Wine and Food Pairing Class at Yale

A veersion of this piece appeared in the Sommelier Journal in April 2012

Yale Wine and Food Pairing Seminar for Seniors 

Usually when we hear the words university and alcohol in one sentence we expect the news to be bad: wild parties, binge drinking and immature behavior.  But, of course, it does not have to be this way. That is why Yale University decided to be proactive and use wine and food pairing as a teachable opportunity. 

“Reality Bites” is a series of seminars created by Rafi Taherian, Yale’s Director of Food Service to prepare seniors for life after graduation. The first session was how to set up a basic kitchen. Others address formal business dining and etiquette, cooking locally in season, mixology, and wine and food pairing.  The latter was my assignment.

Because of my previous associations with Yale, working with Rafi on redesigning the salad bar in all twelve colleges, and because we had worked together at the CIA at Greystone he invited me to teach this session. Rafi knows my son Evan Goldstein, MS and had attended some of his wine seminars. He also knew of my passion for wine and food pairing and that I had created the recipes for Evan’s book Perfect Pairings. While having us both there to work with the seniors would have been the ideal setup, Evan was in Australia with the MS program, so it fell to me to   initiate the seniors into the world of fine dining and fun dining and to present wine in the context of a meal.    

First I asked for a list of wines that the university uses for its faculty catering events. I was hoping to select wines that were typical of their varietal, rather than odd balls. The inventory was somewhat limited but I was able to choose wines from their cellar except for the Pinot Noir which I asked them to purchase. Of course, there were budgetary constraints. The wines we had were Cava Segura Viudas brut, Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Macrostie Sonoma  Chardonnay 2009, Calera’s Central Coast Pinot Noir 2009 and a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from Buehler 2008.

Next I had to plan recipes versatile enough to work with at least two of the wines on the table. I wanted the food to be relatively easy to prepare ahead of time, with not too much a la minute tweaking, so as not to stress the catering team. I selected four dishes for the five wines. The first course was warm Gorgonzola custard with a salad of greens, pears and walnuts and walnut vinaigrette that used sherry and balsamic vinegars, no sharp red wine vinegar that would make the cheese and wines taste off. The second course was an herb and orange zest marinated fish on a bed of white beans. The third course was sauteed chicken with tomato sauce, pancetta, and basil. And the final course was a Sicilian lamb stew with red bell peppers and mushrooms

The venue for the tasting was the President’s Room at Woolsey Hall. The format was seven round tables each seating six. Over a hundred seniors had signed up but the room could not accommodate all of them.  

I then had some decisions to make on how to run this seminar. Because these students were super bright and inundated with paper work, I decided not to give hand outs describing each wine. I did not want them to spend time looking for characteristics that might not be present in our selected wines. I wanted this to be purely experiential. I would talk about each varietal in general terms, what range of foods they could be served with. I wanted them to taste each wine and to trust their own taste buds and form their own opinions, allowing for surprises and avoiding preconceptions. 

They were instructed to look at the wines’ color, to swirl, to sniff and then taste. We tasted the wines in sequence and talked about them .I solicited their impressions at every turn. After the initial tastings the food started to come out of the kitchen. What I wanted was for them to taste each dish with all of the wines to see what they liked and what they did not like. This is an old fashioned technique used in the 1970’s by Shirley Sarvis in her pioneering wine and food pairing classes at the Stanford Court Hotel. I gave them no caveats or preconditions of what was supposed to work with what.  

Their responses were right on the money. The Cava was ideal with the salad, better than any of the wines, and even better than the Sauvignon Blanc. The Cava’s previously undetected sweetness was revealed by the fruit in the salad and highlighted by the slightly funky cheese which they were previously wary of. Even though some of them did not like the Chardonnay upon the initial tasting, they enjoyed it with the fish. A few, however, liked the way the Pinot Noir picked up on the herbs in the marinade. Pinot Noir was their choice for the chicken, but some thought the Sauvignon Blanc worked well with the tomato sauce. And while the lamb stew was good with the Cabernet and the Pinot Noir as planned, many thought the Sauvignon Blanc was better in highlighting the peppers and the sauce, which unbeknownst to them had some white wine in the base.

