Beverage Pairing 101

Beverage Pairing 101

As this is my first post on a new chapter in my life, I think back to all of the events I have done both as a Chef and Sommelier.  Every one of them uniquely different and challenging but most of all mentally fun.  I’ve always been of the mindset that I want to ‘tease the clientele’ and give them something different to look forward to.

Let me ask you a question.  Can you remember the best meal that you have ever had in your life?  A few come to my mind at different stages of my career:

  • Having my first upscale dinner with Chef Paul Tingley and eating white asparagus,
  • Cooking with Executive Chef and Master Sommelier Jacques Marie during my undergrad,
  • Trying ostrich for the first time with Chef Hubert Schmeider at Purdue,
  • My first dinner in Napa at the CIA (well almost all of the dinners in Napa), and
  • The Bone Marrow Bread Pudding at Macintosh in Charleston.

The list goes on and on but there is one constant with all of the meals.  The beverages matched the food and made the meal much more enjoyable.  I like to call it the ‘it factor’.  You are consuming something and then you have that moment of what is that flavor, aroma, etc. that just is out of your grasp.  It’s something intangible and yet, you know it but cannot place it into words but you can detect it.

This is something that I’ve attempted to learn and incorporate in everything that I prepare (both food and beverages) and I’m hoping that my future writings will help teach others.  It first starts off with one simple concept and I cannot stress this enough:

Both the food and beverage should elevate (taste better).

For a number of years, I would order a drink of some type and then look at the menu to see what would work with it.   Or, when seated with a group of my friends, they would have me order a bottle and then everyone picks their meal.  The beverage would be great and the food as well.  However, they both did not make each other better (sometimes, one would lose out). If they both do not taste better, then something is wrong and needs to be changed.

There is one other concept that I believe is just as important:

Pair the food to the beverage instead of the beverage with the food. 

Beverages generally are static and do not change.  Budweiser will always taste like Budweiser because this is what the customer demands.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.  I like to know that my Mountain Dew will taste like Mountain Dew.   The beverage can have some small changes.  For example, wine can evolve in the glass (due to aeration and temperature changes).  It’s easy to  change the food in small amounts to help it match the beverage.  Foods can be suitably changed in a number of ways (which I will explore in later articles) to tweak it to make an improved pairing. 

As a chef, my first job is to make the customer happy.  If I can make my food better match the beverage, three major positive outcomes will occur:

  1. Increased beverage sales ,
  2. Return clientele (teasing the customer) as now they are getting more for their dollar in an ever increasing competitive market,
  3. Happy customers – which is what we strive for daily.

Art of the Pair is my brainchild to hopefully show you some simple steps to help pair.  It has given myself so much enjoyment while being one of the biggest challenges that I face both as a chef and a sommelier – How to get the perfect pairing.

Presently, I’m looking at one of my favorite beers – Old Speckled Hen from Britain.  As I plan dinner for tonight, I’m now trying to figure out what to make to match. Do I want to curry some patty pan squash that I just picked?  What can I do with homemade Canadian bacon that came off the smoker yesterday?  Do I want to go to the basement pantry to see if I have any homemade Kansas City style bbq sauce with subtle molasses tones?

Well this will be another story…..Enjoy!

@Art of the Pair