What’s the wine list like at Atelier?
Our list has just under 140 wines, with about 25 percent Canadian content. We offer about 20 wines by the glass, if you include the dessert wines. I try to keep the optional wine pairing by course to about one-third Canadian content. I also have a soft spot for über-obscure wines, such as the Italian sparkling Ribolla Gialla by Villa Rubini in Friuli, as well as a white Corbières by Domaine Sainte Marie des Crozes. I hope those are wines that make people scratch their heads and think, What the hell is that?
What makes molecular cooking different from regular?
Our style of molecular-influenced cooking means complex dishes with varied textures and dramatic presentations. They present a familiar flavour through a new physical texture. For example, when you see pickled ginger on a plate of sushi, you know what to expect. When our chef presents it as an airy, crunchy, dehydrated foam, your brain can’t predict how it will impact your senses. That mix of new experience with nostalgia is very compelling.
In what ways is pairing wine different when it comes to molecular dishes?
Typically our plates are very complex, with many ingredients used in small amounts on a plate. It can be difficult to predict which flavours will be dominant in a dish, so experimenting with different wines is a must. I try to find wines that work with the entire plate, as well as those that will highlight a few flavours throughout. With a 12-course menu, the dishes are necessarily smaller than typical, which means you can match some pretty intense wines with each, as the pour size is smaller. I like wines that have something to say; no wallflowers on the pairing. I also don’t hold to the standard progression of serving wines from dry to sweet, light to full- bodied. I prefer to find the best match to a particular dish even if that means serving a sweet wine in the middle of the menu.
Tell us about a couple of your favourite food and wine pairings from the menu.
A dish we call “And in This Corner” is a cold octopus salad with barbecued eel, orange, fennel, and olive flavours, among many others. I pair it with the 2008 Château des Charmes Old Vines Riesling from Niagara because the wine pulls out the salty oyster flavour from the dish.
“Smoke” is a dish based around a rare cut of beef known as clodhammer. We’re using wagyu beef served under a cloche filled with applewood smoke. The 2008 Seppelt Chalambar Shiraz from Victoria, Australia, works well because it’s a fantastic example of ripe, generous, heavily oaked Aussie shiraz that maintains balance and has just 13.5 percent alcohol. The combo transports you to a cottage or campsite, with steaks coming off a fire.
What’s the strangest pairing you’ve tried?
I had burgundy (pinot noir) with sautéed duck testicles. It was a pairing that resulted from pure chance as the duck poppers (that’s what they’re called) have a bit of a metallic flavour, so the wine’s minerality meshed well with it. I can’t say where I was or who else was there, as it was a private supper club, but damn, it was good!