Because I did not tell them what were supposed to be the best pairings, they created their own and trusted their palates. While most of them agreed on the most obvious matches, they were not afraid to like Sauvignon Blanc with lamb or Pinot Noir with fish. The evening ended with a raffle giveaway of five copies of Perfect Pairings and five bottles of wine. Everyone was happy. Later every senior who attended was sent copies of the recipes.

The senior in charge of coordinating this event wrote. “Last night was such a treat!! The food was delicious, the wine was great, and you taught me so much!!  However, I’m just so happy that the seniors who came got a chance to learn and be together in such a way. So often we forget about enjoyment, not only of the food we’re eating, or the alcohol we’re consuming, but also of learning and of the people around us. We let deadlines, stress and meetings take precedence! This event gave people an experience with enjoyment in a way we so rarely get around here– and it’s my hope that after seeing this, people will pursue it more and more often and create it as a possibility for their whole future.”  So be happy, sommeliers, that these are your future customers.


I took my fifteen year old grandson  Adam to Istanbul for a week of culture and cuisine.  I had been to Istanbul twice before; once in1959  when I was the only woman seen on the street or in restaurants; again in 1993 with a group of Chefs as part of an Oldways trip. And this year.  The changes in the city are amazing. Today Istanbul is a vibrant international center. From 1 1/2 million people in 1959 to almost 15 million today.

Because I was traveling with a teenager I arranged for a professional guide for two days as I did not trust my rusty art history  background to educate Adam as to the wonders of the Islamic and Ottoman world.  So this gave us both a fresh look at the Haghia Sofia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi palace and other architectural miracles.

The Bazaar seemed even more overwhelming this time around, too many T shirts and tchotches.  Better luck at the spice market where I bought wooden tasting spoons, ideal for dipping into a really hot stew or soup and not burning your mouth.

As a chef, food was , as usual, on my mind. I went in seach of dishes that I had eaten and cooked before ( did my version measure up? )  and of course always looking for new ones to add to my repertoire. The su boregi (water borek ) at Borsa was amazing , as well as their icli kofte and manti. so good that I will now attmpet to recreate them at home. I loved the ekmek Kadayif at Hunkar. Just the right amount of sweet syrup to soak the bread. And that gorgeous kaymak cream. We ate street food galore, loving the wraps at Durumzade and the pistachio cream filled filo pastries at Gulluoglu. And the amazing vegetable mezze at Ciya where chef Musa creates the most unsual dishes with greens and herbs foraged in the countryside.

I think Adam had a good time. Teenage boys don’t talk much. ( unless you are another teenage boy or girl)

Istanbul on the horizon

In a few weeks I am taking my grandson Adam to Istanbul for his special Grandma trip.  A few years ago I took his sister Elena to Venice and Rome. We haad a great time. Now it is Adams’ turn.

Naturally it will be an eating adventure. Eggplant a hundred ways, kebabs, boreks, baklava, guvecs, street food galore . We will have a guide for a few days so that all the art history that I have forgotten will be told to Adam by our guide. Then  one day we are going on a street food crawl with Istanbul Eats. We will be dining at Ciya twice, thank goodness, as chef Musa is an inspiration.  I have eaten his wonderful food at the CIA at the World of Flavors conferences. Alway a show stopper. 

Our dinner reservations have been arranged by Cenk Sonmenzsoy  Cenk is a talented food blogger based in  Istanbul   His site is   Cenk is writing his first cook book and is also a chocoholic He and Adam should get along just fine.

So stay tuned for more. I promise to write about our Istanbul adventure.

So where have I been for so long?

I know it’s been too long. I mean how can I claim to have a blog if I am not blogging. It’s not that I have been too busy to write. It is that I have been writing, full time. That big manuscript that I handed in  was too big, too unwieldy and in need of editing and reorganizatiion.  So back to the writing desk  After 6 months of working with a special editor,  the manuscript is now, finally, with my editor at UC Press for the next go around. After a bit more work. the manuscript will be sent to peer reviewers for their comments and suggestions.   Hopefully for some words of praise too.

