eric Ripert, and was hosted by Anthony Bourdain, host of the Travel Network’s “No Reservations.”  Bourdain, who is very good friends of both chefs, opened with a brief introduction of the two celebrated culinary giants, offering a brief bio on both.  There is a Wanderlush, whom I shall not name, who is more than just a casual fan of Eric Ripert.   Let’s just say a good-looking man with dreamy lips, salt-and-pepper hair and a stunning French accent, could be an intimidating figure to be reckoned with, were this Wanderlush not comfortable in the fact he can cook, albeit not great, and certainly not on the level of Ripert, plays guitar, writes a witty sentence every now and then, and can still hit a softball pretty darn far on good days.

But back to the event.  The show was an intimate talk show-like affair.  Bourdain asked both chefs about their pasts, how they were influenced to pursue the culinary arts, etc.  Both men were witty and insightful about where they came from, where they are in their cooking lives and what they like and dislike about the profession.  Then it was time for a good old-fashioned blind cook off between Pepin and Ripert.  Each chef was given several ingredients, half an hour and the aid of a sous chef (Pepin had his daughter there to help) in which to create something unique and delicious.  I’m sure none of us could create a chicken or fish dish as exciting and complex as the chefs did that night.  Pepin likes cooking with wine—and I think he even used a little in the dishes he created.  The aromas, the textures and the presentation were nothing short of flawless.  The technique and precision displayed by both chefs was simply awe-inspiring. There was no winner, except for the lucky souls who had a chance to try the finished products.

After the cook-off, Bourdain and both chefs returned to the stage to field questions from the audience.  Some questions were insightful, others were funny (what would you want as a last meal? Whose cooking do you enjoy the most?) and offered a glimpse into what makes each of these cooking geniuses so interesting to watch and listen to.  Oh yeah, Bourdain was a pretty good host of the hour-and-a-half event, too.

EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival 2009

No true Wanderlush can label themselves as such without experiencing the EPCOT International Food & Wine IMG_1748Festival at least one time in their lives.  In fact, you could almost say it is a requirement, a stripe to be added to your personal Wanderlush rank.

We made our annual trip to Orlando the weekend of November 6 and 7.  It was the final weekend of the event, so we headed out early that Friday and made good time on the road, eventually reaching our hotel, Disney’s Beach Club Resort, around 1 p.m.  Once we were checked in, we wasted no time and headed to the park to begin our eating and drinking journey around the world and back again.  And again, provided our bodies could stand up to the harsh rigors of experiencing all that delicious food and drink.  The weather was magnificent that whole weekend, by the way: daytime temperatures in the upper 70s to low 80s, dry, with a slight breeze that made it feel somewhat cooler.

The first thing to remember about the festival (this year being the 14th) it is always heavily attended on the weekends, and so patience is the order of the day when dealing with the large crowds (often drunk or pleasantly buzzed) and young attendees (many on sugar highs or going through temporary insanity, a.k.a. snit fits).  Lucky for us the overall spirit of the event kept unpleasant behavior in check, for both adults and children alike.  Not being parents, we did see several times sated, buzzed and just plain fed up parents giving in to their demanding young one’s request for a certain food, drink or that must-have toy.  This isn’t unexpected at Disney parks, but it can be awkward at an event like the International Food & Wine Festival.

Despite these few and minor distractions, we planned our itinerary for maximum enjoyment, efficient use of time and, most importantly, low stress.  To my recollection there were no “why me?” moments or feelings of disappointment in reaching a particular destination or event.  Besides, after a few glasses of wine the whole EPCOT world takes on a decidedly rosy hue.  We made a long and detailed list of foods and drinks to try, and for the most part we were able to stick to the plan.

Our impressions of the food at this year’s festival were positive; the quality of all the food samples we tried over the two days was good to very good, excellent in some cases.  Disney stated that they expected a higher standard of quality and the countries participating certainly lived up to that.  Wine and drink pairings at each country were thought out and enhanced the overall tasting experience.  Lines at several countries’ stands were long, but well worth the wait.  We purchased special wristbands which could be used like debit cards for purchases at Disney IMG_1752 properties.  This sped up the process because the last thing you want to do when buying food or drinks is fumble through your pockets looking for your hotel card, cash or a debit card.  Employees at each kiosk were friendly and helpful.  My Italian, French and German language skills (laughable) would have me exiled from these respective countries, but the employees at Italy, France and Germany certainly appreciated (I think) my feeble effort to reach out and bridge the language gap.

