How to Pair Wine According to Dominique Crenn and P!nk
What happens when a Michelin-three-star chef hosts a dinner with a pop superstar-turned-winemaker.
I've been to a lot of wine pairing dinners. I haven't been to many, or any, ever, that are the work of one of San Francisco's few Michelin-three-star chefs together with a megafamous pop star-turned-winemaker (and quite a good winemaker at that, for any skeptics out there).
In September, chef Dominique Crenn and Alecia Moore (aka P!nk) joined forces at Petit Crenn in San Francisco's Hayes Valley for a meal that was—outside of its fame appeal—one that offered truly intriguing insight into wine pairing.
To step back: Most restaurant wine pairing dinners are good, but not great. Typically a winemaker is in town, the chef pulls a few things from the menu that more or less make good sense with the wines, and everybody has a fine time. It's rare, though, that a chef devises entirely new dishes (or substantial variations on ones in her repertoire) specifically to match the individual wines being poured that night. But then, Dominique Crenn isn't every chef. "My thought process going into this is that it's extremely important that you're not doing a menu first and then pairing the wine with it," she told me, upstairs at Petit Crenn before things got started. "For a dinner like this one, you want the wine to shine. My menu isn't about my ego."
She added, "Unfortunately, there's a real separation between chefs and winemakers, or wine in general. A lot of chefs just don't give a shit about the nuances of wine; it's just something that goes with the food, and that's it. And I disagree with that. It's so disrespectful."
Moore said, "But that's you, too. You go with all you have, with all your heart—that's how you wake up each day!" (If it isn't already clear, the two women are friends.)
The menu that night was remarkable, and the wines sang with it, which is no surprise given that the Crenn and Moore, together with several of Crenn's staff, spent over six months putting it together. Take one dish and one wine as exemplars. The wine was Moore's 2017 Two Wolves Estate Syrah, an intense expression of this Rhône grape, with layers of dark blackberry flavor, firm tannins and a peppery note on the finish. Crenn paired it with a dish of squid-ink boudin atop cranberry beans, with Burgundy truffles shaved over everything (yes, I know this sounds a bit like fall-of-Rome decadence, but bear with me). Tasted apart, both were excellent; tasted together, the dish seemed to amplify the wine's character effortlessly—the creamy beans moderated the tannins, the earthy truffles dovetailed with the dark fruit.
Each dish and each wine complemented one another perfectly. But, for a home cook, the only sane response is, "OK great—but how does all this magical pairing prestidigitation on the part of a world-famous chef and a winemaker (admittedly also world-famous, even if it's for singing) possibly play into whatever I'm making at home?" That's even more a fair question when the recipe for the beans alone goes like this, as Petit Crenn chef de cuisine Benjamin Nola says: "The cranberry beans were fresh, so they didn't need to be soaked, just taken out of the shell. We cooked down fennel, onion, and garlic very slowly in olive oil, added the beans and just enough water to cover them, then added espelette pepper, dry chili, and thyme. Slow simmer for 30 to 45 minutes, then let them cool to room temperature naturally. Then to order, we took shallots, fennel and garlic, cooked them until translucent in butter, white wine and vermouth, added the beans and the bean cooking liquid, lots of cracked black pepper, lemon juice, sherry vinegar, and butter. And finished with fines herbes: tarragon, parsley, chives, chervil." And that's just the beans. Don't even ask about making that squid-ink sausage.
Mikayla Cohen, Petit Crenn's general manager and wine director, has a surprisingly helpful thought on that, which I think actually applies to anyone not just serving wine with food (that's easy enough) but trying to create an alchemy between the two. "I think there's always a component to take away from a dinner like this to use at home. You sort of think, what are the ingredients or flavors of the dish that I can accomplish in everyday life. So look at that bean dish. Are you going to put shaved Burgundy truffles on top of your Wednesday night dinner? No. I mean, I'm certainly not! But maybe you buy a small thing of truffle salt and work with that."
By the same token, I personally am not going to go all hyper-chef when I cook beans, but the baseline idea—that really good, creamy beans are great with tannic reds—is more than easy to replicate.
So try that at home. The next time you have an amazing pairing at a restaurant, take it apart in your head: what can you learn from it? What can you use? Then go home and channel your inner Crenn. And while you're at it, turn the stereo up while you cook, so you can bust out your inner P!nk at the same time. After all, if you've got people coming over, "Get This Party Started" is just the thing to sing while you're chopping, right?