Three years ago Lars Leicht, Banfi Vintners’ Director of Communications, helped found the Cru Artisan College as a means of consolidating winemaker visits to the U.S. To help kick off the 2016 tour, Banfi’s Cru Artisan Wines selected four chefs from four major markets—Miami, Texas, New York and Atlanta—to call out their favorite Cru Artisan wine and to create a dish that would pair perfectly with their wine of choice. That dish and pairing will appear on the restaurant’s menu.
These four incredibly talented chefs have fascinating stories, which we’ve chronicled below along with their dish and pairing.
We’re in the midst of an exciting time in American dining culture. The rise of the social sommelier, a term I’ve seemed to coin (and one that blogger Steve Heimoff has taken me to task on), along with the somm’s socially loud megaphones à la Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, wine apps Vinivo and Delectable, has a lot more people paying attention to wine’s place in the restaurant—and that includes chefs. The rise in general of American wine culture is helping bring many more Americans into the fold of wine and food pairings—something that sommeliers and many chefs (particularly those at fine dining restaurants) take quite seriously.
And though we may not like to admit it, the romantic notion that any glass of wine is great with any dish is simply a myth. There are wines that do not pair well with certain foods, and it all comes down to the science of the pairing—the co-mingling of sweetness, umami, acidity, salt and bitterness in both the food and the wine. If you’re one who loves to keep drinking that Bordeaux blend all the way through to dessert, watch out—the sweetness of most desserts will increase bitterness, acidity and astringency in that Cabernet-heavy wine you love so dearly, effectively rendering it a different and potentially unpleasant wine.
Or, if you’re one who has a bitter-tooth and can’t get enough broccoli rabe or asparagus, you too will have pairing issues because the bitter flavors of those vegetables will increase the bitterness in your wine, possibly impacting your entire dining experience, even elevating the bitterness in your tone—which explains why most of your meals end in ridiculous bitter squabbles. If only you had asked for more salt. Salt seems to rectify just about any pairing dilemma because salt in foods will decrease bitterness, acidity and astringency, while increasing the richness of a wine.
With Italian wine, most reds—which are the focus in these pairing stories—are typically high in alcohol, tannin and acidity, and traditional Italian cuisine tends to err on the side of simple ingredients and preparation, but with bold flavors and personality. These four chefs have taken a fairly complex approach to their dishes, but with the intention of elevating the flavors of the dish and the wine, when married together on the palate. If you live near any of these restaurants, I hope you’ll make a reservation and that you ask for the Cru Artisan pairing—just be sure to bring a copy of The Clever Root, because I suspect you’ll be so impressed that you’ll want the chef’s autograph to make complete the experience of an artfully planned, and thoroughly enjoyed, wine and food pairing.
CHEF LAUREN DESHIELDS
Lauren DeShields grew up in Florida with a family that put a great deal of emphasis on food. She went to cooking school at Johnson & Wales University in North Miami Florida. Just out of school, DeShields began working at 3030 Ocean in Fort Lauderdale under James Beard Award–winning Chef Dean James Max and Chef de Cuisine Paula DaSilva. The experience there, which lasted three years, taught her to focus on “sourcing quality, local and seasonal ingredients,” she says.
A move to San Francisco brought her to work at then Michelin two-star Saison (now a three-star), and also Michael Mina’s RN74—both establishments dedicated to locally sourced ingredients. She wet her Japanese and Korean chops at Namu and wasted no time knocking on doors at some of San Francisco’s most lauded restaurants for any opportunity to stage. She managed to do so at Campton Place, Gary Danko, La Folie, One Market, Quince, Range, Slanted Door and Spruce, among others.
But the pull of returning home to Florida was too much to resist, and at age 25 she moved back to take on the role of Chef de Cuisine at 3800 Ocean, a modern American seafood restaurant in Singer Island. Leaving on the best of terms, she took a job as Executive Chef at Market 17.
In the kitchen:
“We use modern techniques here at Market 17, but only when necessary,” says DeShields. “It’s hard to beat traditional cooking methods. My focus and food philosophy is to keep it simple. If you start with amazing ingredients you don’t have to do much to them to make a great dish.”
