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WineInk: A Rum Tum Tugger at 7908 with former “Top Chef: Portland” cheftestants

Kelly J. Hayes
WineInk
From left, chef Jamie Tran, chef Chris Viaud, Malcom Gosling Jr., chef Byron Gomez and chef Nelson German at a special pairing dinner at 7908 Aspen featuring “Top Chef Portland” cheftestants and Goslings Rum.
Courtesy Goslings Rum

It was after Labor Day, but that did not deter Malcom Gosling Jr. from rocking his pink Bermuda shorts this past week at a dinner at 7908.

The evening paired his family’s Goslings Bermuda Rum with cuisine created by a quartet of former “Top Chef” cheftestants. Of course, even in the dead of a Boston winter (the family has deep ties to New England), a Gosling would likely be expected to wear the shorts that are evocative of the pink sand beaches and translucent waters of Bermuda. Who doesn’t love that pairing?

More on shorts later. It was the dinner itself that prompted my thoughts on how things go together in life, and in food and drink in particular. Now, as this is a wine column, the concept of pairing wines with foods comes up often. The phrase “what grows together, goes together” is one rule of thumb that has merit. And then there is the axiom “drink what you like” that I personally adhere to as the final guideline of pairing any dish with any wine. But as you likely know, there are those in wine who deem it necessary to establish standards for what should and should not be drunk with just about everything. Fortunately, that was not the case at the 7908 dinner.



THE RUM COCKTAILS

This was not Malcom Gosling’s first Aspen rodeo. In 2019, he was in Snowmass at the Limelight Hotel pouring his troika of rums, the traditional Goslings Black Seal Rum, the more recently introduced Goslings Gold Seal, and the Goslings Family Reserve Old Rum which has been aged over 16 years in charred oak bourbon barrels. I attended that event and was so smitten with the power of the sugar cane-based spirit that the Dark ‘n Stormy has become more than just my go-to cocktail, but rather a regular part of my evening repast. I go with the traditional Black Seal mixed with a splash of Fever Tree Ginger Beer and a few sprigs of mint from my modest herb garden. It is simple and tasty and provides the perfect post-day tropical refresher to pair (there’s that word again) with a Rocky Mountain sunset.

Hand-crafted cocktails made with Goslings Rum created by 7908’s bar team under the leadership of Matt Corbin, the director of spirits, co-starred with the cuisine of the “Top Chef” personalities at the dinner.
Courtesy Goslings Rum

But for this go-around, the rum concoctions crafted by 7908’s creative bar team, under the counsel of director of spirits Matt Corbin, was more, shall we say, sophisticated. Corbin spun together five curated cocktails using all three of the Gosling rums and ingredients that included toasted golden raisins, Macadamia nut orgeat, figs and lemongrass. Each was unique unto itself and the collection showed what could be done to differentiate a single spirit and pair it with foods that incorporated said spirit.




That’s right, each of the four courses prepared by the Top Chefs from season 18 of the Bravo series included a Goslings Rum in its preparation. Much like the show presents the panel of chefs with distinct tasks, so too did this dinner offer an opportunity for the chefs to think about how to use a unique ingredient in their presentations.

THE CHEFS

For those who don’t know, 7908’s brilliant chef Byron Gomez was one of the stars of this past season’s “Top Chef” competition, shot in Portland. The season was the most challenging in the history of the series for several reasons, not the least of which was that it was produced during the pandemic. Perhaps because of the tenor of the times, this season’s group of chefs became especially close to each other and the joy of watching the episodes came from the close bonds that formed as the season went on. While past seasons featured rivalries, this season focused on friendships. During the evening at 7908, each of the chefs expressed that their time together had created a “family” of chefs.

The offshoot is that the 2020 class has remained in touch and when 7908 and chef Byron had the opportunity, he invited three other “Top Chef” chefs to come to Aspen to cook at this Goslings dinner. Joining in the festivities were chefs Jamie Tran from The Black Sheep in Las Vegas, Chris Viaud from Greenleaf in Milford, New Hampshire, and Nelson German from alaMar in Oakland, California. Each was tasked with preparing dishes that incorporated Goslings Rum.

