Wine and Food by Kate Lamont – a culinary classic »

A 'cookbook' that solves the wine and food matching conundrum

By Robyn Lewis
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Wine and Food by Kate Lamont

Wine and Food by Kate Lamont

 

It’s not surprising that successful restaurateur, winemaker, Australian tourism authority and cookbook author Kate Lamont is the person to turn a recipe book on its head, or that this review is appearing in our wine section.

‘How obvious, and how overdue’ were my initial reactions to Wine and Food, published late in 2009 – the sign of hitting the mark, and finding a void in the already crowded cookbook market, where the bookstore shelves (both real and virtual) see many new titles added each month, some of which find their way to the remainder list very quickly. 

Lamont’s unique approach is to put the wine first, and then to guide your food selection around that special bottle or variety (or your – or a guest’s – particular vinous likes or dislikes). Not for Wine and Food the classic arrangement of recipes by courses, or even by type of occasion, but by style of wine. Is that a hurrah from wine (and food) lovers everywhere? We might even try it the next time we go to a restaurant; pick the wine first, then select the food according to what we want to drink. When you think about it we’ve been doing this with better quality BYO wine for years.

It certainly helps that Lamont comes from a winemaking family in Western Australia’s Swan Valley, and that she has three successful drawcard restaurants to her name (literally), in Cottesloe, East Perth and Margaret River. She is also the author of several successful cookbooks, including Family, Food & Friends and Celebrating.

As those who have had the good fortune to dine in any of her restaurants will testify, Lamont’s food is memorable – because she focuses on the entire experience (including the wine, the service and ambience) – hers is not a signature dish triumph alone. Indeed she says ‘my greatest pleasure as a chef is knowing that guests have enjoyed the entire food and wine experience rather than leaving with the memory of a particular wine or individual dish’.

In Wine and Food Lamont says ‘thankfully we have moved on from white wine/white meat and red wine/red meat as our guideline and are beginning to revel in the accessibility of fresh ingredients, (and) the abundance of passionate information about how to cook simply and effectively everyday’.

However I think Wine and Food goes much further than that – our food markets have offered a vast choice of fresh and formerly exotic ingredients for some years now, and seasonal cooking has already risen again from the not-so-distant past, if indeed it was ever really forgotten.

We’ve also had a decade or more of advice on matching weights of wine and food  – I think we’ve got light with light, heavy with heavy by now. Wine and Food is about matching flavours, which is after all what goes on in our mouths and fires up our brain cells when we eat and drink.

But surely, with so many food and wine flavours to match, there could be a billion possible taste combinations, like those in an iPhone app that spins the options like a demented poker machine? How to sort these out, or indeed apply the advice on the back labels of some wines that recommend with great authority and specificity (some would say presumption) to ‘drink with roast quail in five spices and a Vietnamese dipping sauce’ (which may well be a perfect match, but what if you don’t have quail at hand, or prefer fish?)

The answer can be found here. As its title suggests, Wine and Food provides guidance through the wine and food matching conundrum. Lamont says ‘it’s all about the ‘weight’ or intensity of flavour in the food and how that combines with the flavour of the wine. If either dominates, the experience will be less satisfying’.

Some marriages are made in heaven, others are doomed to the ‘do not repeat’ pile.

Unless you have a large home cellar indeed, it would be nearly impossible to have sufficient wines on hand to perfectly match your wine selection to the dish du jour, if you put the finished dish first. But if you first think of the wine, and then what you want to eat – and more specifically, how best to cook it to match the wine, then it becomes much, much easier.

‘There are really just two basic ways to alter the intensity of flavour of any dish. One is the method of cooking, the other is the combination of ingredients’ – Lamont is not a chef who conceals her techniques, or her philosophy.

Think whole roast chicken versus poached chicken breasts:  the flavours are different, and to get the best from each dish, call for different wines. Now add herbs, garlic, some dried porcini and a robust extra-virgin olive oil to the roast, and some mango and mint salsa to the breasts – the flavours, weights, colours and textures now diverge further. One suggests cool-climate shiraz or another spicy red, the other a riesling.

‘By understanding how to think about flavour and intensity in food you can make every dining opportunity more satisfying and glean greater enjoyment and value from your wine purchases’ says Lamont, and I agree 100%. So this is not cooking for vin ordinaire – match that with the weekend pizza or spag bol – but nor is it inaccessible cuisine for the home cook or chef, who as well as producing a meal has to entertain his or her guests and perhaps be mindful of the aftermath created in the kitchen as well.

‘When preparing food to serve with a specific wine by either variety or age you may already have an idea of the wine’s intensity of flavour’ (this certainly helps). ‘A rich, butter chardonnay would probably demand sturdy, densely flavoured food just as a young, peppery shiraz would match a marinated barbecued lamb cutlet as opposed to a piece of grilled snapper.’ You can even get more from a $10 wine special by following this advice: cheaper wines usually have less complexity of flavours, so don’t overly complicate the food to go with it – stir-fries and other ‘short-order’ dishes spring to mind, and won’t make the wine taste less than it is.

Lamont’s recipes are based on the best-loved from her restaurants. Chapters are arranged according to wine flavours and textures, commencing with Champagne – ‘all about celebration, flavour and taste’ – specifically to Lamont ‘the real stuff’ with its greater length of flavour and complexity.