DeShields says that she also works with talented farmers that make her job a great deal of fun. At the core of her cooking philosophy is the idea that “it’s about asking what can you take away from the dish that will make the dish even better,” something she learned from Chef Josh Skenes from Saison in San Francisco.
Though a Floridian to the core, DeSheilds found great inspiration working in San Francisco. “Food is their culture out there. You go to the farmers market and get what you need for the day. You go to the bakery for your bread and the butcher shop for your meats. Everyone has a specialty . . . and it was so great being out there and cooking. I try to bring that back here by using farmers that specialize in certain areas,” she says.
“We have always carried Banfi wines. We love their biodynamic wines and the practices and sustainability that goes into their wines,” says DeShields. “Currently the restaurant pours the Sartori ‘Regolo’ Corvina from Veneto as part of our extensive by-the-glass program. However, there are many other Banfi wines featured by the bottle on our wine list.”
“When working on a pairing I like to begin with thinking about some of the foods and flavors of the region,” says DeShields. “The Castello Banfi 2010 Brunello di Montalcino I chose is powerful, but elegant. The acid is elevated which is great for food pairings, but the tannins are definitely on the firm side without being too aggressive. I wanted to work with a lean game meat, so I chose bison. The dark red fruit notes of the wine made me realize I wanted to work with a slightly smokier tomato aioli. The earthy notes of truffle and tobacco seemed a natural pairing for a sausage farrotto. My goal with the dish is to have the food and wine work symbiotically.”
CHEF GIANCARLO FERRARA
Giancarlo Ferrara was born in Salerno, Italy, the Amalfi Coasts’ largest city. The youngest of seven children, he was often in the kitchen alongside his mother. He attended culinary school at Centro Professionale Alberghiero in Salerno, where he finished first in his class, before furthering his education in master courses at Scuola Arte Culinaria Etoile.
His extensive career began with apprenticeships at some of the finest resorts and restaurants in Italy, and took him beyond Italy as well. He spent a year at the Michelin two-star Patrick Guilbaud in Dublin, perfecting the nuances of French cuisine with accents of his original style.
In 2001, he moved to the United States to work at Primadonna, in Florida. By late 2002 he was off to Houston, where he joined Arcodoro as Executive Chef. He quickly became a favorite and a fixture in the Houston culinary scene. Ferrara represented Arcodoro at the prestigious James Beard House in 2003 and is actively involved in charity organizations such as Recipe for Success, Ronald McDonald House, March of Dimes and the Houston Food Bank.
After eleven years at Arcodoro, Ferrara left to open his own restaurant. That became Amalfi Ristorante Italiano & Bar in Houston, Texas. Houston Modern Luxury Magazine named it the Best New Restaurant of 2015.
In the kitchen:
“While dining with us, I want everyone to feel as if they are in Amalfi,” says Ferrara. “My cuisine is inspired by the entire region of Campania with a focus on ingredients common around the Amalfi Coast—citrus, seafood, cheeses, herbs, tomatoes, olive oil, and also elements of culture, history and hospitality. The menu is designed and inspired by the Tyrrhenian Sea where beautiful fish like branzino, orata, mazzancolle, scampi, octopus and cuttlefish are caught and shipped to our restaurant daily. The wine list is 100 percent Italian from north to south, with a special attention paid to the Campania region.”
“The three Banfi labels I chose for our wine list are: Castello Banfi 2007 Poggio all’Oro Brunello di Montalcino, Castello Banfi 2009 Poggio alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino, and Castello Banfi Excelsus—reflecting years of experience of winemaking on the Banfi estate,” says Ferrara.
“When I drink the Poggio all’Oro 2007, my mind immediately reverts to the Tuscan countryside. Flavors of rich, ripe plum and cherry, and a hint of tart oak—this is a wine that has the power to warm you up but leave you longing for a perfect food to match it.”
“The idea of this dish is to incorporate all the elements you can find in the Banfi estate. For me, nothing pairs better with it than a typical Tuscan pasta made with polenta, eggs and durum flour called ‘Maltagliati di Polenta.’ The combination of the braised boar with juniper makes for a delicious juice that is soaked up by the Maltagliati. The oaky finish of the wine perfectly complements the fresh spicy taste of the juniper and the soft fragrant taste of plum. It all combines immensely well with the tender, sweet, gamy meat and the hearty taste of porcini mushrooms in the dish. You’ll find this on Amalfi’s winter menu.”
