Food and wine matching is the heart of the sommelier’s job; a combination of passion and flair, but also knowledge and experience. This is why the Gosset Matchmakers competition has established itself so quickly in the heart of the profession – because it taps straight into what makes the job both interesting and challenging.
To remind you how it works: a chef/sommelier team select an expression from the Gosset range of champagnes, and work together to create a dish that they think matches it perfectly.
It’s a chance for young chefs and sommeliers – entrants must have less than five years’ experience – to show what they can do. To ally teamwork and vision with creativity and delivering under pressure.
Sifting through the entries was a particular treat this year, since we’d asked the candidates to create short Instagram videos showing what they had done and why. We felt as though we’d got to know the entrants even before we’d tasted their amazing creations!
There was so much skill and talent on show that creating a shortlist was a tough task indeed.
But here are the entrants to make our first ‘cut’, with the finalists due to be announced next week.
Having seen so many wonderful looking food-pairings on screen, we can’t wait to taste them in real life – and we hope you enjoy watching their videos as much as we did!
Gosset Matchmakers Shortlist 2021
(entrants listed in alphabetical order)
67 Pall Mall, London
Lucy Meza-Ortega and Sammy Benouhoud
Chosen Wine: Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs Brut
The team at 67 Pall Mall elected to match the Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs with a dessert containing many of the champagne’s key flavours of citrus and stone-fruit.
‘When we first tasted this champagne we were delighted by its elegance and refinement,’ said sommelier Lucy. ‘We wanted to mirror this through a simple yet effective dish, where balance is key.’
At the base of the dish was a champagne-infused jelly with lime zest and a touch of lavender flower, on top of that a crème patissiere infused with fresh apricot, apricot tartare, robed with honey, apricot and smoked thyme coulis. Finally there was a sprinkling of crumble, also infused with lime zest and smoked thyme.
‘We put together all this to bring out the beautiful flavours of the champagne without hiding them,’ explained Lucy. ‘They really come together to create something that elevates both the dish and the champagne without hiding each other’s components.’
City Social, London
Ljudmila Bobik and Adam Cowie
Chosen Wine: Gosset Grande Reserve Brut
The starting point for this team’s pairing was a simple one: ‘It was inspired by the idea of ‘it goes where it grows’,’ said sommelier Ljudmila. Champagne, as she pointed out, is famous for its rabbit dishes, so that’s what they majored on.
In this case, the rabbit was wrapped in parma ham with new Jersey potatoes, morels, broad beans and peas, finished with a truffle black mushroom puree with pea shoots. An accompanying sauce was made from rabbit bone stock.
‘The rabbit is cooked sous vide so it’s very delicate, and the champagne pairs with it very nicely and brings some more savouriness,’ explained Ljudmila. ‘Also it cuts the richness and toastiness of the parma ham while cleaning the palate. The elegance, freshness and complexity of the champagne is a perfect match.’
The Creameries, Manchester
Emily-Rose Lucas and Vic Watkins
Chosen wine: Gosset Grande Reserve Brut
Both Emily-Rose and her chef, Vic, were of one mind with their choice of matching the Gosset Grande Reserve with a dessert.
‘The sweetness that comes through on it, followed by that very beautiful nutty profile… We found it incredibly appealing to work with,’ said Emily-Rose.
‘As soon as we tried it, we thought it would pair really well with a quite salty or savoury dessert,’ added Vic.
The result was a take on a Gateau Breton: a brown butter biscuit base, on top of which are prunes gently cooked in manzanilla sherry, ice cream made out of a ‘tangy and creamy’ Irish sheep’s cheese with malt loaf biscotti and roasted almonds to give it some rich malty flavour.
Fischer’s Baslow Hall, Chesterfield
Matthew Davison and Adam Eyre
Chosen wine: Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs Brut
The entry from the Peak District designed an ambitious scallop dish that they were hoping would ‘encapsulate the five tastes that you would experience on your palate.’
Looking towards the autumn season, they started with a hand dived-Orkney scallop with nori salt, baked celeriac, fermented ceps from ‘last season’s forage’, XO sauce, umeboshi furikake with more sliced nori on top and a reduced celeriac stock.