If all goes as planned, the book will be out in a year. That is right. A year. It is like giving birth to a whale.

As you know, I have written 26 cookbooks BUT writing a history for an academic press is a whole other ballgame.  I have learned a great deal in the process. And I  hope that after all this very heard  brain breaking work, we will all think this has been worth it. 

So I apoligize for my seeming silence. I have not really been silent but  these days it is books before blogs.

A Grown up Restaurant or one for Grownups

I wrote this piece for the Sommelier Journal. 


A Grown up Restaurant and a Restaurant for Grownups


About a month ago I went with friends to a hot new restaurant. It opened to great press and good word of mouth on the blogosphere. The place is in a rather off the beaten track neighborhood and run by a young and energetic staff. After reading all those glowing reviews, we were looking forward to our dinner.


I arrived five minutes early and they would not seat me until my party was complete, which is sort of inhospitable. The bar was full so I waited in the doorway. The room was a bit noisy but it was not impossible to hear ourselves talk during dinner. Service was very casual. The wine was opened and left on the table for us to pour, as is “their style.” Our waitress was well informed and charming. Although the pizza was a bit flabby, the pastas and salads were excellent. We enjoyed our dinner and said we would return


A month later a dear mutual friend came to town.  He is hard of hearing, so for ease of conversation, I cooked dinner the first night of his visit.  The second night we decided to take him to this restaurant as our meal had been very tasty and he is a discerning diner and very good cook.  We remembered the place as being a bit noisy but as we had been able to converse, we figured that the good food would outweigh some hearing difficulties. Besides it is almost impossible to find a really quiet place these days.


We were seated when only two of the four of us were there, some progress on that front. The restaurant is very dimly lit and the menu is printed on brown paper in a small font. It’s rather hard to read unless you carry a small flashlight or a miner’s lamp.

The room was even noisier than the first time because the music was blasting. Not just loud, ear splitting loud. We asked our waiter if they could please turn it down a bit as our guest was hard of hearing. He said, no, that the sound level was set by a manager. Fortunately a manager stopped by our table to say hello. She had waited on our table the first time and at a cook book signing event where I was a panelist, introduced herself to me as a manager and said to call her if I needed to get in. So I asked her to please lower the music. She did, but ten minutes later the staff had cranked it up to the maximum. It felt like a pretty hostile response.


So we got the message. You older folks are not really welcome here. We are so hot and so busy with a young and hip clientele that we don’t need your business. This place is just not for you and we will not go out of our way to make it comfortable or easy for you.  The young staff thinks that older guests are “difficult” diners and too much work: They want more lighting to be able to read the menu. They want us to lower our hip music. And they even want us to pour their wine. Hey, no great loss.


In other words it is not a grown up restaurant, nor is it a restaurant for grownups.

It is a place for the young who don’t care about noise or unreadable menus.  The waiter will tell them what’s hot and what to order anyway. They don’t care that much about service refinements, but just want the food and trendy drinks carried to the table.



However, the restaurant staff is misguided. Many older people dine out often and have more disposable income than twenty somethings. Even more important, once older diners bond with a place, they are very loyal, and will show up with regularity as long as they are recognized and treated with some modicum of manners and warmth. These mature diners do not feel the need to try every hot new place in town. They find a place they like and keep coming back. So if they are treated with disdain, they will not return. 


What this new establishment does not realize is that they will not always be the brightest star in the local restaurant firmament. After a year or so, when the next round of hot new places opens, and the fickle food groupies move on, the staff may be sorry they did not build a more mature and experienced clientele. Those loyal diners would still be filling the seats if they had not been treated like excess baggage  

The big manuscript is in!

I have been silent here for too long but have been buried in my book project. It is a history of California cuisine for the University of California Press, due to be published in Spring of 2012.

