2006 International
Food & Wine Festival

Food and Wine Pairing

Le Cellier
Canada Pavilion

"The Call of the Wild"

September 29, 2006

Course 1

Seared Sea Scallops with Arugula and Frisee Salad,
Spiced Walnuts, Poached Pears and Creamy Sherry Vinaigrette

Wine: Mission Hills Family Estates
Estate Chardonnay
Okanagan Valley '02

Course 2

Carved New York Strip Steak and Balsamic Glazed King Salmon, both over
portabella and potato risotto, with Arugula Pesto and Oculus Syrup

Wine: Mission Hills Family Estates
Oculus Red Bordeaux Blend
Okanagan Valley '02

Course 3

Apple Bread Pudding with Firewood Honey and Praline Ice Cream
Wine: Mission Hills Family Estates
S.L.C. Riesling Icewine
Okanagan Valley '03

Debra Martin Koma
Senior Editor, ALL EARS®

Every July, when reservations finally open for the special dining events at Epcot's Food and Wine Festival, the special Food & Wine Pairings at Le Cellier Restaurant in the Canada pavilion in World Showcase sell out extremely quickly. So quickly that I've never been able to book one of these events before. I've gone to other Food and Wine Pairings -- to Alfredo's in the Italy pavilion twice, and one in the Coral Reef restaurant last year -- and found these educational three-course lunches to be the best values of all the Festival's specialty events. But this year, I was determined to see what all the hubbub over the Le Cellier Food & Wine Pairings was about.

Todd Vigor of Mission Hill Family Estate WineryFind out I did, on the first day of this year's Festival, Friday, September 29. I arrived at Le Cellier well before the 3 p.m. start time, and checked in at the front desk. I was not the first person to check in, not by a long shot -- eager attendees crowded the restaurant's foyer, chatting enthusiastically as though they were all old friends. It seemed many people knew each other from previous Food and Wine Festivals, and past Le Cellier gatherings.

As 3 o'clock arrived, we were seated one party at a time, a nice, personal touch, at a long row of tables inside the restaurant. We were introduced to the event's servers and other participants, including area manager Megan Devries, Mission Hill Family Estate Winery's representative Todd Vigor and the chef de cuisine, Brian Piasecki.

Vigor began the program, talking about his company's wines, which come from the Okanagan Valley at the US-Canada border, in British Columbia. He emphasized that this area had four main growing regions with a great climate for growing grapes, including the only desert area in Canada. Because of this, he noted, Mission Hill is able to produce wines that are not only "varietally correct" but also extremely "food friendly." My initial taste of the first wine offered, the Estate Chardonnay '02, confirmed his claims for me. Slightly spicy with just a hint of oak, this chardonnay was served at room temperature because, as Vigor noted, over-chilling "closes" the wine, robbing it of its true flavor.

Chef Brian Piasecki of Le CellierChef Brian Piasecki chose to pair this wine with a seared scallop salad, enhanced by candied walnuts and poached pears in a creamy sherry vinaigrette. The scallops were succulent -- that's the only way to put it -- tender and moist and with a subtle flavor that matched the wine perfectly. The nuts, which had been boiled for three hours in a brown sugar syrup, then deep-fried and accented with salt and cayenne pepper, provided a crunchy texture with a slight kick that offset the dryness of the wine perfectly. Definitely a winning match.

The entree course was several slices of a tender, rare New York strip steak draped with a small slab of smoky, balsamic glazed King salmon, all served atop a bed of portabella and potato risotto. Groans of delight as diners bit into the flavorful meat were interrupted only by the occasional exclamation of, "Oh, that steak is like butter!" As Chef Piasecki described his rationale in composing this dish, his enthusiasm for the food, as well as his audience, was apparent. He noted that the earthiness of mushrooms in the risotto was complemented by the spiciness of the arugula pesto, used as an accent for the meat. To bring out the flavor of the dish, as well as the accompanying wine, Piasecki pointed out that he used the wine itself, Oculus Red Bordeaux Blend '02, in the sauce. The pairing worked perfectly. As I savored the combination of flavors on my tongue, it was hard to turn down a refill of my glass -- so I didn't.

Vigor then remarked that the Oculus was a "big red," but noted that in spite of the tannins present it wasn't overpowering, and he was right. A blend of 50 percent merlot, 30 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 15 percent Cabernet Franc and a mere 5 percent of Petit Verdot, the Oculus hinted at flavors of berries and even chocolate in the finish. As a dedicated red wine lover, this particular blend has gone on my "seek out and buy" list.

Scallops Salad at Le Cellier
Strip Steak and Salmon with risotto at Le Cellier

I'm always leery of the final courses at these pairing events, since, while I enjoy a good dessert, I'm not a fan of overly sweet wines. I saw that the Apple Bread Pudding with praline ice cream that Chef Piasecki had prepared was going to be paired with a notoriously syrupy icewine, and I cringed. I shouldn't have worried, though, since this pairing also worked quite well. The secret, both chef and wine rep noted, was to make sure the wine was sweeter than the dessert. It surely was. The S.L.C. (Select Lot Collection) Riesling Icewine '03 was made from 100 percent Riesling grapes that were handpicked at a temperature of -12 degrees Centigrade -- virtually frozen -- at a time when their sugar content was about 40 percent. Flavors of honey and citrus could be detected in the golden-colored liquid, which accentuated the lightly sweet bread pudding without becoming cloying.

Riesling Icewine at Le Cellier
Apple Bread Pudding at Le Cellier

As the meal drew to a close, and Chef Piasecki made one last circuit around the tables to chat with guests, both those he knew and those he had just met, it became quite to clear to me why the Food & Wine Pairings at Le Cellier were so hard to come by. Fine Canadian wines, generously poured, plus delectably prepared food, presented by a young, enthusiastic and personable chef, made everyone feel welcome and as though they were "in on" a special, exclusive treat. As the 4:30 p.m. end time for the event drew near, not one person made a move to leave from his or her seat, choosing instead to linger over their remaining wine samples, and discuss their thoughts on the event with new acquaintances. At $40 per person, plus tax, the Food & Wine Pairings, and the Le Cellier pairing in particular, continue to be one of the most worthwhile Food and Wine Festival events offered. Reservations for next year's Food & Wine Pairings at Le Cellier may again be difficult to obtain, but you can bet that I will be among the very first on the telephone the first day reservations are being taken.

EDITOR'S NOTE: A special thank you to AllEarsNet.com Reader Elaine from Chicago, who allowed me to photograph her food, as well as to the several other AllEarsNet.com Readers I met at this event, who provided me with such enjoyable company during the meal.