‘We are looking more towards autumn with this dish,’ explained sommelier Matthew. ‘But we feel that the fact that Gosset don’t do any malolactic fermentation means the true expression of champagne will shine through and allow it to cut through the natural sweetness of the scallop. It offers toasted and nutty subtleties to complement our dish and create balance.’
The Game Bird at The Stafford, London
Davide Santeramo and Marco d’Andrea
Chosen wine: Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs Brut
Chef Marco created a vibrant green asparagus risotto with a carpaccio of Sicilian red prawns on top of it with crispy onion garnish and artfully positioned blobs of yuzu cream that captured the very essence of early summer.
And it was this joyous, breezy element that formed the basis for the wine matching.
‘I chose the Gosset Blanc de Blancs to go with this because of the elegance and finesse of the wine,’ said sommelier Davide. ‘It should match perfectly with the flavours in the dish. The risotto is made in a light, summery style so the acidity of the champagne will cut through the creaminess and fattiness without being overwhelmed.
‘I also think the citrus notes of the champagne will work well with the red prawn carpaccio placed on top.’
Sketch: Lecture Room & Library, London
Emeline Gigaud and Francesco Di Flumeri
Chosen wine: Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs Brut
Emeline and Francesco created a video that was something of a work of art, featuring the grand arrival of the bottle and ingredients into the venue, and a beautifully-shot preparation and serving of not one, but two dishes – a starter and a dessert – based on the same key ingredients.
‘We started with the concept that champagne and blanc de blancs is always suggested at the beginning of the meal, but never enjoyed with the dessert,’ said Emeline. The idea was to tap into Gosset’s sustainability message by using the same ingredients throughout.
The main course was a ‘trompe l’oeil’ of Granny Smith apple poached in oyster and champagne dressing, scallops coral foam with Gosset blanc de blancs jelly, Granny Smith and samphire salad with apple vinaigrette and breadcrumbs. ‘The dish extends the continuity of the champagne,’ explained Emeline. ‘It’s all about the balance between the delicacy of the creaminess and the twist of the freshness.’
The dessert – Lemon Amalfi confit with vanilla – used the same components but ‘worked in a different way’. ‘This is a contrast pairing,’ said Emeline. ‘Proof that minerality and sweetness are not opposed, but can be complementary.’
Where The Light Gets In, Stockport
Emily Klomp and Seri Nam
Chosen wine: Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs Brut
‘Champagne is usually associated with quite luxurious ingredients,’ said sommelier Emily. ‘So I think what we’ve decided to pair with it is very interesting.’
Certainly, the innovation is to be applauded. This does not look like a dish that would be served in too many restaurants in and around Reims.
‘The delicate flowers on the nose and saline finish took us straight to the beach,’ explained Emily. ‘For the oldest champagne house we created something luxurious but patient and considered at the same time.’
The main ingredient is onion and scallop entrail sauce. ‘We cooked the onion wrapped in kombu and steamed after leaving it to marinate overnight,’ said chef Seri.
The sauce was emulsified with butter, soy and plum wine, before over the top they added a little hawthorn oil, pickled samphire (foraged locally), sea purslane powder, and a touch of maromi ‘a by-product of our bread soy-making process’.
‘The sea herbs bring forward the chalky minerality, and a little plum wine in the sauce heightens those mirabelle plum notes on the nose,’ explained Emily. ‘Seri’s idea to marinate the onions gently in kombu brings out a really delicious savoury, umami note in the wine.’
Want some top starting points on how to match champagne and food? Or how to smash it out the park when it comes to doing it competitively and under pressure, with a glittering prize tantalisingly within your reach?
Of course you do! And we figured there’s no better place to start for either of these points than asking Joshua Castle, the winner – with chef Myles Donaldson – of last year’s Gosset Matchmakers competition.
And with a good few Sommelier Collective members probably considering their entries for this year’s Matchmakers competition right now, the timing could hardly have been better. Lucky coincidence, huh?
So sit back, take a few notes, pop a bottle of Grande Reserve if you have one, and prepare for instant success!
So where do you begin when it comes to matching champagne? With the flavours? The texture? The acidity?