It has taken me a long time to complete this project as it was massive.  I interviewed 188 chefs, artisans, farmers, designers, front of house people, wine makers , critics, writers, in other words people who were here for this revolutionary time in California’s culinary development. The interviews had to be transcribed and then I had to organize all of the material into the proper chapters .

Now the manuscript is with my editors who will probably have to do some cutting as it is too long. But I did not want to leave any major gaps in this complicated story.  I pray that they do not shrink it  too much.

So I hope to have more time to keep up with this blog.  Enjoy the summer produce. This weekend I am putting up preserves with ym grandkids. What fun!

The Power of Change

The Power of Change   


Every January the press calls chefs, restaurateurs, and wine and food professionals to ask what the new food and wine trends for 2009 will be, as if we know.  This annual routine of predicting what’s going to be “hot,” and instantly discarding what’s past and now “cold,” grows tiresome. I recently participated in the Eleventh annual World of Flavors Conference at the CIA in the Napa Valley. This year’s theme was A Mediterranean Flavor Odyssey:  Preserving and Inventing Traditions for Modern Palates. Instead of predicting and discarding, signs of a disposable culture, the key words are preserving and inventing traditions, for a culture of endurance and continuity.  


At the conference Sicilian superstar chef, Ciccio Sultano, used an Italian play on words to describe what he was doing in the kitchen.  In Italian, tradizione is tradition. And the verb tradire means to betray. He said that he had to betray tradition when creating his unique and modern food. An older, wiser Italian saw change from another perspective. In the classic historic novel, The Leopard, author Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s nobleman Don Francisco says” if we want things to stay the same, things will have to change.” Most change is a reaction to current events and an attempt to restore equilibrium. (Only a small proportion of change is truly innovative.) To progress and prosper we must study past events, respect and preserve valuable traditions, and still feel free to invent the new.


There were over 700 participants at the Worlds of Flavor conference, an educational, stimulating, highly enjoyable dine, drink, and think session. Food historians, cookbook authors and wine experts talked about tradition and the history of the Mediterranean as well as current culinary and cultural changes. Chefs from Spain, Greece, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, Israel and the Italian regions of Apulia and Sicily, cooked alongside American chefs whose cuisine is inspired by Mediterranean kitchens. The chefs demonstrated both traditional and contemporary interpretations of dishes from their homelands. The kitchen was a hub of activity and spoons were dipped into bubbling pots by smiling chefs and attendees, nodding, talking, and tasting together. There were wine and food pairings where chefs re-created their regional dishes to pair with sommeliers’ selected wines.


Conference attendees reveled in the opportunity to taste new dishes and sample unfamiliar wines. They learned that healthy food is not deadly dull – in fact it is delicious and economical, and probably the ideal role model for our present time. In 2009 as we find ourselves on the brink of exciting change coupled with nail-biting economic stress, it is to our benefit to revisit the Mediterranean diet which is timeless, healthy, delicious, and good for the bottom line. In the Mediterranean wine and food have always been in harmony and a part of daily life, sensual pleasures to be savored.


Today we talk about foods using the buzzwords “fresh, seasonal, local, and sustainable.” These seemingly new concepts are ancient. In the days before refrigeration and interstate and international transport of food, before government and common market regulations, people in the Mediterranean went out into the vegetable garden, or caught a fish or slaughtered an animal that they raised responsibly, and every day they cooked their meals from scratch. They baked bread, cured salumi and cheeses and made their wine. The food always was fresh, seasonal, local and sustainable. It was the traditional Mediterranean way of life.   


A blast from the past still has relevance today. In 1971 Harvard professor Richard Alpert, turned guru named Baba Ram Dass and wrote a book called Be Here Now. He called it a “cookbook for a sacred life.” It was about mindfulness. We will always have a foot in the past because that is where our culinary traditions come from. And we’ll need to have an eye on the future if we want our businesses to be sustainable. But we need to be here now and pay attention to what is going on in our city, our nation, our world wide community so we can be appropriately reflective of our time and embrace meaningful change, not change for change’s sake 


What we learned at the conference can be our prescription for 2009, to be taken daily with a glass of wine. 


