Hospo pairings – lockdown limitations

Fried chicken by Aleks Dorohovich - unsplash

More suggestions from unemployed hospitality staff, putting in the time creating, or remembering, fine food and wine pairings specifically tailored to self-isolation. For all the other hospo pairings, see the guide.

A siege-like state settled on the ordinary order of food in early March of this year. Panic-buying swept supermarket shelves clean. Homely tins of tomatoes and packets of pasta became more valuable than (or at least as scarce as) black truffles. Flour and yeast became objects of envy. Newspapers and blogs dispensed advice on how to make soup out of vegetable scraps and what really constitutes a use-by date (should I open that tin from 2008…?). People talked about Word War II. Fast-food chains closed down across the globe. Restaurants tried to turn themselves into takeaways. Contact-free delivery became A Thing.

So how did the gourmets of the hospitality industry react to all this? Did they stay home and cook elaborate dishes, with so much time on their hands, exotic ingredients in their store cupboards and dazzling bottles of wine stashed under the stairs? Or did they give up all pretence of caring and try to find the one pizza place still open and promising the all-important contact-free delivery?

We know that at least 10% reverted to popcorn, chips (crisps?) and chocolate for comfort. And then, perhaps in response to reduced incomes, perhaps out of laziness, pizza and fried chicken turned out to be the food at the forefront of our respondents’ minds. Even the beverage manager of two-Michelin-starred Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland plumped for fried chicken.

But all is not lost. The most common fried-chicken match by far? Champagne. Bien sûr. One or two hospos were prepared to slum it with any sparkling wine. One or two specified blanc de blancs. Sara Knight of Root & Flower in Colorado, believes that Pierre Peters, Les Chétillons Blanc de Blancs 2012 is the correct match. Hannah Burke of Cutler & Co in Melbourne is not wasting time: Krug.

I liked that Joshua Mesnik (Hunt and Fish Club, New Jersey) was prepared to go wildly off piste with demi-sec Vouvray, as was Christine Johnson (Oriole, Chicago) with her choice of Scribe Chardonnay. But the bravest suggestion came from Vladimir Munguia (Mory’s, Connecticut), who wrote: ‘Vieux Télégraphe 2014 with Chinese fried chicken wings. It worked ;)’. I’m guessing the soy-umami element in the batter is what makes the difference? Interested to hear your thoughts on this.

Pizza, at least, elicited a bit more creativity. Champagne came up again (is champagne the equivalent of bottled water in the hospo world?). Chianti was another favourite. Red wine. Any red wine. Red wine blends. Grenache, Gamay, Dolcetto, Nebbiolo…

Few people specified what kind of pizza, but I guess that most takeaway pizza tastes pretty much the same whether you’ve opted for Pepperoni Meat Feast or BBQ Chicken. Where things started to get interesting was from those who evidently preferred to make their own (or were lusting after some gourmet pizzeria's fare).

Bobby Applegate from Kitchen Collective in California wanted wood-fired margherita pizza and 2016 Davies, Hyde Vineyard Pinot Noir, which sounded pretty nice. From OTTO in Sydney, Nathan Lawler’s suggestion of ‘Aldo Conterno Conca Tre Pile Barbera d'Alba 2011 and homemade pizza on Lebanese bread base. Mmmmmm…’ – sounded mmm indeed. What’s your pizza topping, Nathan? Avi Levy-Stevenson from Hatch Brewery in Israel wanted ‘hot pizza from my corner shop with Galil Mountain winery Aviv 2019’. He’s keeping food miles low and for some reason his simple description felt particularly evocative to me. But my favourite red-wine pairing was Maialino sommelier David Kurihara’s: ‘Since I'm here in NYC, in lockdown, let's have margherita pizza made with homemade cold-fermented pizza dough, with something equally smoky and funky. A bottle of 2018 Frank Cornelisson's Susucaru Rosso.’ Like that!

