Last night we were fortunate enough to attend “Mouton Noir Makes, The Junction Takes…A Wine Evening with Andre Hueston Mack” at the Junction Restaurant in The River Arts District of Asheville. Readers of this blog know that everyone at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast is a big fan of the Junction. Last night’s dinner was an shining example of why.
At the Junction they don’t just serve interesting and delicious food. They approach the development of their dishes with intelligence and purpose. This was most clear at last night’s dinner. Now usually when someone starts out talking about wine as being “transparent and honest” my baloney meter goes off. But last night the speaker was Andre Hueston Mack, winner of the Best Young Sommelier Award from Chaine des Rotisseurs and sommelier for Thomas Keller at both the French Laundry and Keller’s New York Restaurant, Per Se. He now produces his own line of wines, largely from Oregon under the Mouton Noir Label. It would be hard to find someone with better credentials to create a wine pairing dinner than Andre Mack.
This is how someone who knows food talks about food and wine. Andre Mack calls the wines at last night’s dinner “food friendly”. They all have an acid component to them because, as good cooks know, acid gives pop to flavor. It’s an amplifier so a wine with acid notes will complement the food. They are low alcohol wines. Alcohol in wine is what gives it body. High alcohol wines will overpower the food. Mack talked about wines with a philosophy that is developed and sustainable. He talked about food and wine together as two parts of a whole. The menu was collaborative: the wine was not chosen and then the food paired to it, and the menu was not developed and the wine picked to go with it. The meal came together organically, as a whole.
Not every chef could do this. But David Van Tassel, Executive Chef at the Junction, can (and did!). David is an Asheville native who knows food intimately from farm to table. His career path moved from farmer to seller of produce at a natural foods store, and from food purveyor to chef. But David’s palate and imagination is not limited to the produce of North Carolina. His dishes include sophisticated elements from the most elevated of cuisines: foie gras, game, and truffles are among the ingredients that find their way into his food next to root vegetables, local cheese, grains and greens. We asked him about his cold smoked oyster with red pepper spread on a sourdough cracker and he told us that he had some sourdough starter that had died and he was looking for something to do with it when he thought of making the cracker. Once he had the cracker he said, “early this afternoon I shucked those oysters, gave them a half hour brine and put them in the smoker”. We asked him about the elk and the white truffle and he went to the kitchen and brought out a bowl of black truffles as well as a bowl of white truffles. His enthusiasm and passion is reflected in his statement that he would never put a regular menu item on the menu for this dinner as this is an opportunity to grow.
This is what we had for dinner:
A salad of warm pear cider glazed roots, served over lettuce with Carolina Moon Camembert style cheese pressed with sunflowers and Poppy-Pedro Xi vinaigrette. Wine: O.P.P Pinot Gris
Cold Smoked Oyster with Red Pepper Spread on a Sourdough Cracker and a Jarret bay Raw Oyster with Melon Mignonette. Wine: Knock on Wood Stainless Chardonnay
Cornflake Crisped Veal Sweet Breads and Red Onion Marmalade served on a bed of Arugula. Wine: O.P.P. Pinot Noir
Marinated Elk, Farro Wheat Berry Pilaf, White Truffle, Mustard Greens and Demi Glace. Wine: Horseshoes and Handgrenades Red Blend
A “Twinkie”: sponge cake filled with Mascarpone and Sugar Cured Foie Gras, Strawberry Syrup, Freeze-dried Strawberries and Kiwi wedge. Wine: Love Drunk Rose.
I consider myself lucky to live in Asheville and lucky to have found the Junction!