Reporters notebook: Final day of F&W features Jacques Pépin, sake seminar |

Reporters notebook: Final day of F&W features Jacques Pépin, sake seminar

Staff report

Meatless treats

Who says you can’t be healthy and keep drinking?

Led by the duo of chef and Wholesome Wave CEO Michel Nischan and Josh Wesson from The Splendid Table, seminar-goers at “Why ‘Wine’ About Going Meatless” were treated to a spread of six drinks and dishes, all sporting meatless proteins and handcrafted by Top Chef alumni. A combination food critique and sommelier exploration, guests were invited to mix and match, with the goal of developing your palate and experiencing the basics of how drinks pair with food of all types.

As Nischan and Wesson quickly moved through the variety of delicacies laid out while under the watchful and discerning eye of chef Jacques Pepin, past “Top Chef” alumni described their prepared dishes, ranging from sweet smoked beetroot plates and spicy black lentil kitchari to black babaganoush made with ancient grains.

Through it all, Nischan and Wesson made suggestions for drink pairings, but encouraged experimentation following a few simple rules.

The duo described pairs falling in love for two different reasons: Either love from similarities, or love from contrasts (but not opposites). Additionally, they described drinks as wielded in two different ways: Some as rapiers (finesse and fencing), or as broadswords (chop, chop).

With dishes ranging the flavor gamut and drinks moving from semi-sweet ciders (usually paired with spice and heat to accent and offset rough edges) to pure rice sake (best mixed with high-salt dishes to amplify the qualities of both), the session was a quick-and-dirty rundown of the basic tools anyone needs to start their journey as a sommelier, all prepared by some of cooking’s top talent.

— Samuel Wagner

For goodness’ sake

A drink at the Sake Sunday seminar on Sunday at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen
Ben Welch/The Aspen Times

Sunday mornings are rough enough during other times of the year, let alone the weekend of the Food & Wine Classic.

I wasn’t really sure why I had volunteered to attend an early-morning session, but thank god I wasn’t invited to Wine at the Mine (sob) the night before and so I was more or less in decent enough shape to rouse myself and head for the tents.

The three panelists at Sake Sunday — June Rodil, Monica Samuels and Devon Broglie — felt my pain. By a show of hands, at least half the other attendees did, as well. I felt a little better.

“Sake is really easy on your body,” Samuels reassured us. “There’s no tartaric acid, so it won’t give you a heartburn or hurt your tooth enamel.

“There’s no hangover-free beverage, but this is a pretty safe bet.”

I’ve gotten so much out of this class already.

We discussed and drank our way through six samples of high-end sake, ranging in flavors from key lime and jolly rancher to sweaty gym socks and decomposed body. The drinks spanned from clear and watery to cloudy and unfiltered to what looked like a byproduct of the Gold King Mine spill.

Sake is actually more akin to beer than wine; it’s brewed and can be consumed soon after rather than aged while the grapes discombobulate or however riesling is made. Sake also isn’t made from your standard table rice; premium sake is brewed with special rice in which the starch component is concentrated at the center of the grain. During the brewing process, the fats and proteins are melted off and the rice shrinks considerably. It’s basically what the It Works! lap band scam was supposed to do. (Nothing is a deader giveaway that something doesn’t work than the product being named It Works!)

“Sakes are so nuanced,” Broglie said. “They give back what you put into them.”

I’m definitely adding more sake into my drinking rotation, which is currently dominated by Coors Light and whiskey-diet. It’s not just for drinking hot (which you’re really not supposed to do, Rodil said) at a sushi restaurant, but can be incorporated in a party environment, as well.

“I have cans of sake I like to shotgun,” Samuels said. “You can have fun with it.”

Rodil agreed.

“There is nothing wrong with a sake bomb … maybe I’ll even do one after.”

— Benjamin Welch

Ceviche, Meet Mezcal with Rick Bayless

Rick Bayless speaks at his Ceviche, Meet Mezcal seminar Sunday at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen.
Allison Pattillo/The Aspen Times

You know it’s been a long weekend of tasting, learning and revelry when Rick Bayless says how proud he is of both himself and the audience for posting at a 10:30 a.m. seminar. And with that, he went on to discuss the finer points of ceviche, aguachile and a ceviche cocktail, sustainably farmed fish, agave distillates beyond tequila and Bar Sótano, his newest restaurant.

Bayless says to use only ocean fish for ceviche, with freshness being paramount. He advised the audience to “use all of your senses” when buying fish. Use your eyes to see that the fish is glistening. Use your sense of touch to ensure the flesh is resilient and firm, bouncing right back when pressed. And third, smell it. If it smells like the sea, that’s what you’re after. If it smells like old fish, Bayless said to find another seafood market.

While ceviche depends more upon fresh ingredients than an actual recipe, fresh lime juice is essential because it is what “cooks” the fish. Fresh green chiles, onions, tomato and cilantro are traditional, however Bayless encourages experimentation. The goal is to have it taste “bright, very fresh and of the moment.” And of course, it is best served with a floater of mezcal.

— Allison Pattillo