CHEF MICHELE MAZZA
Originally from the region around Naples, Italy, Chef Michele Mazza remembers working closely with his mother in kitchens. “Since I was a little boy,” he said, “I remember working with my mother, who was a famous catering chef in Italy, catering for wealthy families.” He was inspired by that work to go to culinary school. “I attended the Italy Italian Culinary Institute in Rapallo, Genoa, Italy, then I worked for Italian Line, catering on cruise ships around the world. I came to the U.S. 30 years ago and so far I’ve opened 22 restaurants—all serving traditional Italian cuisines.”
In the kitchen:
With multiple locations around Manhattan, and others in major markets around the U.S., like Miamia, Orlando, Chicago, Las Vegas, and others, we caught up with Chef Mazza at his Upper East Side Il Mulino location, just a block and half from Central Park and off bustling Madison Avenue. “It’s all about pizza here,” he said, “with the best, fresh ingredients from Italy. We have buffalo milk mozzarella for our pizzas and our pasta is made fresh everyday.”
From the first day Mazza arrived in this country, he recalls fondly a restaurant he had on Long Island where he frequently entertained family, friends and ambassadors of Castello Banfi. He’s been to Tuscany to visit the winery many times. “It was a beautiful experience every time, and I love the wine,” he said. Mazza chose the Castello Banfi 2013 Poggio alle Mura Rosso di Montalcino and also the Castello Banfi ASKA 2012 Bolgheri Rosso to pair with his dish—“risotto corallo.”
At the center of the presentation is a veal shank and for “the corallo, I use organic beets, cooked with rice while the shank cooks in the Rosso di Montalcino for about three hours, and then I shred the shrank. I reduce the wine into gravy. It is very simple and delicious. The dish will go on the menu at il Mulino,” he said.
CHEF CHRIS GROSSMAN
Chris Grossman was recently crowned “Chef of the Year” by Eater Atlanta. As Executive Chef, Grossman brings years of experience working alongside top-rated chefs. Prior to joining Atlas Buckhead, he worked at Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry in Napa Valley, and before that trained under Gerry Klaskala at Aria in Atlanta, Georgia.
In the kitchen:
“I believe the original inspiration for the cuisine we serve at Atlas,” explains Grossman, “comes from the ideology I acquired at The French Laundry. ‘The best food starts with the best ingredients,’ Keller taught us. At Atlas we source the best ingredients possible, give them a voice, then let them tell their story. I tell all our cooks that even complex cooking is just a series of simple steps done perfectly with attention to detail.”
With a dedication to locally sourced ingredients, and support for local farmers and artisans, the menu at Atlas is constantly evolving. “When you eat at Atlas,” says Grossman, “you feel as though you are truly rooted in Atlanta—in the South—experiencing the ingredients of the current season.”
But they don’t let borders restrain their menu. “If I’m getting local broccoli and I decide black trumpet mushrooms from the West Coast would work for a dish, we do it,” explains Grossman. “I feel this identity that ties me to the south, but I embrace the melting pot idea that is Atlanta, and that is what makes us unique.”
“We carry a handful of Banfi wines on our list—the Castello Banfi 1996 Summus Sant’Antimo, the Sartori di Verona 2011 Ferdi Bianco Vernoese, IGT Toscana, the Sartori di Verona 2008 Corte Brâ, Amarone DOC and the 2011 Emiliana ‘Gê’ Red Blend from Chile’s Colchagua Valley,” says Grossman.
Designing a wine and food pairing begins with conversations and information at Atlas. Grossman will sit down with his Sommelier and talk through the wines, the nuances, then taste himself and formulate his own opinions. “Castello Banfi’s Brunello di Montalcino offered up nice dried dark fruit on the nose,” explains Grossman, “but not overpowering, and more tart and sour fruit on the palate and I was careful to not overpower it with the food. When I tasted the juniper spice with the wine and venison, it seemed to elevate the acidity and floral notes, so I used the rest of the dish to add more low tones, like earthiness, richness and just a touch of sweetness, to create an overall balance.”