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An Evening with Chef Ben Pollinger

Chef Ben Pollinger with his Loup de Mer en Papillote

On October 17th 2011, I attended a riveting “Across the Seven Seas” cooking class at De Gustibus Cooking School, which was taught by Ben Pollinger, Executive Chef of Oceana, NYC’s Michelin-starred shrine to seafood.  Ben was joined by Oceana’s Executive Pastry Chef Jansen Chan, who concluded the class with an impressive demo of four ethereal custards.  Pollinger’s dedication to showcasing the pure flavors of the ocean through his innovative cooking techniques was palpable in every bite that the class enjoyed that evening. Pollinger’s informative demonstrations included boning and filleting a whole fish (a branzino) from start to finish.

A New Jersey native, Ben Pollinger graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, as class valedictorian.  Ben’s distinctive cooking style is heavily influenced by his work and travels in France, Italy and Spain.  In addition to sustaining Oceana’s Michelin star for five years in a row, Pollinger is a father of three, an avid gardener and also makes the time to contribute to various charitable organizations including City Harvest, Share Our Strength, Autism Speaks and the James Beard Foundation.

Pollinger’s five-course menu was magnificent, elevating the fresh seafood flavors with nuanced, expert preparations.  The featured dishes included Striped Bass Sashimi with peach chutney and macadamias, Loup de Mer en Papillote and Whole Roast Branzino stuffed with spinach, mushrooms and olives.  The menu was paired with three delightful Italian wines from the Banfi Vintners portfolio: Vigne Regali Pricipessa Perlante Gavi Sparkling, 2010 Vigne Regali Gavi Principessa Gavia and 2009 Vigne Regali Dolcetto d’Acqui L’Ardi.

The Wine Cellarage’s exclusive interview with Chef Ben Pollinger is below…

WC: I’ve read that you have a 500 square ft organic garden, where is it located?

Ben: It’s a home garden. I live in Oradell, New Jersey.  Just to be completely honest with you, when it was 500 square ft, I was living in Lodi, New Jersey.  It’s a little bit smaller now, probably 300 square ft.  I moved last year, last summer, and had to replant my garden and it’s still a very large garden.  Just because of my yard layout, I have another thirty pots with all different kinds of herbs, so besides my vegetables and such, I probably have about 30 different herbs.  This year, I  also planted a peach tree in my yard.

WC: What suggestions do you have for New Yorkers interested in urban gardening?

Ben: You need living soil for any kind of garden, but particularly for planters and potted plants.  You need good living soil, not just sterile topsoil that you find at the garden center.  You need living organisms in there.  If you can, this is probably exceptionally hard, but if you can get farm soil, I would do that. I would suggest going to a farmer’s market and asking a farmer, “hey, can you bring me a five gallon bucket of dirt and I’ll buy it off of you.” I would start with good Hudson Valley black dirt, North of NJ, old alluvial soils from ancient times and it’s rich, black and really great. Try to buy a bucket of black dirt off of a farmer.  If you can, amend your soil with compost. At the farmer’s markets in the city, you can buy organic compost with worm castings and stuff like that.  That’s going to give you living microbes and living microorganisms. That and some worms, and each season, I would continually refresh your soil with fresh compost and get your hands on a mix of leaves.  Keep your soil vibrant and alive.  I know this is hard to do in an urban setting.  In my garden, I add all of my leaves every fall.  I dig them into my garden and they break down.  Every summer, I take my grass clippings from the lawn and spread them like mulch in between the plants.  Continually amending the soil with living matter. If you’re ambitious, I would buy a composter for your sink with red worms in it.  They look like earthworms, but they’re small and red. If you can deal with worms in your place and you have enough room, get a composter.  The key is good living soil.

WC: As a father of three and Executive Chef, how do you find the time for your philanthropic endeavors?  How do you balance it all?

Ben: It’s time management and organization.  A balance of committing to what you can handle.  Unfortunately, you can’t fulfill every request.  Every cause that you’re asked to do is a great cause, but you can’t fulfill every request.  It’s a matter of supporting the causes that are closest to you and good time management.  It’s a challenge.  Long days.

