Chef Enrique Olvera teaches tennis superstar Roger Federer how to make aguachile; Federer volleys back with killer Champagne pairings.
News flash: I have finally discovered the real reason that Roger Federer is not playing in the U.S. Open. Forget the knee injury. He’s simply been too busy learning how to cook.
I should back that up a bit by saying that I was recently at a dinner, hosted by Moët & Chandon, where I got the chance to witness Federer in action—not playing tennis, but slicing up Maine scallops with chef Enrique Olvera of New York’s Cosme restaurant (and the internationally acclaimed Pujol in Mexico City). The two were making Olvera’s scallop aguachile, a type of Mexican ceviche, layering thin rounds of sweet scallop with disks of poached jicama, micro-diced red onion, and micro-sliced Serrano peppers, then zapping the whole thing with a wasabi-cucumber-lime vinaigrette. (Admission: I was making the same dish. Second admission: The micro slicing-and-dicing was done neither by Federer nor myself, but by Olvera’s kitchen staff. Reality does have to play a role here, right?)
Federer is renowned for his surgical precision on the tennis court, but having watched him in action, I’d say his scallop-slicing skills are pretty close. Hand the man a racket, hand him a chef’s knife, apparently it’s more or less the same thing. I offer for contrast my own scallop rounds, which looked sort of lopsided in comparison. Maybe I just need a chef as skilled as Olvera as my coach; or maybe I need to be a demi-god-like pro athlete with superhuman coordination and reflexes. I'll work on that.
As for what pairs with scallop aguachile, well, Champagne. Federer, as Moët’s brand ambassador, is obviously biased, but nevertheless I’d agree with pairing the house’s NV Rosé Impérial ($50) with the dish. As Cosme’s wine director Yana Volfson says, “With this dish, it’s more about sweetness than saltiness—the sweetness of the scallops really brings out the fruit in the wine. And the wine’s savory notes allow it to work with the raw onions and Serrano peppers.”
Olvera’s cooking doesn’t quite conform to most people’s expectations of Mexican cuisine; heat from chiles, for instance, really works more as one layer of a dish’s flavor than as a dominant note. So while our main dish, Olvera’s riff on esquites (a Mexican street snack of grilled corn in a creamy, spicy, tangy sauce) offered some heat from arbol chiles, his use of spelt instead of corn and Italian castelrosso cheese rather than cotija gave it a distinctive earthiness. “And the epazote puree with it tends to have bitter notes, which balance the sweetess of the corn stock we cook the spelt in,” Volfson said. She paired the dish with two Champagnes: Moët’s 2008 Grand Vintage Rosé ($69) and its 1998 Grand Vintage Collection Rosé ($140). “The ’98 really brought out the cheese in the dish, and the dish highlighted the secondary, musky notes in the wine,” she told me. “The 2008 is much fresher and younger. It’s more austere, in a sense, but the esquites really brought out the fruit in the wine.” Both pairings, she added, were really cool—a statement I’d agree with completely.
And Federer’s opinion on the matter? I wish I could say. But strangely enough, by that point, we were talking about tennis rather than wine.