My Last Meal - Food and Drink Pairings
What would your food and drink pairings be for your last meal?
Dubai’s FooDiva asked The Tasting Class’ CEO, Lindsay Trivers, to describe her ultimate food and drink pairings. The results will shock even the most liberal sommeliers around the world
Food shapes us; what we eat growing up can turn nostalgic, or become the stuff of nightmares – like a friend of mine who has been known to moan the words “Shepherd’s Pie” in terror at night. I myself grew up in a small town in Canada where the food influences were mainly Irish, English and Scottish. Translated, this means everything was roasted, or strategically boiled, and foreign food, with the exception of some house-sized lasagne and complimentary garlic bread was in short supply. Asian food, in particular, became the stuff of legend, except for a couple of Chinese restaurants, which in hindsight feel like they’d lost their way a bit, though did leave me with the occasional craving for a doughnut-coated ball of chicken served in neon orange corn syrup. After this bumpy start, however, I eventually went a little crazy for anything exotic, untasted and previously unavailable, culminating in years of travelling and working abroad, which made the idea of what would feature in my last meal really challenging. After much thought, though, here are my final and honest selections. Thanks, FooDiva for the opportunity, sorry this was too long to include!!
Round 1 – Buffalo Hot Wings and…Beer!
Cheating perhaps, but while waiting in the bar for my table to be ready, I want some proper North American comfort food – specifically Buffalo hot wings. I still remember my first taste – President’s Choice brand, ready seasoned and available in the freezer section of our local Jones’ Value Mart. Ever the master, my dad cooked them over an open fire and I gobbled them up at lightning speed, experiencing that chilli burn for the first time and craving it again a moment later. Nowadays, I prefer them un-battered and served in the most Canadian way possible, a method known as Franky butters. First, the chef deep-fries the wing until the skin is crispy and the flesh tender and juicy, then they drop them in a bowl alongside a generous helping of Frank’s hot sauce and a knob of butter. The heat of the wings melts the butter leaving you with an irresistible morsel of tasty, buttery, spicy loveliness. As for the sauce, it’s always about balance and getting the most from the dopamine and endorphin hit – the same chemicals that give our brain its sense of reward – released by Capsaicin, the compound that makes peppers hot. For that reason it has to be Frank’s Red Hot Original; heavy on garlic and vinegar, not too hot, peaking at 450 Scoville Heat Units, a little less than Tabasco, and way lower than their specialist wing sauce which offers up an 1800 SHU kick. Frank’s Original Red Hot is also the original Buffalo wing sauce, used by its inventor when she made the first batch for her son and his friends one night using only what she found in the refrigerator and it’s still something I look for in every grocery store I enter in the UAE – get your act together Carrefour and Spinneys.
What about the food pairing?
There are also two must-have accompaniments to a true Canadian wing experience – blue cheese dressing and ice-cold lager – in this case Alexander Keith’s, a light and crisp Nova Scotian brew drunk best straight from the bottle. Before the craft beer revolution gripped Canada, the domestic beer selection was pretty limited, and at 75 cents more than most others, Keith’s was usually out of reach, or a classy treat. For extra nostalgia, my older cousin Brad, (now a politician on Prince Edward Island) fell so much in love with this top-shelf nectar that he wrote an Irish-sounding folk song about it. When Keith’s heard about this they sent him on a bar tour of Canadian cities, something the family is super proud of, and whenever I drink it I feel like I’m being the best Trivers and the best Canadian that I can be.
Round 2 – Kettle Chips and…Pol Roger Non-Vintage Champagne
As my table is now ready, it’s time for the amuse-bouche – a large bowl of salted Kettle Chips. I’ll admit that this is hardly a classic amuse, but it’s my last meal and I’m going to shoehorn in all of my favourites. I love chips and as a kid my mom actually encouraged me to eat them as she felt they were a healthier option to candy – potatoes are a vegetable, remember – and eating them remains a slow, meaningful, delicate process for me – kind of like crunchy mediation. As for the drink, I’m pairing them with Pol Roger non-vintage Champagne – not just because I can, but because science is on my side. The saltiness of the chips creates the perfect platform to let wine shine, enhancing, softening and smoothing the perception of acid and making it feel thicker, more mellow and more luscious while bringing forward those delicious fruit flavours. Unlike vintage wine which tastes and smells unique due to the individual conditions and weather in which it was grown that year, producers of NV Champagne go to great lengths to achieve the same aroma and flavour profile each year. Even better, the smell of Pol Roger has somehow imprinted on me thanks to one of my earliest jobs; working on a luxury train that threaded its way through the Rockies. One of the best parts of the job was serving trays of it to arriving guests and that smell – freshly baked oatmeal cookies combined with bread and apple aromas – remains one of my favourites, second only to the smell of my baby daughter’s head.