But there’s more to this festival than the mere Wanderlush food and booze crawl.  Festival planners also schedule private food demonstrations and wine tastings over the course of the event, hosting renowned wine makers from all over the country and top chefs from the culinary world.  We should point out that the list of wine makers was somewhat diminished from previous years.   We hope that is not anIMG_1832 ongoing trend.  We made reservations ahead of time for a few of these events, which are designed to be more relaxed and intimate experiences than simply touring the world showcase.   The stand out for us was an “Adventures in Wine Varietals – Exploring Cabernet” seminar held by Andrea Immer Robinson.  She has a way of navigating you through the wine world that makes it seem simple.

Seeking a respite from the gastronomical and alcoholic overload, we went on several rides at EPCOT: Spaceship Earth, Finding Nemo, The Land, Mission Earth and my personal favorite, Soarin,’ a large-screen ride that takes you over the vast California landscape, via hang glider, seeing and smelling the different regions of this diverse state north to south.  If you’re at EPCOT during the festival (or any time, really) put this ride at the top of your list.  The EPCOT Food & Wine Festival didn’t disappoint, and with Disney’s focus on quality and hospitality, was a better experience than the previous year.  The beer choices throughout the festival could have been much more creative considering the number of microbrew beers available in Florida, however.   We have a hunch that is more related to contractual obligations but it would be nice to see a greater variety for beer connoisseurs.  Even so, this is a great event to attend.

New Times Pairings 2009

How do you fill a live performance theater like the Broward Center for the Performing Arts when there are no live acts to fill it on a Thursday night? Just bring together over 30 of South Florida’s finest restaurants, enough chefs and food service personnel to man their stations, cook up some tasty small plate food and pair it of course, with plenty of wine, beer and liquor.    Such was the recent second annual Pairings event at the BCPA.

We were here for food, drink and fun.  We were determined to eat and drink our way to sated oblivion in the two-plus hours we had (looking back we did some serious damage in such a short time.)  Pairings is a food lover’s paradise, a virtual Foodie-Con (without costumed geeks), with each restaurant offering a little taste of their signature dish (or at least something easily prepared in a non-kitchen environment.)  The aromas and the sizzle of freshly prepared food was overwhelming, and definitely in a good way.  Though the event was well attended  (i.e. crowded),  people for the most part enjoyed themselves without being obnoxious and pretentious.  There were a few exceptions to this overall atmosphere of food-and-drink loving spirit, but not enough to spoil the event.

Some of the highlights of our the gastronomic gauntlet included:

  • Blackened tenderloin from Shula’s On The Beach, paired with a Oyikil Malbec (Mendoza 2007)
  • Slow roasted Waygu short ribs from Bistro Mezzaluna (no wine pairing with this delicious morsel…they had conveniently run out of the wine, an expensive Zinfandel, even though the night was young, come on man)
  • Saffron seafood risotto from Trina paired with a 2008 Yalumba Y Series Viognier (served by a young woman I swore looked like Cameron Diaz, though that may have been the generous pours of wine she offered up)
  • Pasta in a meatball from da Campo Osteria by Todd English paired with a 2006 Bertani Secco Ripasso (which is as close to a great Super Tuscan as we’ve tasted in this price range)
  • Potato gnocchi sorrentina with buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil  from Bova Prime paired with a delightful 2006 La Spinetta Barbera Ca Del Pian
  • Petite filet mignon sandwiches from Morton’s The Steakhouse paired with a 2004 Chateau Joanin Becot Cotes de Castillon (an excellent accompaniment to these tasty palm-sized appetizers)
  • Crab cakes from Capital Grille paired with a 2007 La Crema Chardonnay Monterey
  • Shredded Coca Cola barbecue beef ribs from Lola’s served on a homemade potato chip paired with Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale (one of our favorite stations to frequent that night, as confirmed by our two stops there)
  • Dry aged New York strip, truffle Yukon Gold potatoes and HP Signature steak sauce from Hollywood Prime paired with a 2008 Montes Classic Cabernet Sauvignon.

