Pilot Light: Wonders Never Cease
Ariane Batterberry - September 2014
Like most food-loving Americans, I have dined at so many good Italian restaurants right here in the United States that I don’t expect Italian food to hold many surprises. A recent lunch at the Italian Trade Commission prepared by cookbook author Francine Segan, however, was full of surprises. Who knew that fresh mozzarella might taste its best with green tomato jam, accompanied by slices of sweetly crunchy fried pumpkin set off with a crumble of sea salt. Or that bucatini might be construed into a dome and then sliced into wedges like a cake—for a buffet in Palermo, 1880? And did you know that in Campania, the combination of chocolate and eggplant was a local favorite? Segan describes a kind of lasagna, with layers of fried eggplant alternating with layers of chocolate sauce, sweetened ricotta, and perhaps candied fruit and nuts.
In the very wide world of food and wine, wonders do literally never cease. Rhône Valley Wines recently invited me to what was mysteriously referred to as “a sensorial exploration.” I was ushered into a brightly lit box, a dining room with walls of suspended white cloth. In this setting we were taken not only to explore the world of wine and food but to experience it, by clever projection and sheer imagination.
Our first course was “Scandinavia/Winter,” and we were immediately beset by falling snow and flickering northern lights, a suitable accompaniment for chef Russell Jackson’s meal fit for a thirsty Viking—rough rye and bulgar crisps to accompany the ancient flavors of “fat, butter, and ash,” with “malted wheat dirt, pickled carrots, and Brussels sprouts,” and an ever-so-gently poached farm egg, quivering in innocence, with parsnip, nettle/whey broth, and farmstead cheese. But here is a ray of sunshine from the far south—sommelier Michael Madrigale is pouring a Costières de Nîmes Michel Gassier La Petite Ruche 2012 and a Prieuré de Montézargues Tavel 2013.
After a brief sojourn with beneficent blue skies, we were whisked to a “spring” course in Japan, where, under a flutter of cherry blossoms and a light spring rain, we dug our chopsticks into kombu-cured tuna, with egg, rice, pickled vegetables, and nori in a smoked kombu broth with fermented tofu, anchored by reds—Clape Cuvée Renaissance (Cornas) and Vinsobres Perrin 2011 (Les Cornuds).
Soon enough we are transported to Mexico and a palm-fronded beach, where we are greeted by a deconstructed mole—a poultry roulade, a thick dab of rose petal mole, a slab of bitter chocolate, hot pepper, and a scattering of smoked grains and seeds, with a neat little chèvre tamale. But wait. A huge pyramid is rising in a fantasy Tenochtitlan, while some hearty wines are sacrificed to our glasses, a Gigondas Ogier Oratorio 2010 and a Delas Hermitage Frères 2008.
Finally, we are in New York City for autumn, falling leaves and some dessert, apple pie of course (maple-brandied apples, cinnamon crumble, malt crème, and citron confit), a very modern cheesecake (vanilla gel and graham cracker dust), and a black and white cookie, complemented perfectly by a sophisticated Beaumes-de-Venise Fenouillet 2012.
Ariane Batterberry, Founding Editor/Publisher