PERFECTLY PAIRED PASO LUNCHEON "TEST RUN"
It was a brisk Sunday morning when I headed to the small town of Santa Margarita to meet Chef Cheyne Jackson and Randy Caparoso. Both are highly recommended in their fields. Chef Cheyne is a young and energetic Chef who graduated from the CIA in NY. He then trained in SF and Napa before returning to his hometown to lead the charge at his family’s fabulous restaurant. Randy on the other hand is somewhat of a legend in the industry as a previous partner in Roy’s Restaurant, avid traveler, wine writer and excellent at food and wine pairing.
When I arrived I was warmly greeted by Chef Cheyne in his small and well respected restaurant, the Range. There was a table set for us and we had the restaurant to ourselves.
What happened next will likely go down as one of the funnest, most interesting and eye opening experiences I’ve had in a long while!
Our goal was to create a lunch menu which showcased a few of the best wines of Paso Robles: DAOU Cabernet Sauvignon, Laventure Optimus, Epoch White, and Tablas Creeks Grenache. Since our audience will be predominantly trade we knew this lunch needed to be something a little different than the normal pairing menu.
We wanted something daring, exciting and innovative! We needed a menu that would delicately highlight the strengths of each producer.
The previous month we tasted all the wines as a group and brainstormed ideas for the menu and today we were doing the test run.
Chef cheerfully led both Randy and I into the kitchen, excited to talk about the first course. This was a scallop with pork belly paired with the DAOU Cabernet. I watched in awe as chef sprinkled the scallop with salt and the frying pan screamed. Chef gently pinched the scallops from time to time ensuring they were cooked to perfection. We each carried a plate back to the table and pouring the Adelaide Cabernet Sauvignon from DAOU. I have to admit I was slightly concerned... first wine of a meal is a Cab? Not just any Cab but one you might normally pair with beef or wild game and now there is a scallop on the plate. I hope these guys know what they are doing! As we started eating Randy and Cheyne bantered back and forth about the dish and the wine... Chef commented he will smoke the pork belly himself next time and Randy commented it needed a little crunch. To my amazement the power of the pork belly was the perfect match and the rich flavor balanced what some might think is a softer course. It was incredible!
As we continue to taste each course with each wine I was totally in awe of the care and attention in every ingredient. For example, the duck breast salad needed its own blend of lettuce with arugula and endive instead of a spring mix. The stroganoff garnished with a different cheese and the dessert needed less chocolate and switch to a bitter Mexican.
Chef enthusiastically announced how many of the ingredients were grown within a mile of the restaurant, the pomegranates for the salad came from across the street, the cactus juice came from cactus roses in the patio of the restaurant and the goat cheese was from Rinconada Dairy right down the street. He beamed with pride as he talked about the quality of produce that his neighbors produced.
The meal and all the ingredients were chosen to highlight the wines. Whether it was higher acid, oak, weight, richness, or spice. All things were taken into consideration and Chef and Randy excitedly discussed all elements and how it would work together! ***It sounded like my kids when they are building with playdo, as if the playdo art that they creating would likely be chosen as an exhibit for the Louvre. The excitement and wonder of a child.
I walked away from the experience with a true appreciation of their craft!!! All I thought was, I hope that attendees to our lunch take time to appreciate just how much energy and thought that has gone into this meal.
Amanda Wittstrom Higgins
Co Founder of Wine Speak Paso
Ancient Peaks Winery