menghi speaks 

The Man speaks: wine is food By Chris Woodall The Man has seven restaurants, several of them with his name on them, between here and Vangroovy. Food scribes in the Big City can't seem to complete a column about restauranting or the state of food without either quoting the Man directly or at the least referring to the Man by name just as a reference point. The Man was at one of the two Whistler restaurants that bear his name to watch his captains of the kitchen or of the tables troop their soldiers of fine dining during the Cornucopia winemakers dinner spree last Saturday. In between the cakes and ices, we had a chance to force a crisis and get a few words from the Man — Umberto Menghi — on the meaning of life. "Wine is food," he says. "Obviously they compliment each other. In this new age of people exploring the many combinations of food, it's exciting that there is a new world to try to define the complexity of food and wine and how they challenge each other," Menghi says as servers buzz around us at the kitchen, scooping up plates of apple and raisin Sfogliatina with Moscato cream to complement glasses of Robert Mondavi Muscat Blanco. The normal regulations that dictated, for example, robust foods require robust wines are being thrown out with the scraps as people understand that what used to be defined as "robust" now has to consider the front, middle or back areas of the palate where "robustness" lurks. "It frees your hand to have a larger choice" of what wine to pair with what course, Menghi says. It used to be, for example, that fish always had a white wine beside it. Now we have challenged that stricture with reds that can dance with a fish dish of stronger presence: something blackened with Cajun spicing, for example. You have to find your comfort level with taste combinations, Menghi says. Wine should never be thought of something that is simply a drink that happens to consumed when you eat, but that it is a food that is at the table to challenge the other foods before you. "The approach is you have to be comfortable with your choices," Menghi says. "But the exploration happens with tasting constantly." And wine aside, "stimulating a dish is another challenge on its own," Menghi says. "Wine helps to find that taste stimulation, it gives food the energy to go on to other stimulations." Searching for these stimulations is not mere whimsy, but what makes us feel good or bad, the master restaurateur says. "Because of that, it requires that we match everything." Sometimes with spectacular results. There is a story Menghi tells of a lady who burst out with an exclamation of joy after first trying something he had cooked. "So I say to her: Are you having an orgasm? And she says: Yes, how did you know?" Menghi says, a wicked smile playing across his face. There's not a chef on this planet who would not love to meet a challenge to create food with that effect. "It's so exciting that it's scary," the Man says.


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