Lambrusco got a couple of votes from Toronto. Annette Bruley of Midfield Wine Bar in Toronto suggested ‘Paladin Raboso Frizzante or any dry Lambrusco (with a lot of skin contact) with any red sauce pizza’, and Natasia Leung (Buca, Toronto) would pair it with something called pepperoni Pizza Pops. Thanks to Google I now know these exist and thanks to Natasia I now know that people even eat them.

The more original matches came from the white-wine crowd. From Builders Arms Hotel in Melbourne, Katherine Rasmussen’s idea of a Victorian wild-ferment white with pepperoni pizza intrigued me. Why wild-ferment in particular, I wonder, and which variety/varieties was she thinking of? In Napa, Myles Trapp (sommelier, Ungrafted) was dreaming of clam pizza from Golden Boy Pizzeria in San Fran with Garganega – Bianco di Custoza or Soave. I could imagine that being pretty good!

Ben Wood from Kindred in Brooklyn, New York, is bang on trend. He calls for a cutting-edge orange wine by Zidarich in Friuli, on the Slovenian border, to go with an NYC pizza from Ops or Roberta’s. Looks like they’re delivering if you’re hungry after all this. Sourcing the wine might be trickier.

From Sydney, Mark Dibblin called for Yangarra Estate Vineyard Blanc 2019 McLaren Vale, an organic, biodynamic field blend of Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Roussanne, Picpoul and Bourboulenc, paired with pissaladière, which he describes as a Ligurian ‘pizza’ of caramelised onion, olive, thyme and anchovy. That really did make my mouth water. I need a recipe!

Venturing further afield

The takeaway (sorry, contact-free-delivery) crowd also voted for Chinese, Mexican, curry, burgers and Middle Eastern fare. Some nice, solid pairings suggested all round, but the winners in each category in my books were:

Burgers: I am ashamed to say that the two pairings that amused/bemused me most are the furthest from culinary heights. Or are they? Ben Oram of Boston Harbor Hotel: your Garanoir and a Big Mac. Richard Calahan of Rare Steakhouse, Maryland: your Masi Amarone and a Big Mac. Do you really eat Big Macs?

Chinese: Catherine Guo from Vietnam just slips in ahead of some good suggestions with sweet and sour pork with Santa Barbara Pinot Noir.

Curry: another tie between Payton Green (Vixen’s Wedding, Austin, Texas) for his Zweigelt and pork ribs vindaloo, and Janine Van Zyl (Cold Gold Artisan Ice Cream, Stellenbosch, South Africa) for her butter chicken curry, basmati rice, raita and mango atchar with Zandvliet Gewürztraminer 2017 Western Cape.

Hot dogs: three pairings. Two out of three people opted for…? No prizes for guessing champagne. The winner is Christian van Dijk from Cuvée Wine Table, Kentucky, who recommends hot dog (mustard, ketchup and dill relish) with a beaujolais cru. I simply can’t imagine it (although he's sent us a brilliant photo to help us along). I shall have to trust him.

Christian van Dijk's hotdog and Beaujolais cru pairing
Christian van Dijk's hotdog and beaujolais cru pairing

Mexican: there were really good suggestions here (California Sauvignon Blanc with guacamole – thank you Robert Contreras from Dallas; Willi Schaefer, Graacher Domprobst Kabinett Riesling 2016 Mosel with spicy chicken, green salsa, cabbage, fresh limes, and corn tortillas – thank you Roy Arias, Las Vegas). But Roman Smutok from Poland takes the prize: ‘Tacos with ruby port in order to create sweet and salty pairing which is my favourite. A high alcohol content in the wine will increase a pleasant chilli heat in the food.’ Sounds insane. Someone please try it and report back.

Middle Eastern: I liked Marcin Krzystolik’s idea of kebab and Lemberger; from Restaurant Pavillon in the Czech Republic, Linda Kynclova’s pairing of hummus and salad with Chenin Blanc; and from Butcher and Singer in Philadelphia, Steven Gullo’s vote for Királyudvar Furmint Sec with tabbouleh. That would be fantastic. But Nicole Hakli got me into the kitchen, making piyaz and lamb kebab for dinner, and I can confirm that it is an inspired match with rosé champagne.