All in all we truly enjoyed Pairings 2009.  It was definitely worth the $35 price per ticket, offering up a kaleidoscope of culinary delights to please even the most discerning palate.  The portions were hearty and flavorful; the wine, beer and other spirits available, were all poured generously.  In fact, the pours got larger and larger as the night wore on, which is not a complaint; mind you, just a happy observation.

My one problem with Pairings—one I’m sure many of you reading this page may identify with if you’ve ever attended such an event—was the trash people left on tables around the food sampling stations and bistro tables.  That was the kick in the groin on an otherwise fun night.  We hate slobs, especially ones with money who should know better.  We couldn’t figure out why people couldn’t throw away their trash in the conveniently placed bins that the event organizers provided for the huge amounts of disposable dishware and utensils an event of this size generates.   Yet many attendees left their uneaten food, plates and assorted plastic ware for others to toss away.   One yuppie stockbroker/professional/Ed Hardy, Armani cologne-wearing idiot tossed his plate right next to mine as we ate, which earned the unthinking twit a contemptuous stare from me.    We didn’t let that sour our evening, however, and hope at future Pairings events people are a little more conscious about this and throw away their trash properly.   We look forward to attending next year’s Pairings event and recommend it to any Wanderlush who enjoys eating, drinking…and most of all, people watching.

Mollydookered By A Boxer With A Velvet Glove

Note to selves: early afternoon wine tastings can be hazardous to the rest of your day.

Saturday, September 26th, we attended a Mollydooker wine tasting event at Johnny V’s restaurant on Fort sparky2Lauderdale’s trendy and chic Las Olas Boulevard.  The event, which was a fundraiser for Smile Train (www.smiletrain.org), was hosted by Sparky Marquis himself!  Our friends Mitch and Jen, fellow Wanderlushes through and through, decided to join us for this rare opportunity.  Mollydooker (Australian for left-handed) wines are some of the most amazing Aussie reds we’ve ever tasted, hands down.

The event was well attended, with close to 40 eager wine lovers like ourselves, all on hand.  Most of the Mollydooker wines we enjoyed this particular day were from the 2007 and 2008 harvests.

* The Violinist (2009), a crisp and refreshing Verdelho (Pairing Suggestion from Mollydooker:  Shrimp Ceviche or Snapper w/fresh pineapple salsa)
* The Boxer (2008), a powerful shiraz (Pairing Suggestion from Mollydooker:  Grilled Rib-Eye Steak w/ sweet carrot puree and creamy horseradish)
* The Two Left Feet (2008), a blend of shiraz, cabernet & merlot blend (Pairing Suggestion from Mollydooker:  Herb-crusted pork tenderloin with sweet potato gnocchi)
* The Scooter (2008), a soft, vlevety merlot (Pairing Suggestion from Mollydooker:  Grilled pork w/ garlic potatoes)
* The Maitre D’ (2008),  a spicy cabernet sauvignon (Pairing Suggestion from Mollydooker:  Roasted lamb or spice-rubbed chicken)
* Sip It Forward (2007), a blend of  Shiraz, Cabernet and Merlot renamed for a charitable Cambodian cause Sarah Marquis is involved in
* Blue-Eyed Boy (2007), a powerhouse shiraz (and our personal favorite!) (Pairing Suggestion from Mollydooker:  Braised lamb shoulder w/ a prune reduction sauce and roasted pine nuts)
* Enchanted Path (2007), a shiraz and cabernet blend (Pairing Suggestion from Mollydooker:  Peppered lamb loin with thyme and mushroom risotto)* Carnival of Love (2007), a very special shiraz (Pairing Suggestion from Mollydooker:  Rack of lamb w/ a cherry reduction jus on saged polenta)
Sparky* The Velvet Glove (2007), a complex and powerful shiraz (Pairing Suggestion from Mollydooker:  For this wine they suggest to keep the pairing simple such as organically raised beef with garden veggies.  It can even carry over into dessert.)

