Canadian François Chartier wears many hats – sommelier, chef, vintner and wine merchant. When I met him at Wynn Palace in Macau, he was the flavour expert presenting “The Art and Science of Food, Wine and Flavour” to over 100 sommeliers, chefs and media.
His food and wine pairing concept amounts to aromatic scientific synergy. Each ingredient has a dominant aroma molecule, and by combining ingredients that share the same molecule, the result is greater than the sum of its parts, with the pairing enhanced greatly. Chartier illustrated this by showing us spider maps of different food and beverages that share the same molecule. All we need to do is get creative and pick ingredients from the same map in order to work pairing wonders.
Sotolon is the molecule shared by smoked pu’er tea, soy sauce and 10-year-old Sauternes (a sweet wine), amongst others. Chartier swore that poached salmon in smoked pu’er tea drizzled with soy sauce and served with Sauternes would be a heavenly match. Similarly, roasted lamb with mint and parsley on root vegetables would be perfect with a Pouilly-Fumé (Sauvignon Blanc from Loire, France) because mint, parsley, root vegetables and Sauvignon Blanc all share the same anise molecule. However the same roasted lamb with lots of rosemary should be paired with a Riesling, regardless if it is dry or sweet, because the common aroma compound of rosemary and Riesling is terpenes. The list goes on…
Armed with this concept, Chartier worked with Ferran Adrià, the head chef of the renowned elBulli restaurant (now closed) in Spain, and designed a sushi made up of black olive paste, black pepper water and puffed wild rice wrapped in smoked nori to match with a Syrah. He also created a series of chocolate for French brand Cacao Barry to match with different wines. One of Chartier’s latest projects is a revolutionary sake blend at Tanaka Sake Brewery in Japan (traditional sake is not blended). He is planning to return to Wynn Macau in a few months to present his sake creation – stay tuned!
After the masterclass, Chartier curated a gala dinner showcasing seven dishes paired with seven wines and a tea. Some of the dishes – like the oyster poached in liquorice water, the couscous of Brazil nuts and mandarin and the chocolate dome Tournedos Rossini style with foie gras – were so creative that they prompted a fair bit of discussion amongst guests.
Sommeliers and chefs are familiar with the flavour pairing concept, but Chartier explained the science behind it. It opens up the pairing world for us to combine seemingly unrelated ingredients that taste delicious together – such as the roasted green asparagus and dark chocolate paired with a typical Napa Cabernet Sauvignon that we sampled at the end of the masterclass.
Having said that, I think we have to be careful not to be too showy with consumers. Imagine the reaction of a table of diners when a sommelier explains that they have to order a Sauvignon Blanc with their roasted lamb dish because of the magical anise molecule. Wine is complicated enough for the average consumer, and to impose the scientific reasoning behind it may just completely put them off wine altogether. Sommeliers and chefs should use this tool behind the scenes to provide enjoyable but stress-free dining experiences for guests.
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