WC: What experience(s) have had the biggest influence over your cooking style?

Ben: I would say, two main experiences. One is not a particular moment in time, but the general experience of having worked at Tabla for Floyd Cardoz, was the most significant experience that I’ve had for several reasons.  It opened up an entire new world of cuisine, a style of food, a cuisine and ingredients that I had never been exposed to before.  In terms of the whole Indian pantry and certain Indian techniques.  Things that I would not really have ever learned anywhere else, and those things affect me not only in the way of knowing how to work and use Indian spices in an Indian manner, but just the general sense of how to use these ingredients now, and also the flavor profiles.  Different kinds of flavor profiles that exist in that cuisine, things that I have been able to work into my cuisine now.  Whether it will be some dishes that are Indian inspired or will seem Indian, but there’s even a Greek dish on the menu tonight, incorporating dill and anise seeds, as well as adding fresh dill, gives another layer of flavor.  Taking spices that I understand how to work with from an Indian perspective and using them in a non-Indian way.

The other main thing is working under Floyd is really where I learned to be a Chef.  As opposed to being a cook or even a good Sous-Chef.  He really taught me how to manage the business side of running a restaurant.  Food is first, but you also need to hold the business side together.  He really taught me how to do that.  How to manage the labor and ingredient costs, how to manage scheduling and planning a menu.  How to maintain a restaurant.  He taught me how to run a restaurant.

The other main experience overall would have been the year that I lived in Monaco and worked for Alain Ducasse at Le Louis XV.  The life experience of living overseas and living in a different culture was just huge.  The general flavor profile and style of cooking and food that exists in the French Riviera and the South of France.  More in general, the Northern Mediterranean, South of France, North of Italy, Coastal Spain, there are a lot of similarities in those areas that really affect my cooking.  A lot of them are really driven by the same kind of lightness of flavor, clarity of ingredients.  This may sound like a cliché, but olive oil instead of butter.  It’s really a lighter, cleaner style of cooking that I think overall really defines what I do, defines my style of cooking.

WC: Where does your affinity for preparing seafood and fish stem from?

Ben: Most restaurants, particularly at our level, generally break down the cooking responsibilities.  They create stations based on either ingredient and/or the equipment that you’re cooking it on.  A lot of the restaurants that I worked in were very classic, where you have a cook who cooks fish, a cook who cooks meat, a cook who cooks vegetables, and as a cook, the fish station was my favorite station to work.  I love cooking meat, and I’m very good at cooking meat as well, but I really just like the fish because there are so many more different varieties out there than meat. I think that fish can require a little bit more finesse to cook and it’s a little less forgiving, so it’s a little trickier to cook and a little more challenging.  It’s kind of more reflective of how I like to eat these days, a little lighter.  I still eat plenty of meat, but I like how fish is generally a lot lighter than any given meat.  As well, from the perspective of being a Chef, from an artistic perspective, you can apply a broader palate of other ingredients and styles and flavors to fish that are a lot more challenging than what you can do with meat, you can do a lot more with fish.

WC: Do you have a favorite wine region, if so, which is it and why?

Ben: Champagne.  It’s so refreshing and crisp, there are so many different styles within Champagne as well.

WC: If there were a wine you could drink every day, what would it be?

Ben: Champagne. I don’t drink anymore, but when I did, I really enjoyed the bolder Champagnes.  A blanc de noir or even a full-bodied yeasty Champagne, like Bollinger, Ruinart, Krug. Bigger, fuller Champagnes would be my preference.

WC: Do you have an all-time favorite ingredient to work with?

Ben: Good question.  Olive oil.  I use a lot of olive oil and there are so many different styles of olive oil.

WC: What is your wish for the future of food and dining in the U.S.?

