We’ve been in business for over a decade, and have had the pleasure of hosting literally hundreds of winemaker dinners, yet have never once repeated a menu … something many folks find difficult to believe. In reality, it’s not that difficult to do although admittedly it is a bit time consuming. How do we do it? The process has affectionately become known as “carnage.” It usually takes place on a Wednesday afternoon when the restaurant is typically closed but the kitchen staff is in doing prep for the coming weekend. Here’s how it works:
About two-to-three months before a winemaker dinner we’ll get a sample bottle of each of the wines that a particular winery produces. On a Wednesday around noon, Chris will taste each of the bottles, write brief tasting/pairing notes for each, and then put them in a tasting order.
Carnage then begins when the kitchen staff is done with prep. Chris prints up the tasting notes for each wine in the tasting order he thinks is correct (which is not always the way it ends up for the final dinner!) and the chefs prepare a giant platter of food representing as many different flavor profiles as possible. Obviously the food platter is different every time depending upon what’s in season and what’s being served that weekend.
Everyone then sits down at a big table and first tastes through the entire line-up of wines just to get a feel for what’s ahead. Then we go back to the first wine and taste it with what we think are the appropriate flavor profiles represented by the foods available on the platter. (As a side note, many times we’ll wish we had a different flavor profile available and the chef will run back to the kitchen and actually prepare something “on the fly” that’s more appropriate.)
Next, we’ll work through the remaining wines, doing our best to match them with appropriate food pairings as we work through the line-up. We strive to make each menu creative and multi-dimensional … representing vegetarian, seafood, poultry and red meat courses. As a typical winemaker dinner can be anywhere from five-to-seven courses, we also strive to make each course light so the customer leaves pleasantly full but not bloated.
So after we’ve gone through all the wines and decided on what we think are the best general flavors profiles to match with each wine, we then start fine-tuning each course with specific menu preparation ideas. Chris then notes all of the pairings next to each wine and then emails them to the chef at the end of carnage. The chef then fine-tunes these, emails them back to Chris for final tweaking and voila, a menu is born.
The other, and perhaps most important, outcome of carnage is that the process creates an extremely unique menu that is specifically designed to pair with very specific wines. As such, the food is incomplete without the wine, as the wine becomes the “spice box” that makes the food complete. This is the most difficult part of carnage as most chefs want to prepare food that stands alone vs. food that needs wine to be complete. This is just one of the many steps we take to make our menus uniquely wine friendly, and to make a dining experience here unlike any other.
Carnage is a sacred process requiring total concentration. It can be grueling sometimes, taking as long as two-to-three hours per menu. As such, the phones go on answering machine mode, doors are locked, and no one except the kitchen staff is present. Why is it called carnage? Well, if you saw what the table looks like after we’re done (see the photo gallery!), it’s pretty obvious!