She advises that food to go with Champagne needs to be ‘elegant, tasty, bold, fresh, clean and above all simple’ and recipes include tuna carpaccio, oysters with pancetta and kaffir lime and sugar-cured beef, some vegetarian options including pumpkin pithiviers with toasted walnuts and watermelon with Persian feta and butter-fried sage (also suited to a good Australian sparkling red), through to poached pork cheek with tuna mayonnaise.

Then onto lighter whites, ‘lively, sassy and perfectly suited to the tastes of summer’, including aromatic unoaked or lightly oaked whites like riesling, semillon, sauvignon blanc, SSB blends, viognier and pinots gris and grigio. ‘With lively, zesty acidity, beautiful fruit aromas, sassy palate flavours and punchy clean aftertaste they cry out for ... seafood, salad and barbecues’, and a light hand with the seasonings. Crab with green peas, whiting with saffron batter and shaved fennel salad, artichoke and potato pave – mouth-watering! The seared scallop with ratatouille could equally find a place in the robust whites that follow, being suited for an aged riesling redolent with honey and rich, toasty flavours.

Robust whites such as barrel-fermented or barrel-matured chardonnays, Hunter semillons and aged rieslings demand more robust food, intensely crafted with lots of flavour – and made with love and passion to bring out the intensity – for a great dining experience. Grilled swordfish with candied lemon, roasted turkey breast with green olive and artichoke salad, yabby with smoked trout and fried dill pasta, butter poached lobster with shiitake reduction, this is summer dining at its most sublime. Again, vegetarian options are a highlight.

And thus to lighter reds: their weight, and ‘their spiciness, ripeness and juiciness suit our lifestyle’, and the Australian climate. Let no-one say you can't drink red wine in summer, especially in the evening. Included in the lineup along with the obvious pinot noir are sangiovese, tempranillo, GSM blends and shiraz-viognier, which can all match ‘the way we like to eat in terms of simple, fresh and increasingly regional food.’ Perhaps no grape variety expresses more about its region than pinot noir.

Sauces can add an extra dimension to a dish to make it more suited to a red, as can the addition of spices to increase its power.

Fish and seafood
from barbecued squid with anchovy crumb, sardine tapenade and salmon en croute through to crisped pork belly with apple and muscatels and lamb cutlets with caramelized pumpkin provide a versatile menu which can be upped to match heaver reds, or scaled back for robust  whites using a lighter touch.

I’m sure you’re getting Lamont’s approach, as well as seeing why you need to book ahead for a table at her restaurants. But you can try this at home, all of it. Every recipe is set out simply and clearly, with a photo of the finished product for guidance, should you need any.

The same goes for the chapter on robust reds, which say winter all over, featuring the iconic red wines of Australia – big, ripe, intense, oak-integrated, often well-aged – our shirazes and cabernet sauvignons. Save these up for a rainy afternoon and a long, dark evening with great food and conversations around the fire: try Lamont’s hand-cut pasta with lamb neck braise, beef cheek with salsa verde, rib eye with prosciutto, red wine and prunes through to wild mushroom tart. Bring on winter.

But one of the best chapters is kept until last – dessert wines. Matching sweet wines to sweet foods is trickier than one might imagine; you don’t want the wine excessively sweeter than the dessert, or indeed more (or less) fruity. It’s made much harder if you only have the wine’s back label to rely on. So unless you’ve tried the wine before, err on the side of sugary caution: less can be more, and Lamont offers good advice on this subject also.

From what to cook to go with a tawny port (vanilla sponge with soft cocoa centre), botrytis semillon (treacle cigars), French sauternes (pear pie with walnut pastry) and Australia’s famed liqueur muscat (here you can go into sugary overload with Turkish delight meringue) and more, it is really in this chapter that you truly see Lamont’s principles at work.

Get this and much of the mystery of wine and food matching will evaporate, and you’ll be matching with greater confidence.

Wine and Food ends with some suggested menus for seasonal occasions, a drinks party and a ‘serious’ celebration, followed by some basics including a very handy quick rough puff pastry, some tapenades and grissini. The evocative photography by acclaimed photographer Frances Andrijich adds rather than subtracts – no family photos for the sake of them here – her people shots are used like good seasonings, to enhance, tell a story and create an atmosphere, not to overwhelm. No surprise that she also specialises in vineyard photography. This is her eighth book.

A friend recently asked me why she should ever purchase another cookbook ‘when I can download any recipe I want from the internet for free?’ Well, apart from the inspiration, dreams and ideas provided by the books of today’s new wave of chefs and cooks, those such as Wine and Food that provide one answer – to guide us to different ways of thinking about and enjoying food with wine, with the end result being more satisfying experiences, for you and your guests alike. Download all the recipes you want, but use the principles contained in Wine and Food as your basic guide to select them.

Wine and Food should become an Australian culinary classic, and congratulations also to the publishers and everyone involved. Although almost totally a Western Australian production, it is not a book of its region, but speaks to everyone who loves wine and food in Australia, and beyond.

Life used to be too short to drink bad wine – now it’s too short to waste good wines on bad food matches.


Wine and Food by Kate Lamont with photography by Frances Andrijich is published by the University of Western Australia UWA Publishing (hb, 2009; 233 pp, RRP A$55), and is available from good bookstores nationally. You may also find it via Booko.com.au

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