The best way to get to know wines is when you have the opportunity to enjoy a gourmet meal or treats specially paired with wines.
I never drank alcoholic beverages until I decided to become a professional chef and started training at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. There I was lucky to have a teacher named Norm Roby who taught us about wines from around the world and how to pair them with various foods.
He was also a wine columnist for Wine Spectator magazine, where I later worked as a tasting coordinator. But those first tastings at culinary school really surprised me. I could actually appreciate the difference between strains and blends whether they come from California or international countries.
This was in the mid 80’s when we had nothing to do with the array of fine wine tasting rooms we have in California today.
Now we have a host of great choices for tasting rooms, and the number of them with a professional chef is slowly but steadily increasing. We are so lucky here in the Santa Maria Valley to have one of the best examples of a highly acclaimed winery that has hired a very talented French chef.
The Murray family, who created and run Presqu’ile (pronounced PRESS-keel) have hired chef Julie Simon, a very smart move. I have known her since she worked for several years at the Park Restaurant in San Luis Obispo and at Thomas Hill Organics in Paso Robles. I have always been impressed by his delicious dishes and good taste. The Murrays were lucky to have her, and she creates mouthwatering and unforgettable meals paired with their wines.
To enjoy the food and wine experience, you must make reservations, and they have several options. All of their dishes are prepared with local ingredients, most of them coming from the 1 acre garden they created for the chef. The first offer is “the mezze picnic”, which offers five to six small family plates. The price is $65 per person for groups up to six, and $40 for food-only guests.
The Presqu’île Food and Wine Tour offers a walking tour through the 240-foot cave and through the winery to the pond at the top of the hill. A tasting of their sparkling and local wines will be served with appetizers prepared by chef Julie. There must be a minimum of four to eight guests for $125 per person; groups of three or fewer are $150 per person, and pets are not allowed on tours.
There are more offers, including a horseback riding tour and a tasting, which you can discover on presquilewine.com. Conveniently located just one mile off Highway 101 on Clark Avenue, this winery destination is a must visit for all wine lovers.
Winemaker Dieter Cronje, whom they describe as a cool-climate Pinot Noir specialist, also creates excellent Chardonnays, Syrahs and more. Remember that they only accept visitors by reservation. You can make reservations through the webpage link above.
When I became a foodie, I started cooking in restaurants two years before I started cooking school. I wanted to be sure I had a talent for it. It turned out that was the requirement to enter the college of food and wine at the time. I loved it and was thrilled to discover my abilities. Even before starting culinary training, I learned a few recipes that have always been a huge hit. This is my favorite for cookies, perfect for your Easter table at brunch or dinner.
Biscuits with whipped cream Café Beaujolais
1 tablespoon of sugar
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tsp salt (I usually only use 1/2 tsp)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into half-teaspoon sized pieces and very cold
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream (9 oz)
Combine the dry ingredients, add the cubed butter and mix with an electric hand mixer or with your fingers, rubbing together until the butter is broken into pea-sized pieces. Add the cream and stir with a fork until just moistened. Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead until it comes together. Roll or pat gently until 3/4 inch thick. I always cut it with a sharp chef’s knife rather than a cookie cutter, so I can use the whole 12 piece set. Bake on an ungreased baking sheet at 425 degrees for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. I prefer this with a slightly sweet prosecco from Spain.
These cookies are perfect for any meal with butter, jam, bacon sauce or strawberry shortcake. I made the latter for the culinary school chefs/teachers table when it was my turn to make their dessert. I also added homemade vanilla ice cream in the center, drizzled with strawberries steeped in sugar, and topped with whipped cream (sugar and vanilla whipped cream). I blushed when the chefs made fun of my homemade dessert. But I jumped for joy when every plate came back clean; they ate every bite!
Enjoy your lunch!