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Day April 9, 2013

Pebble Beach Food & Wine 2013: Sushi and wine with Master Chef Morimoto, and Chef de Caves Panaiotis of Ruinart Champagne

The Iron Chef Morimoto, Ruinart Champagne Cooking Demonstration

This recent weekend, I was lucky enough to attend a cooking demonstration with Master Chef Morimoto including perfect pairings with Ruinart Champagne and the house’s Chef de Caves, Frédéric Panaiotis held at Pebble Beach Food & Wine.

Morimoto preparing

Master Chef Morimoto on stage alone, selecting his perfect tools in preparation for the demonstration

I was grateful to be included, knowing he is held in high regard for his sushi, good nature, and cooking talents. What hadn’t registered, however, was that he is held in high regard partially because he is on television showing these things. He is, in fact, one of the original Iron Chefs, and for many the favorite. The truth is, I haven’t had a television hook-up since 1996 (except for one brief stretch in 2000, when Jr. was only a year old and I watched all 10-years of Beverly Hills, 90210 (the original series), skipping the trashy season 8, in 4 months). Some of the heights of fame, as a result, allude me.

Chef Morimoto and Chef de Caves Panaiotis

Master Chef Morimoto and Ruinart Chef de Caves Panaiotis prior to the demonstration

What hadn’t alluded me is Morimoto’s positive reputation. The fame part hit when at the start of the demonstration the audience curtain was opened, and a beautiful, very small, older woman ran across the room ahead of everyone to ensure she got her seat with the best view.

The scene in the mirror

Morimoto’s cooking area set up in advance of the demonstration, as seen in the demonstration mirror

The event, as they explained, was a marriage of two cultures–Japanese and French. The demonstration, then, brought together an account of Japanese sushi tradition, with insights into French wine culture, and advice on how to enjoy the two together in a meal.

The team preparing

the team works on final preparations prior to inviting in the audience

Ruinart’s Chef de Caves Frédéric Panaiotis opened the event explaining, he is happy to give us the chance to enjoy champagne sitting down, with a meal so that it may be more closely appreciated. Also, by drinking bubbles in a wine glass, rather than a flute, the aromas are more accessible. In describing his own history with sparkling wine, Panaiotis explained he’s been drinking champagne pretty much all his life. In the region it is common to place a finger dipped in the wine on a baby’s lips after birth, the first offering to a new life. He also joked, “Champagne is what my grandmother used to drink when she was not so happy.” He went on, “but it is also a beverage we know is not just for special moments. It is for anytime. Champagne makes the moment special.”

Ruinart and Sushi

Ruinart Blanc de Blancs, and sushi pairing

In thinking about food and wine pairing, Morimoto offered insight in relation to how he also flavors the fish itself. When preparing sushi he has four different levels of tamari, four different densities of sauce. Seafood with no fat–octopus, shrimp, as examples–does well with lighter flavored sauce, lighter tamari. Fish with more fat, mackerel in winter, perhaps, take double the flavor needed as mackerel in summer when there is less fat in the meat. The more fat on the fish the more soy and wasabi you use. Similarly, when thinking about the wine, Panaiotis offers, a clear fish pairs with a really clear wine. The flavors accented on the fish, then, or added to a dish, can echo the flavors of the wine.

Morimoto explains fish quality

Chef Morimoto introduces the first course, explaining the differing cuts on a single fish

The Ruinart blanc de blanc is served to us alongside a Japanese white fish that is unique to the region but resembles an American Amber Jack. The Ruinart rosé, on the other hand, comes in a bit more savory, and is thus paired with preparations that have hardier flavors, such as fried dumpling in tomato, salmon, and uni. The team offers too that it would work with lighter meats, such as duck.

Big screen helps the audience see details

the demonstration included large screen close ups for the audience

Both wines, however, are delicate, all about subtle layers of rich flavor. It is here that Panaiotis gets excited about his wines with Japanese food. Morimoto’s preparations resemble a description of the wine–simple, clean food with rich flavors and freshness.

Panaiotis discusses the history of Ruinart w Morimoto's help

Morimoto and Panaiotis worked together. As Morimoto prepared more intricate cuts, Panaiotis was able to discuss the food and wine. Morimoto also offers insight on the champagne along with Panaiotis.

Chef Morimoto has been studying and developing his cooking techniques for well over 30-years, and offers tips to the audience on how to choose the best fish. First, he explains, his favorite knife is any knife that is sharp. The best cuts of fish have not been sitting directly on the ice–the cold damages the meat over time. When eating sushi, place the wasabi directly onto the fish, not into the soy, and put the fish side of a nigiri role down onto the tongue, with the rice side up. This gives the purest flavor.

the audience

a glimpse of the audience

The team explains that this demonstration is a proud moment. Chef Morimoto is honored to be included in a prestigious food & wine event. Wine is an established, and respected culture. Twenty years ago seeing an Asian chef on the itinerary for such a demonstration would have been unheard of or un-thought. Panaiotis, likewise, is pleased to see Ruinart alongside Japanese food, where he thinks it can pair so well.

Morimoto puts the final touches on Panaiotis's sushi

Morimoto puts final touches on Panaiotis’s sushi

In considering his Iron Chef reputation, Morimoto explains that even there he is not cooking for the judges, or cooking to beat the other competitor, but instead cooking to improve himself. With each ingredient challenge the approach is similar. “I cannot do same, same, same.” He says, “So, I have to create a new thing. Every single time, I’m shaking when I hold the knife, then I have to ask myself, what am I making? Each time, I’m challenged. I’m shaking.”

Chef Morimoto Sings

After the demonstration was complete, the audience was invited to propose questions. An audience member asked if Morimoto would sing. Bashful at first, he offered what he called “a fisherman song from Japan.”

***
Thank you to Chef Morimoto and Chef de Caves Panaiotis.

Thank you to Mark Stone and Nicolas Ricroque.

Thank you to Sarah Logan, and Vanessa Kanegai.

Thank you to Bettye Saxon.

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