Ben: I hope we get to a point where people have a better understanding of where their food comes from.  And not that everybody has to be into everything, some people tonight were squeamish about when I was taking the guts out of the fish. That’s fair enough and you don’t have to be into that, but I think that people need to really understand that their food comes from a living animal that had to be killed to be put on their plate, and to respect that process, and that your produce comes from the land.  Your chicken doesn’t come from a Styrofoam package in the store, it comes from a chicken.  I think we need to have an understanding of where our food comes from because the next thing we need is to live our lives in a manner, and eat in a manner, that supports overall sustainability and good health of the planet.  I’m not against farmed protein or even farmed fish, but I think we need to have all of this stuff in a manner that’s sensible.  We need to have more of our food come from more natural sources and raised in a manner that is natural.  We need to raise our protein in a way so that we don’t need to jack them up with antibiotics to keep them from getting sick, or with hormones to get them to grow faster.

I wish we could get to a point where we treat food less as a commodity, and more as an actual ingredient that we’re going to eat.  There’s a quote from this book Tomatoland, a farmer is asked what he thinks about the way that his tomatoes taste.  He responds that he doesn’t get paid by the taste, he gets paid by the pound.  We need to grow foodstuffs that are for taste first, and support artisanal production.  We need less industrialization of the food process. We need to have an understanding that quality food costs money, quality food can’t be cheap.

In terms of food and dining, I think there’s room across the spectrum of restaurants, for everything from very casual street food and small Mom & Pop restaurants, all the way to ultra-luxe dining, there’s room for all of it, but I wish we got a little bit closer, particularly on my end of the spectrum, to cooking more from a natural perspective.  I don’t want to say that we should be stuck in the past and not move forward with new technology, but I want there to be a bit more emphasis on teaching folks how to cook, how to cook traditionally, and then move on to more modern things.  But you have to understand where you came from to go someplace.

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Wines for the Holidays

Celebratory Holiday Wine

The holiday season has arrived!  Here in New York City, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree was lit last week and holiday festivities are officially underway. The distinct magic and excitement of the season is in the air.  Beautiful lights, decorations and joyful music can be enjoyed at every turn and there’s reason for celebration.

For wine lovers everywhere, the holiday season is filled with ample opportunities to uncork and savor our favorite fine wines. As we oenophiles plan our holiday parties and celebrations, there’s nothing more gratifying than choosing the wines that we will share with our family and friends.  It’s time to break out the very best, but with so many amazing wines to choose from, where does one begin?

Below you will find a guide to our favorite wines for the holidays, from what to pour at your holiday party to the perfect wine gifts to give.  Cheers and Happy Holidays from The Wine Cellarage!

Holiday Party Wines

When choosing what to pour at your holiday soirée, the key is to select wines that offer the attractive combination of quality and value. The options below encompass the various wine styles: Sparkling, Rosé, White and Red.  By presenting a fair assortment of three different wine styles to choose from, you’ll have no problem pleasing the varied palates of your guests. Our recommendations for holiday parties are budget friendly wines (no more than $20 per bottle) that we absolutely love to drink.

NV Lamberti Prosecco Extra Dry ($16) Aromatic with citrus and floral notes, the palate is bright with generous bubbles, crisp green apple and pear flavors and a clean, refreshing finish.  Fun and easy to drink, this is just the wine to serve with passed hors d’oeurves, salads and lighter fare.

One of the Veneto region’s most innovative wineries, The House of Lamberti is located on the shores of Lake Garda in northern Italy. The estate crafts beautiful wines representative of regional classics, revamping the traditional styles to adapt modern consumer needs.  The grapes for this delightful Prosecco are sourced from the very best hillside vineyards within the Veneto’s Treviso commune.

2010 Mulderbosch Vineyards Rosé Stellenbosch ($12) Made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, this delicious, refreshing rosé showcases complex aromas and flavors of rose petals, lime zest and wild strawberry.  A ruby inflected cranberry-color, this deeper hued rosé will look gorgeous and festive on your holiday table.

Located in the Stellenbosch Hills area, Mulderbosch Vineyards is one of South Africa’s top producers with an impressive portfolio including renowned white wines made from Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay, as well as a Shiraz, Rosé and Dessert wine.  Mulderbosch’s distinctive labels were inspired by a Cuban cigar band and designed by former cellar master Mike Dobrovic.