We were seated at a table with six glasses per guest, a large plastic beaker (to conduct an experiment, perhaps?) and a measuring cup.  Sparky introduced himself and spoke briefly about Mollydooker wines, their origins, as well as the McLaren Vale, one of the largest wine producing regions of Australia.  He then asked for three volunteers (myself, Jen and another young woman) to demonstrate what he affectionately calls “the Mollydooker Shake,” which is an innocuous method of uncorking the bottle and introducing air into it to open up the complex flavor profiles that have lain dormant in the bottle.  The process is simple; open the screw cap bottle, pour a small amount into a glass; recap the bottle, invert it and shake it vigorously; then repeat one more time.  There was a noticeable foam at the top of the bottle after all this activity, but no need to panic, wine lovers:  Sparky informed us all (to our great relief) that Mollydooker wines are bottled with nitrogen in order to keep the sulfite levels as low as possible (which can make or break a wine’s taste, and give some people nasty headaches when consumed in high amounts.)  The Mollydooker shake should be done with all but Goosebumps, The Violinist and any wines more than two years old.

Our class demonstration proved to be a boon to the three of us as we were all given a generous extra pour to sip and savor.  Sparky then asked everyone to sample each of the wines on our table (plus my extra glass of the Boxer) starting with a comparison of the Boxer that had been opened with and without the patented “shake”.    There was a noticeable difference between the two.   Mollydooker wines are the result of putting quality ahead of quantity, an attention to detail that many wine makers simply don’t follow or bypass in order to create good, drinkable wines—but wines that are far from memorable.  The aromas flavors are bold and intense with each of the Mollydooker wines, the Old World terroir of the McLaren Vale shining through with every sip.  It’s hard to pick a favorite amongst these wines, much like a father trying to pick his favorite child.  Each offers its own special reward to the drinker.  Australia is known for Shiraz, but Sparky has taken it to a whole new level, a level all Aussie wine makers strive to achieve.

Next was an experiment in blending in a nod to the Sip it Forward.  Winemakers the world over have been experimenting with blending since wine was invented.  For our purposes, we were to blend the three Mollydooker wines used to create Sip it Forward, in 100-milliliter increments, to create our own magical blend to share with the other guests.  Sparky told us what the original percentages were and we were to create a blend based on our own tastes.  Each of the tables took to the task with great enthusiasm, blending bits of the Scooter merlot with the Boxer Shiraz with the Maitre D’ cabernet sauvignon.  Kim and I decided on a 10% Scooter blended with 55% of the Maitre D’ cabernet sauvignon and 35% of the Boxer Shiraz.  The result was a flavorful red blend, with hints of tannins and a velvety mouth feel in the middle, with enough fruity mellowness of merlot thrown in to provide a nice finish.  The other table blends had more, and less, of our particular blend, but were elegant and simple as well.

It should be noted that by the time we had finished our initial tasting and the blending experiment, all pretense was gone from that room.  We were talking a bit louder, our inhibitions were fading with each glass, and overall we were all experiencing a general feeling of wine-soaked giddiness.  Damn, it was fun!  Food came out, plates of cheese, olives and other light appetizer food, but it was too little, too late: the Mollydookers were knocking us all for a loop, and we were happy as hell about it.  As the tasting wound down, Sparky was free to talk to each of the guests and take pictures.  I told him about a delightful steak and Blue-eyed Boy pairing Kim and I enjoyed some months back.  Sparky took great delight in this and told me that his wine, like any good wine, is good on its own but is even better when paired with food.  Sparky was so touched by my comments that he came back a short time later with a gift of two bottles of Blue-eyed Boy shiraz, both autographed—one for us and the other for our friends Mitch and Jen.  It was an extremely welcome gift—unexpected, yes, but very much appreciated.

(Note: At one point some young thieving magpie—a drunken surfer-looking guest who probably couldn’t taste the difference between a Mollydooker from a Boone’s Farm Reserve—decided he wanted one of our bottles and attempted a walk-by glomming.  Before the offender could abscond with our bottle, an alert Sparky informed the young man the bottle was for our friends and that he should excuse himself, which the young man did.  This was a low point of the tasting and could have been a spoiler for us all, but things turned out well.  Son of a bitch; no one, but no one better lay a hand on our friends’ Blue-eyed boy.)

All in all this was one of the most entertaining and informative wine tastings we’ve ever been a part of.   Sparky and his mother Janet are both delightful people who both share a passion for wine.   Sparky’s wife Sarah wasn’t at the event, but Sparky did speak of her often, talking about her passion and dedication to the success of Mollydooker wines.   By the time we made it home, a nice afternoon nap morphed into full-blown, blissful sleep till early evening, all with visions of Boxers, Scooters, Maitre D’s and Blue-eyed Boys dancing in our heads.

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