With a little spontaneity and imagination, chefs are crafting impromptu meals with different ingredients they source daily. But the challenge of off-the-cuff cooking isn’t just seeking inspiration, it’s selecting proper wines for an ever-changing menu—a task that chefs and beverage directors across the country have perfected.
POSH (Scottsdale, Arizona): At this trendy dining spot, customers are given a list of rotating ingredients from which they can select to comprise their meal. Chef and Owner Joshua Hebert, who calls the improv menu “reverse engineering,” also alternates the wine list according to the season. To ensure the wine selection pairs perfectly with every new creation, he accents the meal with complementary spices and flavors—a technique used to bridge wine and food. Black cod is dressed with onion marmalade and a smoky sauce, enhancing the Loire Valley Cabernet Franc with which it’s paired. Other recent pairings included a 2009 Château Tire Pé Diem with wild boar bacon and a ginger carrot glaze and a Château Ducasse Bordeaux Blanc with scallops and bruléed miso aioli. “The only consistent thing is that there is change,” says Hebert.
CRAIGIE ON MAIN (Boston, Massachusetts): Chef and Owner Tony Maws’ seasonal menu changes daily at this cozy farm-to-table restaurant. He offers his patrons the freshest ingredients by relying heavily on his relationships with local farmers, fishermen and meat purveyors. “We’re going to go find the best things first and then work backwards,” he says. This is particularly true of fish. To ensure freshness, he only buys enough for that day—one night patrons will sample wild Nunavut arctic char served with barley couscous and a spiced cucumber broth, the next night, the char could be replaced with line-caught striped bass with summer succotash and an array of local shellfish. One of Maws’ guiding principles is that “food and wine sing from the same song sheet,” but he isn’t concerned with perfect pairings. “The whole idea is to be less stressful and have fun,” he insists.
MANRESA (Los Gatos, California): Having an exclusive relationship with the nearby Love Apple Farms, Chef David Kinch has the means to easily craft a spontaneous and locally driven menu. Kinch, who often gets writer’s block when penning menus, defines himself as “a very visual and physical guy”, so visiting the farm is where inspiration first strikes. “If I’m holding something in my hand or smelling it or tasting it, that’s where the floodgate of ideas comes from,” he says. Wine and Beverage Director Jeff Bareilles takes note of the “dominant flavor profiles” of the season and has an ongoing daily dialogue with Kinch, so he is prepared to match wines with the unprompted dishes of the evening. Recently, Bareilles paired a 2009 Domaine Bruno Clair Marsannay Rosé of Pinot Noir with a rice-less fava bean risotto, complete with a summer truffle vinaigrette, egg confit and porcini purée. The restaurant also offers its own bottling of Manresa Cuvée, a Bordeaux-styled wine made from grapes sourced from thenearby Santa Cruz Mountains.