2010 Jean-Luc Colombo Cotes du Rhone Les Abeilles Blanc ($12) In addition to his celebrated Syrahs, Jean-Luc Colombo produces outstanding white wines from both the Northern and Southern Rhône. The 2010 Jean-Luc Colombo Côtes du Rhône Les Abeilles Blanc is a blend of regional varietals – Clairette, Grenache, Viognier and Roussanne. Appropriately, “Les Abeilles” translates to “the bees” and the wine offers a rich bouquet redolent of a honeybee’s journey through a field of wild flowers. Pleasantly refreshing, fruity, floral and round, “Les Abeilles” is a perfect crowd-pleasing quaff at a pocket-pleasing price point.

2010 Domaine des Vieux Pruniers Sancerre Blanc ($20) This is a quintessential Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc – clean and pure, showing aromas of citrus fruit and blossoms, zesty lime and orange flavors and brisk minerality that lingers on the palate.  This is a great value from the typically higher priced Sancerre appellation.

Domaine des Vieux-Pruniers is located in the village of Bué, a few short miles from Sancerre.  Here the grapes grow on incredibly steep, hillside vineyards renowned for their limestone-rich soils.  Made from start to finish by Christian Thirot-Fournier and his wife, the family team does everything from growing the grapes to bottling the wine.

2010 The Pinot Project Pinot Noir California ($14) Hand-crafted from the finest California Pinot grapes, The Pinot Project deals out sumptuous black cherry flavors, accentuated with exotic spice notes.  This is a classic California Pinot, incredibly friendly and satisfyingly delicious.

The mission of this praiseworthy project, initiated by New York based importer and distributor Michael Skurnik Wines, is to offer quality Pinot Noir at an affordable price.  We can’t thank Skurnik enough for this outstanding effort.  Launched with the 2009 vintage, the Pinot Project is hugely popular with “in-the-know” wine lovers seeking an excellent every day wine.

2009 Villa Ponciago Fleurie la Reserve ($20) Elegant floral aromas of violets and peonies develop into pronounced notes of ripe cherry and blueberry.  Greeting the palate with expressive, fresh flavors, the wine’s structure and balance dance harmoniously, highlighted by dazzling mineral elements and a remarkably long finish.  The Fleurie’s brilliant garnet-violet color adds to its appeal.

Villa Ponciago is located in the Fleurie appellation of Beaujolais, which is one of the most renowned of the region’s 10 crus. Made from 100% Gamay, the grapes are grown on slopes in pink granite crystalline rock soils typical of the Fleurie appellation. The stony, well-drained slopes are ideal for growing low-yielding, high quality Gamay.

Holiday Dinner Wines

If you’re hosting a holiday dinner this year, we recommend turning to Italian wines for some of the most perfect pairings.  In keeping with the Italian theme, we’ll start with wine pairings for an Italian Christmas Eve tradition, the Feast of the Seven Fishes.

While there are many variations of the Seven Fishes that you may opt to prepare, you can simplify your wine choices by pouring just one or two wines with this lovely dinner.  Although it is not an Italian wine, Champagne is always a winner (especially for this special occasion) and an ideal pairing for seafood.  The following wines will work wonderfully with your Seven Fishes:

NV Pierre Peters Brut Cuvee Reserve ($46) The NV Pierre Péters Brut Cuvée Reserve is a blend of almost 15 years of harvests, made exclusively from Grand Cru Chardonnay. The wine displays fine foam and a vivacious thread of bubbles. At first, fruit and floral notes mingle on the nose, giving way to fresh bread and hazelnut aromas. Elegant citrus and pear flavors dance on the palate along with qualities of cream and mineral. This Champagne is incredibly smooth and fresh with a magnificently long finish.

2009 Broglia Gavi di Gavi La Meirana Piemonte ($22) This Northern Italian beauty offers citrus and floral notes with bright, cleansing acidity and a lengthy, refreshing finish.  The Broglia Gavi makes a fantastic pairing for seafood dishes.