Chef Tran, whose off-the-Strip restaurant in Las Vegas is considered a local treasure, started things off with cured hamachi (yellowtail) with a Scotch Bonnet coulis, tapioca crisps and rum panna cotta. This was my favorite dish of the evening as the textures and flavors mingled as much as they contrasted. Crispy but soft, sweet but spicy. It was a tour de force and would have been a winning dish had it been a part of the “Top Chef” show, hands down.

Chef Nelson contributed a lobster and snow crab Thermador served in the shell of a crab leg atop mushrooms, plantains and a curry rum sauce. The largest course, I guess you could call it the main, came from Viaud whose “seasonally inspired locally sourced” Greenleaf restaurant seems surely worth the hour and a half drive from Boston. Chef Viaud provided a glazed duck breast with pillows of smoked squash, Asian pear agrodulce — an Italian term for a saucy, sour (agro) and sweet (dulce) paste — and tiny dollops of duck fat caramel. Paired with Goslings Old Rum cocktail, “The Docksider,” it was substantial.

Chef Byron brought the bacchanalia to an end with Gosling’s Gold Seal Rum Tres Leches with fresh Colorado peaches that paid homage to both his Latin roots and his Colorado home. After dessert the chefs wandered among the guests and answered questions about their time here in Aspen and how their experiences were on the show in Portland. The camaraderie between them was palpable.

It was, in the end, the pairing of the personalities that made the Goslings Dinner at 7908 such a warm slice of sunshine.

WINE PAIRING OPTIONS

So it was, as a wine writer, that I was forced to ponder what wines would be poured with each dish if the focus of the dinner was on grapes rather than sugar cane.

The complexity of the dishes and the variations made it fairly tough. But in my mind, I thought a Riesling with a touch of sweetness might temper the scotch bonnets in the hamachi, and that a rich Chardonnay would accompany Chef Nelson’s lobster and snow crab. There was no question that I would pair a Pinot Noir with the glazed duck breast (it is a classic). But I was a bit confused by what to pour with chef Byron’s final course, the tres leches, or three milks cake.

Fortunately, there is a master sommelier, Jonathan Pullis, captaining 7908 and I put my question to him. His choices, I requested, should all come from the 7908 list. He was much more specific, but his suggestions were not unlike my own thoughts.

Pullis said he would pour a Riesling Kabinett from the Mosel region of Germany, produced by Johannes Leitz, with the hamachi and peppers. The dry, clean crispness of the wine would work impeccably with the layers of flavors in the dish.

The lobster and crab cried out, of course, for a white Burgundy and the call was a wine from the appellation of Saint Aubin in the Côte de Beaune, the Pierre Yves Colin Morey Le Blanc. Rich and ripe, the thought of this pairing made my mouth water.

Pullis surprised me when he came back to America and recommended a pinot from a producer I do not know for the duck dish. Deovlet is a San Luis Obispo-based winery that is making wines from the best vineyard sites in Santa Barbara and the Sta. Rita Hills. If Pullis says they are good …

And for the final pairing with his chef’s dessert, he went to a classic: a Chateau Cerons Sauternes. Sweet plus sweet makes for delicious.

All of which brings us back to the Bermuda shorts. Malcom paired a pair (see what I did there?) of black knee-high socks with his pink Bermuda shorts to finish, along with his blue blazer and loafers, a rather formal look. It seems that Bermuda shorts and knee-highs are a vestige of the British Army, which adopted both in 1910s. The shorts cooled the colonists in high-temp environs and the socks protected their legs.

So now you know.

UNDER THE INFLUENCE

Fever Tree Premium Ginger Beer

OK, so I know that it is the Gosling’s Black Seal Rum that puts me “Under the Influence” and not the ginger beer. But in my Dark ‘n Stormy the two components share equal billing. The Fever Tree range of mixers and tonics are my fave for cocktails with only the best naturally sourced ingredients from around the world and no artificial flavorings or sweeteners. The ginger beer with a blend of gingers from Nigeria, Cochin and the Ivory Coast is not cloyingly sweet like some canned products. And if a gin and tonic is your jam, then their tonic waters add a kick, as well. They may not give you a buzz, but they are buzz-worthy.

 


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