Find the balance between time-tested techniques and established traditions, and the hopes and goals for the future, in order to take meaningful action.


Temper our current reality with the enduring values of the past and apply them with skill and sensitivity. Aspire to be creative and inventive but not disrespectful of tradition.


Keep informed and open minded. Read trade publications, magazines and newspapers to learn what is going on, but don’t be seduced by fads that promise success and often turn out to have a very short shelf life 


Embrace a way of life that supports our environment, our community, our financial picture and our fondest aspirations.


Choose and promulgate a healthy diet that tastes good without turning diners off when they hear it is healthy. Healthy should not be a dirty word or an enthusiasm dampener.

Eat and drink in moderation.  


Don’t eat in the car or at your desk or in front of the television set and expect a culinary epiphany. Be mindful. Take time to taste as you eat your meal. Be conscious as you drink your wine, and savor each sip. Enjoy the company of those with whom you dine. Treasure your time at the table with friends and family. Create your own traditions for your family to build on in years to come.  


Watching chefs from Lebanon share tastes with chefs from Israel reminded me that the potential for peace is present in the kitchen and at the dinner table. Let’s lift a glass to that.


Scholarship and Seduction

Scholarship versus Seduction


I confess that I share most authors’ secret vice. Every once in a while I go on Amazon to see what readers are saying about my books. There is one particular cookbook reviewer who fancies himself an expert. In an often ostentatious display of being in the know, he compares other cookbooks to the book he is supposed to be reviewing. Sometimes this comparison is relevant. And sometimes it is just showing off. He has his favorite authors whose work he uses as a benchmark. But often he misses the point or rationale behind the book on hand.  Anyway, I was reading his review of my first cookbook, The Mediterranean Kitchen, a classic since 1989. These recipes were top sellers at my Square One Restaurant and the most requested by guests. He said the book was not as scholarly as Claudia Roden or Paula Wolfert, but conceded that that the recipes were written with clear and practical cooking instructions because I was a chef.  Paula and Claudia are friends of mine and we occasionally have traveled together. We cook many of the same classic Mediterranean recipes, but as a restaurateur I have another challenge besides historical or cultural accuracy. I have to sell the food! It has to be sufficiently full flavored and dynamic for guests to remember the dish and to ask for it again. Often a classic recipe when cooked correctly may be memorable in the cultural sense, but not in the mouth. As a chef I will take a few liberties to punch up the flavors, and will pair the item with the right (but maybe not traditional) sides to sell it.  Instead of being scholarly, I have to seduce.


The same holds for wine and food pairing. There is a danger in being too cerebral.

Reading this review on Amazon brought to mind a similar situation. At an industry food and wine pairing seminar I attended, the sommelier and the chef outdid each other in offering obscurities. For example, by serving a fish caught off one tiny Pacific island and in season only three weeks of the year, and imported just for them. Paired with a wine of which there were only a few bottles available, just for them. Already the audience was behind the eight ball. They could not get either the fish or the wines. There was no way for the attendees to apply the information to the reality that was their life in the restaurant business.    


Coming from their rather rarified background, the chef and sommelier made these choices to impress, to show how special their place of business was, and to justify the cost of their dinners and their reputation. But for most in attendance (except for a few groupies muttering “brilliant, brilliant”) it was an exercise in futility. The audience gamely soldiered on and to make the best of their time in the seminar, asked questions about balancing the wines with the food. How did they adjust a sauce to fit a wine selected by the guest?  Now, I pride myself on having a well stocked pantry and a good assortment of culinary tricks up my sleeve, but their solutions were rather esoteric and really amusing. Who has pork puree or parsnip puree always at the ready in the kitchen to be whipped into a sauce at a moments notice for balancing with the wine?  Olive oil and butter or cream, yes; pork puree, less likely. Flour, arrowroot, beurre manie, mashed potatoes, yes; parsnip puree, not likely.  I can imagine them thinking hard about these obscure solutions and saying they’ll never guess how we did it. Really!