2010 Livio Felluga Pinot Grigio DOC ($27) Livio Felluga is a name synonymous with excellence in northern Italian wine. The renowned estate enjoys a lustrous winemaking legacy that reaches back over five generations. Livio Felluga’s Pinot Grigio shows great elegance and purity with floral notes, stone fruit, citrus, pear and crisp minerality. This Pinot Grigio showcases the Estate’s superior quality standards and careful winemaking technique.

Cooking a roast for your holiday dinner?  Whether it be a holiday Beef Brisket or an elegant Standing Rib Roast, Italy is the way to go for spectacular holiday wine pairings.  A rich, fragrant and spicy Barolo will make a marvelous companion for your Beef Brisket.  We suggest any of the following Barolos from the superlative 2004 vintage for dazzling results:

2004 Alfredo Prunotto Barolo Bussia ($70, Wine Advocate: 92 pts) “This expansive, refined Barolo reveals an attractive array of ripe dark fruit, sweet toasted oak, spices, tar and licorice. The tannins are broad, yet silky and the wine appears to have more than enough plumpness to provide balance. The 2004 is one of the finest recent vintages of this wine…” – Antonio Galloni, Wine Advocate

2004 Aldo Conterno Barolo Romirasco, 1.5 Litre ($290, Wine Advocate: 95pts) A large format bottle is a great way to go for holiday dinners.  They insure that there’s plenty of wine to go around without opening multiple bottles and the presentation is nothing short of impressive.

“There is no need to taste the 2004 Barolo Romirasco, the nose alone is enough to understand that this is magnificent wine. Aromas of tar, roses, menthol, scorched earth and smoke lead to a core of dark red fruit than unfolds onto the palate with uncommon grace and elegance. As it sits in the glass the wine gradually puts on weight, filling out its considerably structured frame with notable class. The last Romirasco was made in 1993…” – Antonio Galloni, Wine Advocate

2004 Aldo Conterno Barolo ($75, Wine Advocate: 91 pts) “Aldo Conterno’s 2004 Barolo is simply beautiful. A medium red, it presents a feminine expression of Nebbiolo in its perfumed, spiced red raspberries and cherries. This is a soft, accessible Barolo ideal for near and mid-term drinking that fully captures the essence of this great vintage…” – Antonio Galloni, Wine Advocate

For your Standing Rib Roast, consider a full-bodied Italian or Italian-styled Cabernet Sauvignon.  Either of the following will work equally well for a pork roast and are sure to elevate your holiday dinner to spectacular new levels:

2003 Castello di Monsanto Nemo Cabernet Sauvignon ($52, Wine Advocate: 94 pts) “The 2003 Nemo (Cabernet Sauvignon) is a plump, engaging wine loaded with ripe dark fruit. It shows awesome richness and an elegant, refined personality, even if what comes through is more vineyard character than varietal expression. With air and food this wine could be enjoyed today…This is a stunning wine, not to mention one of the top wines from Tuscany in 2003…” – Antonio Galloni, Wine Advocate

2008 Antica Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($55, Wine Advocate: 90 pts) Antica is located in Napa Valley and produced by Tuscany’s esteemed Antinori family.  (Earlier this fall, I had the pleasure of tasting this stellar Cabernet during a lunch with Alessia Antinori.  I was immediately taken with the wine’s elegant style and structure, and couldn’t resist adding the 2008 Antica Cabernet to Wine Cellarage’s portfolio.)

“The 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon is a European take on Napa fruit with lots of terroir, earth, spice, black cherry, black currant, cedar, licorice and foresty notes. Medium-bodied and elegant with sweet tannins and excellent fruit, it should drink nicely for up to a decade.” – Robert Parker, Wine Advocate

Wine Gifts

The sky’s the limit when it comes to wine gift options from our expansive portfolio.  When faced with so many possibilities, gift-giving can become a bit overwhelming, which is why we’ve chosen five of our favorite wine gifts from each of four top regions:  Napa Valley, Burgundy, Bordeaux and Champagne.  Whether you’re shopping for a connoisseur of Napa Valley Cabernet or a Burgundy-lover, our Holiday Wine Gift Guide includes highly rated wines from renowned producers that are sure to delight and impress everyone on your list.  Here’s a peek at our favorite wines to give this holiday season:

2008 Blackbird Vineyards Arise Proprietary Red Wine, Oak Knoll, Napa Valley ($54, Wine Advocate: 91pts) Located in the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley, Blackbird Vineyards bares a strong resemblance to Bordeaux’s Pomerol region.  With its cool climate and gravelly soils, Oak Knoll has proven to be an exceptional location for Merlot production.  Led by the expertise of winemaker Aaron Pott, one of Napa’s finest, Blackbird Vineyards produces truly special Bordeaux-style red wines.

2009 Domaine Jean Marc et Hugues Pavelot Savigny-les-Beaune la Dominode ($58, Burghound: 92-94 pts) “This is perhaps the ripest wine in the range with a liqueur-like nose of black cherry, earth and underbrush hints that introduce rich, serious and concentrated flavors that possess an abundance of mid-palate extract as it almost completely buffers the otherwise very firm tannic spine, all wrapped in a palate staining finish. This stunning effort should reward at least a dozen years in the cellar and drink well for another decade thereafter.” – Allen Meadows, Burghound

2009 Chateau Petit Val Saint Emilion Grand Cru ($40) A stunning Right Bank Bordeaux from an outstanding recent vintage.  (A blend of 70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc & 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.)  Black fruit aromas are accented by notes of tobacco and cocoa. Full-bodied with harmonious tannins and a lingering finish.  This wine is opulent and delicious; a real value.

2004 Pierre Peters Brut Cuvee Speciale les Chetillons Champagne ($99, Wine Advocate: 96 pts) Pierre Péters is a small family-run estate located in the center of the Côte des Blancs region, in the Grand Cru village of Le Mesnil sur Oger. The Péters family has been growing Chardonnay and producing Blanc de Blancs Champagne since 1919, releasing their first vintage under the family name in 1944.

“The 2004 Brut Millesime Cuvee Speciale Les Chetillons is stratospheric. This is a cool, inward Chetillons endowed with breathtaking finesse. The 2004 is noticeably more vibrant and focused than the decidedly exuberant 2002. Ripe pears, almonds and jasmine are some of the notes that flesh out in this pure, energetic wine…” – Antonio Galloni, Wine Advocate

If you’re pressed for time, or unsure of your gift recipient’s specific wine taste, our gift cards and e-gift cards provide the perfect solution.  Wine Cellarage gift cards take the guesswork out of gift giving by allowing your recipients to choose for themselves.  We’ll include your personalized message on one of our festive note cards, which make a beautiful presentation, and we’ll mail the gift card right to your recipient’s door.  Our Wine Cellarage e-gift cards make excellent last minute gifts and can be emailed to your recipients anytime, from anywhere, providing the ultimate convenience in gift-giving!

Our wine gift options don’t end here…you may opt to choose from our selection of two- and four-bottle gift sets packaged in collectible gift boxes.  If you want to give a gift that keeps on giving throughout the year, The Wine Cellarage Wine Club is ideal! Featuring wines from classic regions and varietals, as well as those from emerging regions and lesser known varietals, our wine club is the ultimate wine gift for enthusiasts and connoisseur’s alike. Each delivery includes 6 wines (3 red & 3 white) as well as wine descriptions for your reference.

In addition to complimentary gift consultations, we offer free gift wrapping services and Free Manhattan Delivery for all orders over $100.  We are happy to do the heavy lifting so that you can kick back and enjoy the holiday season!

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An Evening with Chef Nick Anderer

Nick Anderer with his octopus salad.

