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#i4c 2013: An Afternoon of Cooking with Vikram Vij

Part of the appeal of the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration is a bit of re-connecting with old friends, a bit of hob-nobbing with writers or producers you admire, a bit of people-watching and a whole lot of fine sipping. This late afternoon event, “An Afternoon of cooking with Vikram Vij”, placed directly before the Cool Chardonnay World Tour, fit the bill.   Contributed by Kyla Pennie. Much thanks to #14c2013 for the invitation.    

Vij’s cooking demonstration was memorably fun, with off-the-cuff references to: books (“Taste buds and Molecules” by Francois Chartier), love (“there must be lots of it!”), wine (“go with your instinct”) and sex (-ask a guest!).  The “class” was composed of the cool kids, (you know who you are), and the who’s who (Steve Spurrier, Tony Aspler, Master Sommelier Veronique Rivest to name a few).  Each group quietly blended in amongst the front row of foodies eager to learn just how to tackle the combination of Indian food and Chardonnay.

Moderated by equally affable hosts, Chef Vikram Vij, and Sommelier Peter Bodnar Rod, this culinary workshop was a real foodie paradise; an intersection of entertainment, setting, and epicurean education. Sitting under a large tree on a breezy sunny day at the Vineland Innovation and Research Centre, with the sun dappling through the branches on white linen set with glasses of chardonnay, guests basked in the moment.

Gracious, kind and funny, the session began with Vikram announcing his take on the authenticity of Indian food.  Touting his mother’s own cooking as inspiration, he assured cooks to trust in themselves, their instincts and their recipes. “Never let anyone say that what you serve isn’t real butter chicken” he says, “if it is your homemade butter chicken, than butter chicken it is!” His vocabulary and sense of humour set the tone for the afternoon as lighthearted and convivial.

While Vikram started to cook, Peter casually worked the crowd as a natural, unpretentious wine educator, informing the audience how the event would unfold.  Three dishes would be paired with three flights of two chardonnays; one local (placed on the left), and another selection, Canadian, or International (placed on the right).  Three small dishes were presented to accompany the flights of chardonnay.

The first dish was a prawn masala with coconut milk.  The prawns, stylishly served with shell and ample roe attached were complemented with the Niagara College Unoaked Chardonnay 2011, Ontario, (pineapple, pear, with a clean finish), and a Poplar Grove Reserve Chardonnay 2011 BC, (lemons and pineapples, vanilla).  Poplar Grove got a nod from Peter as being a most lovely vineyard.

The Second dish: Vij’s family chicken curry with yogurt was paired with 13th Street Sandstone Vineyard 2011 Chardonnay, Ontario (pear, apple, minerality) and Adelsheim Caitlin’s Reserve Chardonnay 2011, Oregon (hazelnut, lemon blossom, apples, acidity).

The third and final dish was a lamb curry paired with Malivoire’s Moira Chardonnay.  Winemaker, Shiraz Mottiar, proudly boasted, “it’s our best chardonnay and we love it!”  The second wine pairing for this course was the classy Vougeot Clos du Prieure Monopole 2007, Burgundy, which made for a particularily smooth finish to complete the set.

It was a familial and casual affair, with Q+A from the crowd and tasting notes straight from the source – from the wine-makers themselves.  Wine discussion ranged from alcohol content (not too high for spicy foods), to oakiness (not too much thank you), to service temperature (the aromatics of Chardonnay are lovely when not too cold). When asked which wine Peter gravitates towards for certain dinners, he simply replied, he uses his divining rod, a bottle of a certain region and vintage, will simply draw him in.  The lesson of the day for both food and wine continued: Know your stuff, but trust your instinct.

With juicy little trivia tidbits; such as, “black cardamom seeds are the work-horse of the spice world, much like Cab Franc is the work-horse grape in Bordeaux”, the afternoon session felt like an intimate cooking class with friends.  The lesson learned from this session:  where enjoyment and pleasure are concerned- passion, atmosphere and instinct can create as much of a  memorable evening as a technical pairing; each can elevate a meal by producing a synergetic complement between the food and wine.

Entertaining, educational, exotic and erotic, the “afternoon with Vikram Vij” satisfied every sense.  Dare I say, Peter and Vikram also made a memorable pair.

Post Script: Take Away Quotes from the day:

Vikram: “Thank #&%@ing God the curry tastes different, this curry is not from the same pot!”

Peter: “Turn the brain off, let the tongue do all the work.”

Vikram: “I, as a chef, should know how hot the food should be.”

Peter: “There is a purpose for every wine and every meal – to learn something.”

And that we did!


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