Entries might be closed now for this year’s Gosset Matchmakers competition. But we decided to ask the judges what they look for when it comes to a chef/somm partnership.
Obviously, if you’re one of this year’s contestants this is a must-read, to give you an early steer on what the judges are – and aren’t – looking for.
But even if you’re not entering the competition, there’s some great advice from seriously experienced and talented people on the subject of competition strategy, presentation skills and champagne and food matching.
Mathieu Longuere MS, Wine Development Manager, Cordon Bleu
As a long-time Matchmaker’s judge, what’s your number one advice for competitors?
It’s important that they’ve worked as a team. To show that they’ve done a bit of research, but without creating anything gimmicky. A well thought-out match, rather than a statement dish.
What do you look for in the food?
We like to see something that’s well made with fresh ingredients and that’s made on the spot, rather than people arriving with dozens of pre-made components. Seasonal is important – and I like to see that they don’t waste too much.
How should they create the match?
Because it’s the Gosset Matchmakers competition, you should start with the wine – look at its flavour profile and try to create food to match that, rather than vice versa. They should have a good rationale about why they have paired the wine and the dish. Ideally when you do a matching like this, run it past as many of your colleagues as possible. The more input the better. A new perspective is always welcome.
How about presenting to the judges?
We need to feel that they have been working together; that it’s not just one person monopolising the presentation. Why not get the sommelier to talk about the food and the chef to talk about the wine from their perspective? It would prove they’ve been working together.
How do you see the Mystery Box round?
To me, it’s really important because it shows what people can do. They can’t just present a famous chef’s dish that they make every week. All the ingredients are raw, and they have to think on their feet.
Is there anything you think they should beware of?
If you’re in this industry you’re trying to ensure that people have a good time with good food and good wine. It’s not about theatre. I find it irritating to be presented with a bonus mise en bouche or have people telling me I have to eat something in a certain way. Don’t waste your time.
Laetizia Keating, chef, The Pem
As a chef, what do you think marks out a great entry?
A solid foundation for cooking is essential; being able to display impeccable technique in executing your own menu will set any competitor above the rest. I’m looking for thought-provoking bravery. Unpredictable and unconventional, not for the sake of being different but because the teams nail the brief in a boundary-pushing kind of way.
Is it more about the food or the wine?
I really enjoy when I get together with James (Pem sommelier), choose a wine, and work ‘backwards’ to create a dish. I don’t think it’s more about the one or the other when it is indeed a true pairing. If the team works well together both components will be showcased at their fullest potential.
How about the presentation to the judges?
I would expect that both team members fully understand the pairing and have immersed themselves in each other’s field relative to the competition, so that if I were to ask the chef about the contents of the glass they would be able to elaborate confidently, and vice versa.
How do you see the Mystery Box round?
It’s exciting and fun, however I wouldn’t put much emphasis on it as it’s not the way we generally create dishes and pairings in restaurants. I’d be a bit more forgiving if things don’t go their way out of the mystery box.
Any final advice for the competitors?
Don’t try anything new! Competition is not the time to be experimenting, maximise the tools and the knowledge that you already have. Also, taste absolutely everything.
Odilon de Varine, Cellar Master, Champagne Gosset
Do you have any advice on how to approach matching with Grande Reserve?
There are different ways of matching. You can hide one element or another, or you can try and discover new aromas by using what’s in the wine – it could be saltiness or freshness or vinosity. It will depend on the food you have.
Is there anything the contestants shouldn’t try?
I’m happy for people to be experimental, but they should probably avoid very spicy things, or things like asparagus, artichoke and vinaigrette. People used to say that champagne doesn’t go with red meat, but we’ve proven a number of times that it depends on the meat, the sauce, the way you cook it, rather than the wine itself.
Do you have any good starting points for the competitors?
It can be interesting to match with dishes where you have ‘surf and turf’ on the same plate. You have red grapes, giving richness, and then white grapes bringing that slight iodine character. The wine can link with the two things in the dish.
Have you tried any successful left-field matches?
We recently had a tasting of a blanc de blancs with Peruvian chocolate with a low proportion of cacao. It was a match of light, flowery delicate aromas – very different experience than matching with port, but thanks to the acidity and the touch of saltiness it worked very well.
As for savoury matches, one of my best memories is having Grande Reserve with Chinese pork with cashew nuts. The bubbles are refreshing, while allowing you to get a good taste of each element of the dish. It turns the volume down on ‘loud’ flavours.
Any final advice for the contestants?
There are lots of elements for competitors to explore in champagne: the richness of Pinot, the creamy brioche notes of the lees, the zest of Chardonnay, the brightness of the acidity. But remember that the wine is not just there to freshen up the food. It needs to retain an element of its personality.