On October 6th, I had the pleasure of attending the De Gustibus Cooking School’s “Touring Italy” class taught by Nick Anderer, Executive Chef of Maialino, NYC’s own Roman-style trattoria in Gramercy Park.  Prior to opening Danny Meyer’s Maialino, Nick Anderer worked with Mario Batali at Babbo and spent six years at Meyer’s Gramercy Tavern, where he became Executive Sous-Chef.  As Executive Chef at Maialino, Nick draws on his time spent studying art history in Rome, an experience that inspires the warm, Roman-esque menu.  Nick sources his ingredients from the local Greenmarket, implementing a real farm-to-table philosophy in his cooking.

Nick’s passion and mastery of Italian cuisine were apparent as he whipped up a mouthwatering, five-course menu before our eyes.  Each dish incorporated the freshest possible ingredients, which were showcased through Nick’s skillful handling, creating an incredible dining and learning experience.  The courses were expertly paired with three delicious Italian wines from the Banfi Vintners portfolio.

The first course was an Octopus & Fingerling Potato Salad with celery and parsley (Polpo e Patate).  Delightfully fresh, the salad was simply dressed with lemon juice and olive oil and the octopus was cooked to perfection.  The polpo was paired with the Banfi Brut Metodo Traditionale Classico estate bottled sparkling wine; a Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc blend with citrus and apple notes, bright acidity and a crisp, refreshing finish.  The Banfi Brut couldn’t have been more complimentary to the dish.

Up next, Nick demonstrated the steps for making fresh pasta for his Pumpkin Ravioli with Aceto Tradizionale & Ricotta Salata (Agnolotti di Zucca).  The delectable freshness of the pasta and squash came together in these edible pillows of heaven.   The ravioli was finished with aged Acetaia Bellei Aceto Tradizionale Balsamic vinegar, aka Italian liquid gold, a real treat!  Again, this course was a perfect pairing for the Banfi Brut Metodo Traditionale Classico.

For the third course, Anderer demo’d another fresh pasta, this time he prepared fresh cavatelli for his Homemade Cavatelli, Pork Sausage & Rapini (Pici all Norcia).  Pasta with sausage and broccoli rabe is one of my favorites, so it was great to see and taste Nick’s take on the classic recipe.  Nick uses stewed tomatoes in the sauce for his Pici, which was something I hadn’t tried before and gives the dish added dimension.  Banfi’s 2009 Fontana Candida Luna Mater Frascati Superiore, a blend of Malvasia di Candia, Malvasia del Lazio, Greco and Bombino, was a wonderful companion for this pasta dish.  Frascati is Rome’s signature white wine, and the Fontana Candida Luna Mater’s robust character and refreshing quality made it the ideal partner for this robust, yet refined, Pici all Norcia.

The fourth course, a Slow Roasted Short Rib with Coco Beans alla parmiggiana and watercress (Costata di Manzo), was a show stopper.  So deliciously rich without being heavy, the short rib practically melted on your tongue.  Nick’s careful preparation steps, including marinating the short rib overnight with salt, sugar, chili and black pepper, enhanced the meat’s flavor to lofty heights.  The dish was incredible with the 2006 Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, an elegant estate bottled Sangiovese with aromas of violet and licorice, and opulent flavors of red cherry and spice.

For the grand finale, Nick prepared a decadent Chocolate Torte (Torta di Cioccolato), which paired wonderfully with the Banfi Brunello!

After his enlightening cooking class, I was able to sit down with Nick and ask him some questions.  Behind Nick’s laid-back persona, there is clearly a passionate and precise approach to his cuisine. The Wine Cellarage’s exclusive interview with Nick Anderer is below…

WC: Do you have a favorite Italian wine region, if so, which is it and why?

Nick: I love the wines in Tuscany and Umbria, I’m a big fan of Sagrantino and a big fan of Brunello.  My favorite wine to drink at Maialino is the Rosso di Montalcino Poggio di Sotto, so I have an affinity for that.  But then, who doesn’t love Nebbiolos you know, Piemonte.  It’s a toss up; I’d say one of those two…Southern Tuscany and Umbria, and then Piemonte.  You can’t compete with those regions.

WC: Is there a wine pairing rule of thumb that you go by?