Noodles: hands down, this goes to Joshua Ardizzoni from Restaurant Marcel, Atlanta. Spicy instant noodles with 1998 Trimbach, Clos Ste Hune.

When is it acceptable to start drinking while in lockdown?

I am beginning to wonder… Many suggestions were suspiciously breakfast-like. OK, correction, brunch. Of course, it’s only because we can’t go out for brunch and we’re having to celebrate significant events in the kitchen.

There is a theme on the wine side. As you can imagine…

On the menu:

  • Eggs // champagne (April Fain, California)
  • Eggs Benedict // Chardonnay (Fred Smith, The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, New Zealand)
  • Meredith Dairy goat and sheep milk cheese omelette over frisée // Pierre Sparr Riesling Grande Reserve (Melissa McAvoy, Swirlery & Disney, Orlando)
  • Morel mushroom and Quebec Le Silo 9 Year cheddar French omelette // Ruppert-Leroy's Les Cognaux Blanc de Noirs champagne (Nathan Hooper, Treadwell Cuisine, Niagara: ‘A little extravagant, maybe. But celebrating life. And each other.’)
  • Scrambled egg, white truffle // Pierre Paillard, Les Parcelles Grand Cru Extra Brut champagne (Otto Otniel Sovelius, Finland)
  • Homemade white toast, fresh salmon, mashed avocado, eggs Benedict lightly sprinkled with sesame seeds // Ruinart Blanc de Blancs (Ratmir Akhmetov, Kazakhstan)
  • Bacon and cheddar omelette // Alsace Pinot Gris (Bronson Hilburn, Alinea, Chicago: ‘Weight of the wine stands up to the eggs. I like hot sauce on my omelettes, so residual sugar is needed.’)
  • Banana and bacon waffles // Aged Sémillon (Ryan Laird, Go Vino, New Zealand) – rather beautifully illustrated in the mouth-watering photo he sent us below.
Sourdough waffles with bacon and banana and Sileni 2013 Hawkes Bay Sémillon
Ryan Laird's bacon and banana sourdough waffles with Sileni 2013 Hawkes Bay Sémillon

And then it all starts to get weird and perhaps a little desperate. Six weeks into lockdown…?

  • Quaker Instant Grits // Portuguese Alvarinho (Remyl Coleman, Diplomat Prime, Miami)
  • Peanut butter // beaujolais (Ricardo Sotomayor, Ambrosia Wine Bar, Puerto Rico)
  • Marmite on toast // Chardonnay (Kit Mitchell-Innes, Balans, London)**
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich // DRC La Tâche 1999 (Bryce McCooeye, Lee Restaurant, Toronto)

** Oaked or unoaked? I must know.

Scraping the back of the cupboard

For those who got to the supermarket after the hoarding hordes had scavenged every last onion skin from the floor, imagination and simplicity became vital – if not always beautiful – culinary arts.

The last Scotch egg in the ready-meal aisle, that old bag of peas in the freezer, that tin of spag bol, the stale crackers that had slipped behind the now-gone packs of biscuits – these all become fair game.

Who managed to throw something together and even find a wine to match?

Locked-down London yielded a couple of gems. I loved Emma Swift’s (Noble Rot, London) elegant dish: ‘Green peas dressed with lovage oil and a glass of Sancerre, something rich but young, François Cotat. Les Monts Damnés 2018 will do the trick. Substitute frozen for the fresh peas and use alternative oil for more convenient self-isolation living, but the wine should not be messed with.’

Likewise, Beatrice Bessi (Chiltern Firehouse, London) managed to turn the humble into a special occasion: ‘Scotch egg and St-Joseph white 2018 Guigal, Lieu-Dit. Beautiful match, where the scotch egg needs a little bit more structure than found in an easy-going white. If you are on a daily lunch, quick bite yet yummy like a scotch egg, I think a white Rhône is the best choice as a red might be too much. From personal experience, St-Joseph white is always the answer.’

