How to Bring People Together? Dinner and a Magnum!!

Writing today’s article is bittersweet to me when I gaze at the magnum above.  I’ve always said that life is about transition:

  • We change from one experience to the next while growing, evolving, and experiencing.

The magnum of Delamotte Blanc to Blanc Champagne above is no exception.  This bottle to me represents my evolution as a chef and sommelier.

The Back Story

For 5+ years, I was the chef that created and prepared the menus for the University of South Carolina’s Wine Dinner series.  After meeting my Friend Larry who was the presenter of the wine, he challenged me to become better.  Here’s the back story.

  1. I would receive the list of wines related to the theme for the meal (Bordeaux, Sparkling wines, 10 wines for $10) and research them.
  2. Every wine was then paired with a course (entrée, salad, etc.) and placed in sequence order on how they were to be served.
  3. The menu items would evolve and changed 3-4 times before the meal until I finally decided on what to make. I should note that generally 1/3 of the menu was new items I’ve never attempted before.
  4. The day of the dinner, I would prep 4-6 courses of food and have it staged hopefully by 5:30 pm for 6:30 pm dinner.
  5. At 5:30 pm would be the first time I’d actually get to taste the wines and adjust (aka scramble to alter the dishes to pair better).
  6. Dinner started at 6:30 pm. At this point, I’d go out and talk with the group to find out about food allergies and menu concerns (allergic to shellfish, I’m a Vegan).  Then I’d go back to the kitchen, swear, and then come up with alternatives to still match with the wines.  I normally had 4 back menus in my head to deal with this.
  7. Then we would serve each course, announce what I did and how it matches and move through the meal.

I had a rule never to make the same food twice to keep it interesting and to challenge myself to get out of the box.  The box defined is making the same items over and over.  The average person knows maybe 20-30 recipes.  I didn’t want the same items.  This led to creations such as:

  • White Chocolate mashed potatoes,
  • Cigar cold smoked beef tenderloin,
  • Werther Original Hard candies being melted for a dessert sauce, and
  • A Krispy Kreme donut cut in half, seared for grill marks, and covered with pulled pork and pickled onions.

These sound crazy and these were the extreme cases for pairing.  However, it was a challenge for each meal to pair effectively while giving something new.

It was hell to plan but a joy to see everyone happy.  At the final meal before moving to MI,  this bottle was presented to me as a Thank you.  The bottle alone is special but having everyone sign it still makes me tear up each time thinking about it. 

I’ve kept this bottle since December 2017 waiting for the right time to open it.  A few days ago, the time was right.

The Present Story

Why did I open this if it meant so much to me?  Recently, there was a Chef Summit for the ACF in my local area.  One of the presenters is one of my best friends along with the representatives that helped run it from the ACF.  There is an unwritten rule that if a chef visits your town, you plan on hosting them.  Gladly, I opened the house up to them and some of the guest speakers.

All beverages are about the experience.  I’ve stated this before in other articles, but this is true on many levels.  Take a moment and think about when you have shared a meal and a beverage with anyone.  I can bet that you have fond memories of this time.  Yes, the food and drinks could have been top notch.  However, it’s more about the experience (conversation, learning, laughing, etc.) that makes it special.  I cannot count how many times I’ve enjoyed the above.  There is something special about it….very much intangible.

If you have the opportunity to share some time with people, gladly choose it.  In the larger scheme of things, the time spent is nothing compared to the growth from sharing with others.  Therefore, it was the perfect time to open it.  The question now is…….was the bottle still good?

The Food

Before I talk about the bottle, let’s discuss the food.  I kept the menu simple.  I LOVE STREET FOOD and eating something while it runs down your hands is magical.  I decided to make something that could be eaten easily without a table.  I braised some Spanish pork.  I marinated chicken thighs with some homemade rubs and sauteed these.  Freshly made coleslaw with a spinoff of my Celery Seed Dressing and sour cream were tossed together.  Fresh green beans picked from the garden were blanched and chilled.  These were added to an orange olive oil and sweet onion balsamic vinegar and a touch of Borracho Bean Seasoning.  I then sauteed some orange bell peppers (my favorite) with sweet onions for toppings.

Did I forget to mention the tortillas?  Yeah, they were store bought.  However, if you guessed my take on fajitas, you guessed right.  Everyone makes their own fajita with what they want and finds their glass to enjoy.

The Wine

When I have that many people over, do you open multiple bottles or one big one?  Well, I did both starting off with a lovely Rose.  Then it was time to open the magnum. 

Delamotte is an established Champagne house with a long history starting in 1760.  I’ve had their products a few times in the past to pair for wine dinners.  I knew the wine would be a winner.  I was more worried about its storage.

I have small wine coolers instead of a larger one.  This way, I can keep whites and sparkling bottles in one for storage at a lower temp, and the reds at a slightly warmer temp.  I love the idea of being able to retrieve a bottle and serve it at the right temp immediately.  Plus, it’s more cost effective to replace a smaller cooler when it finally dies that a larger one.  However, for a time, I had the magnum stored in my basement not in a cooler.  A magnum takes up a great deal of space.  Therefore, I had it in the basement (which stays at 55 F all year long), laying on its side in a dark area.  The only issue would be the cork drying out due to humidity issues.

I’m happy to say that it did not.  The wine’s golden hue was perfect.  The beautiful aroma of apples, a hint of citrus and creamy yeast was amazing and filled with depth.  I tried it and was not disappointed.  Beautiful minerality with Macintosh apples, bosc pears baked in bread was all over the palate.  The only issue was carbonation.  It was there at the beginning but did not last like typical Champagne.  It disappeared quickly, most likely due to my storage.

Final Thoughts

The wine could have been just a bit better, but I didn’t really care.  Actually, no one did.  After eating fresh produce from the yard, fajitas, drinking wine and talking and laughing, the time spent together was fantastic.  Then, we all loaded up in cars and drove to Gull Meadow Farms for their Fall Balloon Fest.  We laid out a charcuterie table with homemade pickles, some meats and cheese and watched the balloons during sunset in the low 70’s.

Strangers became new friends.  Previous friends’ bonds grew stronger.  That is what life should be like every day.  Just simple enjoyment.    

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