Nick: Not really, I’m not a wine geek and not one of those guys that says “This has to be paired with this, that has to be paired with that.”  There are so many ways to go with so many dishes and I think it’s all about balance.  Acidity and sweetness. But, I think at the end of the day, my rule of thumb is that if you enjoy drinking it, and it’s not interfering with the food, then go for it. A lot of times I’ll taste a wine when we’re doing pairings at the restaurant and I’ll be like, “Well, this brings out this in the dish, and this brings out that” then I’ll taste again and think, “this is just so freakin amazing” and then I’ll taste the food and think, “and that’s freakin amazing”, and it’s not necessarily the textbook pairing, but it still works.  So, would I pair a really, really dry Sagrantino with a really delicate dish? No, because it would be killing the dish.  But so long as it isn’t interfering with the food and vice versa, if you like it, drink it.

WC: At what point in your life or career, did you become interested in Italian cuisine?

Nick: It had to be my junior year of college when I was studying art history in Rome.  That was 1997, and it was the whole experience of seeing the way that the people there treat ingredients with respect and seeing how Italian homes eat.  I was fortunate enough to always be brought up in a family that had big meals together.  There’s almost an obsessive way that Italians think about food and it met my obsessions.  I thought, “Wow, that’s really cool.  There’s a whole culture of people that share my same crazed notions of what you should be eating on a daily basis. Your whole life is revolving around what you’re going to eat next.”  That’s where it happened for me, in Rome in 1997.

WC:  Growing up, did your family cook a lot?

Nick: A lot. Every night.  And I think that my earliest Italian food memories are with my mom, she cooked Italian food.  One of my best friends in grammar school was an Italian kid named Miquelien from Bologna.  His mom was a cooking instructor and she gave my mom cooking lessons.  Through that, she started introducing a lot of Italian food into our regular family meals.  We cooked every night and that was definitely part of the reason that I became a Chef.  People become Chefs for different reasons; some people become Chefs because their parents were such bad cooks.  I became a Chef because my mother showed me what good food could actually be.

WC: What has been your greatest culinary achievement to date?

Nick: Creating Maialino has been my greatest culinary accomplishment because it’s the first restaurant that I got to create from scratch and I get to see it from the ground up.  All the way from the rubble and construction to the team that we put together.  It was really rag-tag to start and then it ended up being one of the greatest teams I’ve ever worked with.  There’s a lot of pride involved with creating something from the ground up, literally creating a restaurant.

WC: What is your biggest inspiration when creating a new dish for Maialino’s menu?

Nick: Mother Nature.  The market, farmers, food purveyors, they give me inspiration because they take so much care.  Without their care, my food wouldn’t be what it is.  Basically, I try to take the greatest hits of our favorite purveyors and do as little as possible to alter them.  I don’t want to mess them up.   Take them, respect them and put them on a plate.  That’s my inspiration, the people that prepare and grow and harvest all of the stuff that we use.

WC: If there’s a wine you could drink every day, what would it be?

Nick: Everyday… Man. There are so many that I’m going to have to leave out. Rosso di Montalcino, that’s the first one that comes to my head. It’s not even the high-end wine, Brunello. It’s the Rosso.

WC: What is your favorite ingredient this month?

Nick: I’d say this month, I would go with either the baby rapini or the turnips from Jeffrey Frank at Liberty Gardens.  He is a super star in my opinion, especially when talking about inspiration for dishes.  He’s the man.

WC: Where do you see food trends heading in the future?

Nick: This might be a boring answer, but hopefully where they are heading right now.  I think that people are taking the time to care about where their food is coming from and the more and more people do that, the more and more close America’s going to get to Europe in the way that we think about food.  And I think that what’s trendy now is the Farm-to-Chef experience and I think that’s cool.  It’s not cool when people use it as a catch phrase and it’s overdone, like bow down and kiss Alice Water’s bible, it shouldn’t be held up as a curse in anyway.  When people are actually caring, when people go out and shop and care about shopping somewhere other than Food Emporium, then something good is happening in America.  I think that getting good food to everyone is a really hard thing to accomplish in the United States of America.  Without being too political about it, I’m just hoping that people care about where their food is coming from.

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