When people pay to attend a conference, they hope to be able to bring home some information or experience they can use when they return to their every day life. Here was a situation where chefs, cooks and sommeliers came expecting a lesson in the perfect pairing of wine and food and got intellectual stimulation and a display of culinary machismo instead.  What knowledge could they take back to their own restaurants? They had to make do with fish available from their local fish monger, and wines that they could sell. And they had to make the diner’s experience sensually pleasing as well as affordable. Could genius have stooped to conquer and have offered a pairing that the attendees could come close to replicating at home?  Intellectual stimulation is wonderful in cooking and food and wine pairing but for the whole package to be a success it needs to be accompanied by sensual delight and a dose of reality. . 




What grows together, goes together

What Grows Together Goes Together



It is an expression used by chefs and wine lovers alike. “What grows together, goes together.” The phrase can be interpreted in three ways.


First consider seasonality. Foods that appear at the market at the same time give rise to many classic dishes. In the spring we have the confluence of strawberries and rhubarb. It does not take culinary genius to combine them in a pie or compote. Peas and asparagus are part of the spring time bounty so it’s not surprising to find them harmoniously paired in risotto. Corn and shell beans are at their flavor peak in August so it is logical to pair them in succotash. The late summer and early fall gives rise to an abundance of peppers, tomatoes and eggplant, all at their best. Thus many Mediterranean countries combine this vegetable trio in a signature dish, ratatouille in France, escalibada in Spain, briam in Greece, turlu in Turkey and mishwiya in North Africa. Winter pumpkin and greens are paired in Moroccan tagines, in gratins in Provence and in tortas and pastas in Italy. These foods that grow together seasonally go together beautifully. Nature is the chef to help the harmony happen 


The second interpretation of the phrase leads us to terroir: the way foods and wines express the soil, climate and topography of a region. Not only wine but even food makes claims to terroir. Does Vermont maple syrup taste different than the syrups from Canada? The folks in Vermont think so. To those that grow them, a Vidalia onion does not taste like a Maui onion. And a New Jersey tomato does not taste like one from California.


But to continue the analogy let’s consider foods and wines with a sense of place, the same place. What Matt Kramer calls “somewhereness.” One can safely assume that in Piedmont, dishes such as agnolotti del plin or tajarin al sugo were designed to be served with Barolo and Barbaresco, the wines of the region. Chianti is the natural choice for bistecca alla fiorentina. If you were in Marseilles in the summer, eating a rich seafood stew with tomatoes and saffron, you would be served a glass of Provencal rose. And if you were in Spain in Aragon or Navarre and eating a lamb stew al chilindron prepared with local peppers, a glass of Rioja would most likely be on the table. It’s not surprising that Oregon pinot Noir goes well with its local salmon or Cattail Creek lamb. .

Finally there is the matter of culinary tradition. Certain wines are always paired with certain dishes because they come from the same “paese” or region, and therefore have traditionally been served together. You see the food on the plate and your mind goes to the wine that you have tasted with that food for as long as you can remember. 

In my previous wine and salumi column, you may have noticed that Spanish wine lovers automatically pair fino sherry with serrano ham, a symphony of sweetness and nuttiness. The French wine lovers serve their rich pates with wines from the Beaujolais region and have foie gras with Sauternes. Folks in Friuli serve Tocai to accompany slices of the local Prosciutto San Daniele while those in Emilia Romagna drink the local Lambrusco with their salumi.  These are pairings based on tradition and regionality, firmly imprinted on the countries’ collective taste memory.  


So what does this mean for those of us here in this land of abbondanza and whose chef’s mantra is creativity and freedom of culinary expression.? What if we live in a part of the country that has no great local wines, nor a strong food and wine pairing tradition and where the notion of terroir is but a pipe dream? What if the chef does not cook any traditional food, only original creations? Or if he feels the need to combine many different cultures on one plate? ( Maybe that is why the martini is so popular.)


But if we live in a wine crazy community like California, should we drink only California wine? Even the Slow Food mother ship Chez Panisse has, along with it California wine selections, many French and some Italian wines on its list to pair with its California fresh, local and seasonal food. Gruner Veltliner is not grown in Vietnam but that does not stop it from going well with Charles Phan’s food at the Vietnamese restaurant Slanted Door.  


