In two weeks from now, on June 19th, Bergstrom Wines will be back in the James Beard House in New York City to feature our wines alongside some fantastic Northwest inspired dishes! Three years ago we were fortunate enough to go to the Beard House for the first time with our friends from the Painted Lady Restaurant in Newberg. This time around we are headed to New York with our longtime very good friend Jason Stoller Smith, executive chef for the historic Timberline Lodge.
You may know Jason from his tenure at the Dundee Bistro in Oregon’s wine country, where he was head chef for many years lending his creative thought and great personality to a delightful yet fairly traditional American bistro-style menu which kept many winemakers and wine tourists happy and full. Jason has also been the head chef and organizer of the traditional Northwest style salmon bake which you may have enjoyed at the International Pinot Noir Celebration or Oregon Pinot Camp. Jason had the privilege of showcasing the Salmon Bake at the White House for President Obama two years ago and has received interest from all over the world for this meal.
What you might not know about Jason is that he has a fantastically creative “wild side” to his cooking which he has secretly honed over the past decade or more. Inspired by the cuisine of master chefs such as Grant Achatz of Chicago’s “Alinea” and “Next” or even Ferran Adria from Spain’s infamous “El Buli” who are know for developing and fostering the molecular gastronomy movement, Jason is experimenting with unique new techniques that best showcase Oregon and the Pacific Northwest’s unique agricultural flavors in a brave new way. The other talent that Jason has sharpened over the past decade is a wonderful knack for pairing complex and diverse flavors to Pacific Northwest wines. The wines from our cool climate are known for their textures, nuances and delicate frames with ripe but fresh berry flavors, sweet spice and earth components. Heavy dishes can easily overwhelm our wines and overtly light dishes can be overwhelmed by the wines. It is a balancing act for sure.
It takes a deft palate and a creative approach to truly match wine with food so that neither dominates the other but both work in concert to reveal aromas, flavors and textures that you might not have noticed while just enjoying one aspect of the meal on its own. As well, to balance this act and provide a dish which pleases the eye and the imagination, a chef must have a special touch.
I believe that Jason has done just this with his menu that he has prepared for the James Beard House dinner which we will present to the membership in two weeks. It captures the imagination and pleases the palate for sure and I believe that the Beard House members will be delighted.
We had the opportunity to showcase this meal, in a rehearsal dinner for the New York event, this past Saturday night on Mount Hood up at Timberline Lodge’s historic Silcox Hut, Oregon’s highest elevation dining room at 7,000 feet. The Silcox Hut is perched near the top of the Timberline Lodge’s ski resort, one mile above the actual Timberline Lodge. Originally the Silcox Hut served as the wheel house and warming hut for the Historic “Magic Mile” chairlift which was America’s second chairlift and the world’s longest when it was built in 1939. It also served as a hiking lodge for climbers starting their journey up to the summit of the mountain. The Silcox Hut looks like an old Viking Lodge, constructed out of volcanic boulders and large timbers woven together with steel and a craftsmanship that speaks of a different era. A large fireplace sits at one end of the long room and a small kitchen sits at the other. Out one set of windows you look up towards the summit of Mount Hood which rises another 4,000 feet above the Silcox Hut and out the other set of windows you look directly south down the Cascade mountain range towards Mount Jefferson, Mount Washington and the Three Sisters. It is a stunning setting for a meal and I have been fortunate enough to help with three dinners up at the Silcox Hut; Once in the winter, once in spring and once in the middle of summertime.
The room was filled with Bergstrom Wines club members, Timberline staff and members of the local wine press who were shuttled up to the hut from Timberline Lodge via snow-cat tractor. It is a rough and cold trip up the mountain but everyone was jovial in anticipation of a great meal.
And a great meal it was. Jason has structured a multi-course meal to showcase not only the flavors of the Bergstrom Wines but also his thought processes on Oregon’s different AVA’s (viticultural appellations ) and soil types. The theme of the night was “A Taste of Oregon Terroir” because Jason understands very well, after years of working and talking with Oregon winemakers, that Pinot Noir and Chardonnay have unique characters that come from the soil in which they are grown. Whether volcanic, sedimentary or windblown in origin, the different soils and hillside exposures in Oregon’s Willamette Valley lend themselves to the noble wine varieties that best express the soil. Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling are vehicles to taste soil. Here is how the meal was served:
Reception: Strawberries and Caviar, Hazelnut Shell smoked bacon wrapped prunes, Rosé Gelée with Crispy Salmon skin and Grape Gremolata. These three enticing and unique appetizers were paired with the 2011 Bergstrom Wines Rosé of Pinot Noir which is made in a lighter style to showcase light red fruit flavors like strawberry and grape and melon with bright acidity and a good tannic structure. The focus of this wine is the serious side of playful and is meant to be refreshing and vibrant. The three appetizers were perfect matches in three different ways.