Round 3 – Vietnamese Pho and…Australian Clare Valley Riesling
For my entrée, it has to be a bowl of spicy Vietnamese Pho. I was in my early 20’s when I visited Vietnam and it seemed like I was destined to hate the place, thanks to a knock-out combo of culture shock, jet lag and clinging for dear life to a guy on a motorbike while trying not to scream as the exhaust burned my leg – something the locals affectionately call a Saigon tattoo. After a night in a room where I learned that AC was not going to happen for me and I had better get used to it, I wandered into a little restaurant with long wooden tables and plastic garden stools and got my first taste of Pho; a heaving bowl of rice noodle soup, topped with sliced beef and heaps of chilli, lime and green and purple herbs, making even second-degree calf burn a thing of little importance. That bowl of Pho was served with a 1 AED cold beer, but for this meal, I want a glass of every sommelier’s favourite wine, Riesling – a wine that works brilliantly with Asian food. Its high acidity matches the squeeze of lime found in a good Pho (and for me the limier the better), while its lower alcohol compliments rather than intensifies the heat. Specifically, it would be a glass of Australian Clare Valley Riesling, which shows its character early and possesses a faint yet thoroughly distinctive petrol smell in the best possible way.
Round 4 – Korean BBQ and………Hite
With every drop of Pho and a fair amount of riesling down, it’s time for the main course – Korean barbeque. I have a long and loving relationship with this food of the soul. To my surprise, the man of my dreams turned out to be an unemployed New Zealand snowboard bum who wooed me with his knowledge of the Korean language. I now know that his mastery is limited to two phrases – ‘Hello, Korean people’ and ‘Old man, bring me kimchi and lettuce,’ but despite the instant acceptance we felt in restaurants after dropping the lingo, I soon learned how much fun Korean barbeque can be; the humming vibes of diners from businessmen to rowdy teens dining side-by-side, along with the smell of sizzling meat as fat meets fire, and super fresh food that’s either served at your table or placed beside it ready to cook yourself. The food itself is also super umami, with a touch of sweetness, accompanied by loads of dipping sauces and pickles that allow you to change it up and raise or lower the spice level as needed. I’m also pretty sure most dishes are cooked with a sprinkle of powdered pork fat which makes it even tastier.
I particularly love the little side dishes that turn up randomly at the start of the meal. As a notoriously fast eater, courtesy of parents who had three kids in four years and kid with about 25 first cousins – believe me, only the strongest get any gravy – these little surprises keep my fidgety hunger monster within at bay, while Korean food also has the perfect spice level, wobbling on a line where I think I can’t take any more but always do. For this reason, I’m again going to make sommeliers around the world wince, by selecting another beer – Hite. Fairly common in Korean restaurants, Hite is super refreshing and basically just water that’s richer and more fun. I’m happy to say the man who started this love affair with Korean food is now my husband and we’ve recently begun introducing our three-year-old daughter to it, and while she has some very fixed views on Kimchi, she is an absolute demon for mung bean pancakes, dumplings and Galbi Gai – beef short rib, sliced thin and marinated in soy, ginger and sesame.
Round 5 – Wine and…Cheese, of Course!
Which brings us finally to dessert, where I will take a cheese board over sweets any day of the week. As this is my last meal, I’m opting for a platter of my favourites, served with the best and most glorious wines I’ve ever paired them with. First up is a simple log of young and creamy goat cheese, paired with an aged Bordeaux Blanc from Pessac-Leognan or Graves. Possessing layers of grassy, barnyard notes, this wine matches perfectly with the yeastiness of the cheese, creating a lovely bridge between both. Next is a Brie du Meaux – if it was good enough for King Louis the XVI, then it’s good enough for me – a creamy, gooey, absolutely delectable slice of egg white, truffle and garlic flavours sealed in a bloomy rind. This cuddles up beautifully to a Chardonnay from Meursault in Burgundy, France – super peachy and where the phrase oaked chardonnay can make many people nervous, in this wine, it’s applied with skill and finesse. Next on the platter is a Cantal; France’s answer to a sharp and robust cheddar. Hailing from the Auvergne region and cheesier than even cheddar, Cantal is crumbly, earthy, strong and sweet, which works wonderfully with a drop of Cabernet from Coonawarra in Australia, a wine once described to me as ‘brown leaves, eucalyptus and perfume. It’s like Dolly Parton walking through a woodland grove – Powerfully feminine with a whole lot of earthy notes.’ With my final meal coming to a close, I’m going to finish it with Sauternes and Stilton. Creamy and funky, yet not medicinal or prickly, Stilton looks like blue-veined marble trailing off into a lingering saltiness. while Sauternes is my all-time favourite dessert wine, vibrant and fruity, that always smells like the top of a Crème Brûlée.
With that, I’m ready to lay down my napkin and wait for the end to come with a smile on my face and a satisfied stomach. Would your last meal include a bottle of Hite, too? What are some of the more unusual food and drink pairings you’d include?