Liliya Vafina from Momofuku Ssäm Bar, New York, got my vote for reassuring simplicity. Grilled cheese pan con tomato with champagne. Matt Corella from Paso Robles went for equal simplicity, if not quite the flair: Tater Tots with (you guessed it) champagne.

Meghan Ashley from Horvaths Harbor in Ohio wins the rosette for inventiveness (and, I suspect, deliciousness). ‘Honig Sauvignon Blanc (2016), herb Boursin on grilled garlic naan. I know this sounds basic, but I have watched people come to understand what can happen with the magic of food and wine pairing with this combo. Which I believe is the moment we all (wine professionals) live for. Thank you for your time and for sharing your knowledge.’

Erin Woolridge from The Mezz, Toronto, comes a close second with her intriguing combination of pear, brie cheese, spicy Dijon mustard on a cracker and Lola 2016 sparkling rosé (which I think might be this). It’s a slightly weird combination but I have a funny feeling it might work. Could someone with the right ingredients to hand please try it out?

Daniel Yeo (Loring Place, New York) goes almost cheffy on us: ‘Today, I am drinking a Nosiola from Castel Noarna while eating a caramelized onion dip that I had made earlier in the week. With pretzels to dip. The nutty flavors of the wine compliment the sweetness of slowly cooked onion, and the heightened acidity cuts through the richness of the crème fraiche. Good pairing!’ Recipe for the onion dip, please.

Jenica Flippo (Arcana, Colorado) finds her last tin of sardines and pairs it with Fino. Willa Cmiel (Legacy Records, New York) digs out those two half-empty jars of capers and anchovies from the back of the fridge and one wrinkly lemon, smears them on toast and pairs it with Salvo Foti Aurora Bianco – a Carricante from Etna. Now this is a pairing I would love to try!

The more desperate cupboard skulkings are hereby kicked off by Eleanor Wulf from Chiswick in Sydney: ‘In the spirit of isolation, being a little more creative with meal choices (using up ingredients from the cupboard) and drinking those wines you're never quite sure how you accumulated, I recently paired a spaghetti and cheese toasted jaffle with a 2017 Smith & Hooper Wrattonbully Merlot. Cheap and cheerful, and a perfect match!’ I had to look up jaffle.

If you’ve been saving that tin of white sturgeon caviar for a special occasion, Matt Calidonna from Commis in San Francisco says it goes with Ch Montus rouge and that you shouldn’t knock it until you try it. Neither, apparently, should you knock Shiraz with wine gums (COVID combo for the housebound, says Mikki Mikkelstrum from Dakota Tavern & Castro's Lounge in Toronto – do Canadians have an especially weird palate?). Kim Romo from Biga on the Banks in Texas has found the Oloroso sherry and opened the last packet of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. New York’s Forrest Foster (Gotham Bar and Grill) has found the kids’ GoodPop Orange N' Cream Popsicles and pulled a bottle of Strekov Creme #3 Petillant Naturel out the fridge. At least, I console myself, GoodPop Popsicles are ‘made with the best non-GMO, Fair Trade-certified, organic and locally sourced ingredients’, so ideologically, at least, they make a very good match with pet nat.

Home comforts

There were many delicious, sensible, cook-at-home suggestions and I would have loved to list a lot of them (and get the recipes). But we would run out of server room. Instead I am going to give you some pairings for what must surely be one of the most nursery/comfort foods imaginable: macaroni cheese.

Most popular pairing? Yip. Champagne. Next favourite? Chardonnay. Third prize? Riesling. I like Toronto-based Rebecca Stevens’ submission: ‘Smoked cheddar mac and chz with paprika, scallions and off dry Riesling. Salty meets sweet!’. Pinot Grigio gets a vote as well. But the two best offerings came from Vancouver and Budapest. Biagio Castaldo (Elisa, Vancouver) has his Stilton mac and cheese with Ch d’Yquem, and Maté Szekeres (Portobello Coffee & Wine, Budapest) has his crab mac and cheese with Szóló Puro Furmint. Who says this has to be a poor-man’s dish?

Thanks to Aleks Dorohovich for the photo of fried chicken.