I think you’ve almost got to take one step back away from the food. So in the case of the 2020 Matchmakers Competition first of all I listened to what Gosset had to say about their wine. A lot of champagne and food pairings have been born out of changing styles of champagne, with slightly warmer base vintages, and wider, more gastronomic wines.
But Gosset described their Grande Reserve Brut Rosé as a very ‘winey wine’, which I really agreed with. It wasn’t the richest rosé, but certainly it had this freshness – this gastronomic side. I think understanding the wine is step one.
So you start with the wine. What next?
Next I’d look at the pairing in general and see how the food might link in with it. So acid, tannin – in a rosé at least there might be some of that, dryness, autolytic character, aromatics. How does all that translate onto the palate and how does it combine as a texture? Then you can think about ingredients that will interplay really nicely with those.
But you can also go one step beyond that and think ‘how would I put this dish in a dining setting? Is it an aperitif-type a dish, and is the wine an aperitif wine?’
What’s the hardest element when you’re matching with champagne?
Champagne is such a cool thing to pair. It can be a really intelligent thing to use in the right context. It’s true that you’re contending with high acidities, but the thing that is most tricky to me is allowing the delicacy of the champagne to not be overpowered by a dish.
Sure the flavours can be very concentrated in high quality champagne – and they certainly are in Champagne Gosset. But there’s also very delicate parts of it. There has to be room on the stage for the Champagne.
Your dish was ‘calves’ brains seared in brown butter, with Lardo di Colonnata, Kentish Cob Nuts, Champagne vinegar and watermelon radish’. How did you come up with that?
I’d been doing a bit of research into German wine that week and I’d been coming across all these amazing old venues from ships and hotels in New York at a time when German wine was as expensive as Chateau Margaux. One of the recipes was for larded sweetbreads.
Basically the idea is to combine sweetbreads or offal – so not a particularly fatty cut – with lard, so you’re basically substituting the lack of fat in the cut. Lardo di Colonnata is basically pork fat aged in these marble sarcophagi, and it develops this amazing nutty earthy flavour. It goes sort of translucent when it’s warm and the fat melts. The idea sort of stemmed from there: something that is textually and visually very interesting.
So I was playing around with a couple of ideas in reference to that with champagne. And I thought ‘imagine ordering larded sweetbreads in this amazing regal dining setting, and having it with something that is texturally, really bright’. I thought: that’s a killer pairing – that’s really cool!
So how did you see it working with the wine?
You could easily go for a richly textured white wine – like Burgundy – with a dish like this. But here I wanted something that is going to make your palate sort of ‘pop’.
Brains are texturally hard to describe, but they’re not very filling, and we wanted to bring an element of acidity, that was not overwhelming to the wine, so we added a little champagne vinegar.
If you think about it, it’s a really simple dish: protein, acid, and then we kind of had to work around texture, which we achieved through these really cute little watermelon radishes. They kind of bled ever so slightly into the vinegar, giving it this pinky hue. We hadn’t expected that, but it really worked!
You’ve mentioned that your dish was really simple. Do you think entrants need to beware of trying to do too much on the plate?
Yes and no. We were pretty blown away by our competitors; some of the dishes that they were putting out were technically phenomenal and visually really blew ours out of the water. But I think that represented who they were as sommeliers and chefs. If you can achieve that technically in that period of time, then go for it!
But the core of it has to be a wine and food pairing. The dish doesn’t have to be complex as long as it represents you – and we had a nice story behind it as well. It felt like something that we would put up in the restaurant, and it was collaborative between me and the chef. It felt natural.
The competitor dishes looked great…
But a watermelon radish pink tinge…
and superb matching skills won out
So a final ‘in a nutshell’ bit of advice?
It’s important to remember that this isn’t a cooking competition. Simple and repeatable is good – particularly if it has a nice story behind it.
You need to ask whether the cooking is being done for the sake of it, or whether it’s a means to an end – which is matching the wine.
The Gosset Matchmakers competition is now open to all chefs and sommeliers with less than five years experience. More information – including entry form – is on the Sommelier Collective website here. Entries must be received by Monday 31st May, 2021.