Amuse Bouche: Nitro-whipped Potatoes with Chicken skin and Brioche crunch with Vanilla crème fraiche and preserved lemon. This was meant to be about 3 or 4 spoonfuls, much like a soup course, and was paired with the 2010 Bergstrom Wines Sigrid Chardonnay. What a wonderful pairing this was. The saltiness of the salmon skin and the buttery texture of the potatoes with the aromatic notes of vanilla and lemon were a fantastic match with the Sigrid Chardonnay and this was a crowd favorite for sure. I have always turned to seafood as the perfect pairing for our white wines but this was outstanding. This was simple, decadent and balanced all at the same time. Good thing it was only 4 bites because I probably could have eaten a hotel pan of this concoction.
First Course (Marine Sedimentary Soils): Sea salt cured Steelhead with Sea Scallop, Fino in Fondo Tartufo salami, freeze dried currants, Radishes, Fennel sprouts, Root beer noodle, Espresso-rye soil. This was paired with the Bergstrom Wines de Lancellotti Vineyard from the 2008 and 2010 vintages to show difference of year but similarity of expression from one sight over two years. The de Lancellotti Vineyard Pinot Noir is known for its earth driven sweet spiciness, an herbal component and rich fruit character. One diner told me afterwards that he believed this was the lynch-pin course and his favorite of the night. I loved it for its diversity of different flavors, all of which you could find in the wines. I loved Jason’s take on flavorful soil which was essentially rye bread soaked in espresso and then dehydrated and crumbled with some espresso grounds and this powdery mixture was placed on the
dish next to the steelhead for seasoning. I also loved the fact that this dish put me outside of my traditional comfort food zone as it delicious looking but on the other hand with the radish, the greens, the salami, the two types of seafood, the soil and the Willy Wonka-ish rootbeer noodle, I did not know where to attack first.
Second Course (Volcanic Soil): Nicky Farm’s Wapiti Elk Strip Loin with Duck Heart Confit, alder smoked Morels, baby carrots, semmelknoedel, ice-axe mustard seeds, Pine Nuts, Red fruit soil. This amazing dish was paired with Bergstrom Wines the BergstromVineyard Pinot Noir from the vintages of 2008 and 2010 to once again show a taste of place stretched over two vintages. The Bergstrom Vineyard Pinot Noir is known for its red fruit character, meatiness, ferrous minerality and floral qualities. I loved this course. It was honestly amazing and I relished every bite. There was so much happening on this plate that once again I did not know where to start but when I finally made up my mind how to start, I was
astonished at how quickly I had nearly licked the plate clean. The red fruit soil was a brilliant combination of dried strawberries and raspberries crumbled to look like volcanic clay rock. The Elk was cooked sous-vide and so the texture was lovely. The alder smoked morels were a revelation. These were foraged up on the mountain, dried halfway and then smoked over Alder wood and the resulting flavors were a perfect match for the earth component in the Bergstrom Vineyard wines.
Intermezzo: Oregon Cherry Sorbet with Wild Ginger. Local fruit and local wild ginger all within range of the mountain….. delicious and refreshing and set the palate up for what would be possibly one of the greatest dessert courses I have ever experienced.
Dessert Course (Laurelwood Soils): Hudson Valley Foie Gras Torchon with compressed Hood River pear, crabapple mostarda, Yogurt biscuit, orange fizzy rocks, powdered rocks of Oregon white truffle oil, smoked hazelnuts, mountain mint. This revelation was served with the Bergstrom Wines 2008 Dr. Bergstrom Late Harvest Riesling, a wine that we only made once from two very special barrels of wine and that we only serve at special wine dinners like this one. I honestly don’t know where to start in describing this course. It was literally one of the greatest plates of dessert food that has ever crossed my lips. My wife and I oftentimes lament about how a great meal is often times concluded by a crummy dessert be it a slice of chocolate death cake that weighs in at over 5 pounds or overly sweet panna cotta, crème brulee with a sugar crust thicker than the polar ice cap, or something stale or suffering from freezer burn. This however was a masterpiece of dessert creativity. It was refreshing, it was surprisingly light even with the Foie Gras and it stimulated the senses and was the perfect conclusion for a great meal. The pear looked poached but it was fresh because of the sous-vide style compression process. The biscuit which looked like biscotti and had a similar texture and crisp was absolutely awesome when you realized that it was made of yogurt. The last time I had fizzy rocks in my mouth, I was 10 years old and loved the explosive reactions in my mouth with the sweet and sour combination, but in this dessert it added liveliness and texture and a wonderful citrus aroma and flavor that sang with the Riesling pairing. This food and wine pairing could not have been better.
After having tasted this rehearsal dinner as presented at the Silcox Hut with my wines, I am sure that the Beard House membership will be impressed. There is no doubt in my mind that these diners will be pleased. But more important than that, I am sure that the spirit of James Beard, a Portland native, will be present and proud of Jason. As one of the new generation chefs carrying the torch for Pacific Northwest, he is indeed reaching the top of his game and has a glorious career in front of him. Bravo Jason!