A few years ago I remember sitting down with Chef Kelly English, Jeffrey Frisby (GM/Wine Manager of Iris), & Elizabeth Mall (CSW at Delta Wholesale). Before Kelly & Restaurant Iris worked so hard to win such acclaim & well deserved accolades there was just the four of us tasting through an impressive lineup of wines. One of the standouts was from a small family owned winery in Newberg, Oregon. As we all sipped the Lachini Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir 2005 each of our eyes lit up & smiles spread across our faces. This wine was truly astonishing. The earthy tones, dark fruit, hedonistic yet elegant texture, & haunting sensuality. All four of us were changed after sipping what was in our glass. Shortly thereafter Ron Lachini came into town & Restaurant Iris very first wine dinner ever was to be with Ron. Unfortunately they didn't get their occupancy license yet so the dinner had to be switched to another restaurant.
Flash forward to last Friday when we all had a trip down memory lane with Lachini Vineyards.
Both Chef Kelly English & Jeff Frisby spoke to their love of Ron's wines & how that first sip stuck with them. Ever since they opened the doors Ron's wines have been on their list. Now they finally had a chance to show Ron how talented they were. Chef English's menu was absolutely perfect up against the gorgeous pinot noirs. The lucky 21 people in the room got a rare retrospective of 2005-2009 vintages along with a sampling of his Washington State projects La Bestia & Spur.
As we sipped we all engaged with one another & commented on each wine. Each glorious bite of food & each mouthful of elegant pinot was met with more oohs & aaahs & eyes rolling back into heads.
Ron is a very cool guy whose passion about his wine is infectious. When he got up to address the room he had everyone's undivided attention. We all wanted to hear from the man whose wine's we had fallen for.
Thankfully he didn't talk too long because I really wanted to dig into this alongside his 2010 Pinot Noir Port.
The rich creamy dark chocolate brownie with maple bacon....yes I said maple bacon...ice cream & caramel. Oh my god. With a sip of the Pinot Port it was absolute heaven. I ran a finger through the melted ice cream after all was said & done. It was pure delicious gluttony at its best.
Thank you Restaurant Iris for the unbelievable meal. Thank you Jeff for the incredible service. Thank you Ron Lachini for the absolutely gorgeous wines.
This past Wednesday two outstanding Oregon wineries, Elk Cove Vineyards & Lachini Vineyards, squared off in a head to head battle for Pinot Domination!.....ok not really but it sounds so fun that way. Chef Patrick Reilly prepared a stellar menu to pair with these delicious wines. It was obvious from the first bite that Patrick thought about each & every layer of flavor to match up & elevate each wine.
From Lachini Vineyards we sampled:
Rose of Pinot Noir
Estate Pinot Noir 2009
"S" Pinot Noir 2010
& Ron Lachini even brought some secret treats such as his La Bestia Cabernet Sauvignon, Cuvee Giselle Pinot Noir & Pinot Noir Port. A stunning lineup.
Todd Stewart from Elk Cove poured:
Willamette Valley designate Pinot Noir
Mount Richmond Pinot Noir
Each of them presented their wines in a way that the diners could understand & be comfortable with. They discussed differences in their vineyards & school of thought when it comes to winemaking. This night was an absolute treat. Thank you Majestic Grille for all your hard work! Thank you Deni Reilly for your love of Oregon wines!
This week was jam packed with dinners, our HUGE Oregon winery showcase tasting & of course Swine & Wine 2012 at Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen. What I've learned from this week is that I do still have the stamina of a 20 something & that Memphis is thirsty for good wine especially from the Northwest. Memphis is my home & my home is a delicious city filled with lovers of good food & great wine. We may not be flashy like Nashville & we may not have the same level of mainstream media support, which quite frankly is inexcusable for a city of our size. Food sections in other cities, such as Charleston, are well put together, professional & coveted. What we have needs work. Regardless of that we are making amazing things happen here. Next year I expect more support & I expect a city wide Oregon Wine Week culminating in a huge tasting event. Memphis is in for a treat!
This morning I got to work at 7:30 a.m. to a box full of puppies that had been dropped at the back door like trash. My heart broke into a million pieces as I stared down into a cardboard box filled with 7 sweet fuzzy faces.
The person who left them to freeze & starve in our parking lot is obviously a sub human. Actually much much worse than that. If there is a hell there is a special place for this person. My co-worker & I sprang into action. He ran across the street to get food & I sent emails, tweeted, posted to FaceBook & hoped & prayed that someone would respond.
I held each one & whispered to them that everything was going to be ok. I kissed them on top of their sweet little heads.
Their sweet puppy fragrance was intoxicating & it truly took every fiber of my being not to take them or at least one of them home with me. But we have 3 dogs already & I knew Kelly would kill me if I brought another home.
Almost immediately phone calls & emails started coming in. One by one homes were found for each of them. Every time a puppy left I had to choke back tears. This is why I love Memphis. People have big warm hearts here & they open their homes to creatures in need that have been so horribly mistreated.
