The kitchen at the Culinary Institute of America at the Pearl Brewery was transformed into an extensive “chef’s table” late Sunday afternoon at one of the early events of the New World Wine & Food Festival.
Popping corks were heard around the room as bottles of Champagne opened to kick off Chefs & Cellars. This annual wine and food bash features great wines donated from private wine cellars paired with food made on site by some of San Antonio’s best chefs and their crews.
With guests seated along the stainless steel work tables in the large kitchen, wine was poured and passed for sampling and a party atmosphere prevailed. I was seated at the Brasserie Pavil area, overseen by chef Scott Cohen.
For the chefs, though, it was all in a day’s work. Jason Dady, owner of several San Antonio restaurants, including The Lodge at Castle Hills and Tre Trattoria, hunched over a dozen or more plates of foie gras garnished with finely minced fresh plums.
Moe Lazri, general manager for the River Walk restaurants, Fig Tree Restaurant and Little Rhein Steak House, offered the wine for cuisine prepared by Fig Tree chef Byron Bergeron. Lazri and I share a passion for rosé wines, still or sparkling, and he shared a taste of his aperitif wine, Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Brut Rosé, Reims, 2002.
I was seated in Scott Cohen’s section of the kitchen. The chef at Brasserie Pavil, along with his talented staff, presented a feast of mushrooms, beginning with a seductive Double Shrimp Risotto with shaved black truffles from Umbria, Italy. It was served with a silky Domaine William Fèvre, Chablis 1er Cru: Montée de Tonnerre, Burgundy, 2004. All the wines in our section that evening were from Dr. Scott Duncan.
“You gotta have some of this — grouse pastrami,” Cohen told me soon after I arrived. Taking me back to a cutting table he sliced off a piece. It was salty, smoky and as satisfying as a conventional pastrami, though with a little firmer texture. Later in the evening, the pastrami was served on a warm goat cheese crouton with pickled chanterelle mushrooms, and paired with a Château Leovill Poyferre (2nd Grand Cru Classe), Saint-Estephe; Haut-Medoc, Medoc, Bordeaux, 2001.
Richard and Bunny Becker, with Dady and his crew, served their great wines. “This is a rare day in San Antonio for food and wine — it’s the best of food, with the best of wine —and that’s rare anywhere on the planet,” said Richard Becker, owner of Becker Vineyards in Stonewall.
Cohen also mentioned the progress that San Antonio has made in the dozen or so years he has been here. “Twelve years ago, when I came here and ordered a piece of tuna, it was pink, not red. I said, ‘Wow, we have to move the market along here. Now, we are getting great fish and beef from all over the world,” he said.
Many (tastes) of wine later, my table companion of the evening, Steven Krueger, was equally proud of what San Antonio has attained. Krueger is the sommelier at Francesca’s at Sunset in the Westin La Cantera Hotel and performed double duty that evening pouring wines for Becker.
“This is the best thing, this kind of venue,” he told me, as he took a break to sample some of the food at our table. “These are wines from private cellars that we’d only get at an event like this, with the added benefit of the food being prepared to go with them.”
I didn’t have to be convinced — not after sampling the rich, red wine rabbit stew with matsutake mushrooms alongside a beautiful Domaine Robert Ampeau & Fils, Pommard; Cote de Beaune, Cote-d’Or, Burgundy, 1991. A real stunner, this Burgundy had sleek, subtle cherry flavors, hints of earth and a ample finish. It showed the best of a well-cellared Burgundy, perfect to drink now but also to keep cellared for more than a few more years.
The New World Wine & Food Festival is Nov. 10-15. For more information go to www.nwwff.org.