The analogy of “what grows together, goes together” holds true in those wine growing regions of the old world, where chefs and families still cook classic cuisine. Even though an International Modern style is making inroads, European countries like France, Spain, Italy and Germany still have strong local wine and food traditions. I like to think that “what grows together, goes together” can be a fall-back position for a sommelier working in a restaurant with traditional dishes on the menu. For most other countries and cuisines all bets are off and the sommelier must take over and make the pairings with the chef’s cuisine without the anchor of collective taste memory or strong culinary tradition to lean on.  If you are a sommelier in a contemporary restaurant, one with a menu that may combine the foods of many cultures, you will have to do your homework and taste the dishes along with a variety of wines on the list to create the restaurant’s own terroir.  


Cleaning the Cupboards

Cleaning the Cupboards for the New Year


The evening started innocently. I was having the family over for my grandson’s birthday dinner when a small grey mouse was spotted skittering across the floor from the pantry and under the fridge. There had been a huge rainstorm and I imagined that a lone mouse had come in out of the rain. The next morning I went out and bought some mouse traps.

I was advised that peanut butter was an aphrodisiac for mice so I baited the traps with the stuff. Nothing happened. At night I could hear the mouse rustling around in the pantry and under my stove and even saw it dash down under a burner.


I have lived in this house for 25 years but have never had a mouse. While I am proud of my ideal temperature wine cellar built into a corner of the garage, my source of greatest pride as a chef is my kitchen pantry.  I love to open the folding doors and look at all of the contents just for culinary inspiration. If we had another big earthquake I could feed the family for weeks! I have two immense sections with five very deep shelves, loaded with jars of beans, grains, pasta, canned tomatoes, dried fruits, spices that are often refreshed, crackers for cheese, flour, sugars, cereal, home made jams, chutneys, mostardas and other condiments. On the lowest shelves I keep bottles of olive oils, vinegars, club soda, tonic, ginger ale, and assorted liquors used in cooking.   


When I finally gathered the courage to explore the depths of the lower shelves, I could see torn napkins, gnawed salt boxes, labels shredded off club soda bottles and just enough organic debris to let me know that there had to be more than one critter. Sufficiently freaked out, I called a pest control company and the man arrived the next morning and set 20 traps. After two days six of the critters were caught. Naturally, I had to take everything out of the pantry to clean up the mess. While removing the bottles, jars, and packages from the lower shelves I could see my culinary life flash before my eyes. Most revealing were the old liquor bottles. There was kaoliang from my Chinese cooking days, sake and mirin for making teriyaki sauce. Also framboise, Rainwater Madeira, ouzo, Cachaca, brandy, sherry, Marsala, and white vermouth.  The bottles in the front were recent and still in use; others were ancient and had not been touched in years. In fact, I had forgotten about them as they were way back in the deep shelves. I no longer cooked many of those recipes that called for these libations.


Like most chefs, my style of cooking has evolved over the years. I started thinking about the days when I would have to venture into Chinatown to get kaoliang for marinades. There were two brands available. Years ago when I went to the Japanese market there were maybe three or four brands of sake to choose from. Now there are shelves full of sake of varying styles. It’s just like going to the wine shop or supermarket today and seeing 40 Pinot Noirs where there used to be 10. You can be overwhelmed by options.


Too many choices can be a burden on the shopper and also on the restaurant diner. Voluminous wine lists intimidate most people, even those who know something about wine. It is mentally exhausting to plow though those lists when all you want to do is settle in for a relaxing evening, a nice dinner and good bottle of wine. Instead you are presented with the Oxford Dictionary.  


Perhaps, like most of us after the holidays, the wine list could be put on a diet. In a time of lowered expectations but still with a need for pleasure, instead of presenting a list with an ostentatious display of trophy wines and esoteric obscurities, the sommelier might cull the list and select wines to fit the food and the mood of the restaurant today.