My faith in humanity was severely shaken before I even had a sip of coffee this morning. By 2 p.m. it was restored & stronger than ever.
One of the guys who took 2 of the pups texted me this: "Hey, it's Alex. My parents are going to adopt both dogs. They named them Laverne & Shirley". These puppies hit the lottery.
Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen was the final stop for the judge crew. We began with Kelly English & ended with Andy & Michael. This amazing experience was bookended by our hometown boys. I was electrified with pork & pride by the time we got to AMIK. Regardless of how proud I was of all three of them I still kept in mind that I was there to do a job & be an unbiased judge. Honestly it wasn't difficult to be unbiased. Every chef there brought their A game & produced piggy dishes that were insanely delicious. But I digress.
The look & design of the menu itself was super cool & practically jumped off the table. It popped. As we judges gathered around the tables the chefs & sous chefs were finishing off our plates. There was this beautiful creative energy that was palpable & almost intoxicating. The plates themselves were works of art.
Everything they put out was outstanding but for me the spiedino & the chocolate blood torte were some of the best bites of the day. The spiedino was rich, succulent, savory & earthy. The torte had the mysterious mineral note that came from the blood which really worked well against the bittersweet lusciousness of the chocolate. I was blown away by this entire experience. Cheers to all the chefs who competed! But a special shout out goes to Andy & Michael & Kelly English. You all did Memphis so proud!
Kevin Nashan & his Sidney Street Cafe crew threw out an amazing plate full of pig. I loved the scrambled egg mousse & I gotta say that the Memphis nod with the "Elvis" was absolutely delicious & gave me a little home turf pride.
Up next was Lee Richardson with Ashley's at the Capital Hotel in Little Rock. I imagine there was a bit of a friendly rivalry between Chef Kelly English & Chef Lee Richardson since they used to work together years ago. However, both chefs seemed too focused on their dishes to really give any play to that possible rivalry. I have to hand it to Chef Richardson for his mortadella stuffed in a pig head.
As we continued on we began to see that each chef was operating on very different wavelengths. Yes there was pork belly, trotters & ears, even blood but each chef produced distinctively different dishes.
Chef Chris Hastings of Hot & Hot Fish Club in Birmingham had somewhat of an Asian style going but with somewhat of a Spanish-French infusion. I flipped over the heart crudo. So creamy, lush & supple but with a brightness from the capers. The blood sausage was absolutely to die for. It had a beautiful mineral earthiness & reminded me of my grandmother's cooking.
When I first heard that Cochon 555 was coming to Memphis it was on the down low. I was told "whatever you do DO NOT TELL ANYONE". At least until the official announcement. I will say that usually I have absolutely no self control when it comes to situations like this. However, this time was quite different. Cochon 555 coming to Memphis was, the way I saw it, a high profile spotlight illuminating the world-class food scene we have here. I didn't want to do anything to screw that up so I kept my mouth shut. Well....I kept my mouth shut until I got to Cochon 555 & stuffed it full of pork! Much to my surprise I got the overwhelmingly cool honor of being one of the judges. At 3:40 p.m. this Saturday I arrived at The Columns & walked into what is sure to go down in history as the most amazing food event in Memphis history.
I wandered around & talked with a few chefs, fellow judges & friends. The space was absolutely gorgeous. I think it was a perfect location for it because it underscores our attempts at adaptive reuse here in Memphis. The time came for us to gather for a judges meeting with Brady Lowe, founder of Cochon. He gave us a run down of what to expect, how to go about the judging process & what he expected from us. Off we went to see the first chef.
Chef Kelly English & his Restaurant Iris team had a lovely little cocktail awaiting us. Cracklin skewered Luxardo cherries garnishing a bacon infused manhattan. Ab-so-lutely delicious. He presented his food, what he was trying to accomplish & his thought process behind the theme.
The basket presentation was whimsical but not silly. It worked quite well with the "takeout" theme. After a sip of the manhattan I was ready to dig in. The first plate was box of cold noodles (some made of fat back) pork shoulder & chilled pork belly. Normally I've only had pork belly hot so this was unique for me. Each layer of meat & fat was so distinctive of each other. It was crisp & super rich & succulent. I loved the juxtaposition of the fresh crisp greens against the tongue/cheek pate like schweinkampf crostini. Texture is always something I find to be of the utmost importance. Chef Kelly's next dish was a reference to our beloved Grizzlies: Heart, Grit & Grind. The grits were super creamy but still toothsome from being stone ground. I was really pleased to see such utilization in Kelly's dishes. From the hearts in the ragu over the grits to the blood in the ganache on his eclairs. It all worked.
This has to be the most unique menu presentation I've ever seen. It's attached to a pig skin backing using barbed wire. That is beautiful & yet another utilization of the pig. Chef Kevin Nashan looked like a pretty cool, laid back guy but it was obvious from the plate that he was passionate about pig. With a little bit of whimsy thrown in.