Monday, March 1, 2021

Top Chef Nini And Silk & Spice Highlight Virtual Cooking Adventure

Preparing to cook!During the pandemic I’ve been polishing my cooking chops. This would be my greatest challenge.

The Unexpected Chef

Most of the gourmet meals prepared around here are crafted by my wife. I do, however, have culinary experience cooking in restaurants in Colorado and West Virginia. None of them received a Michelin star, but the food was tasty and the beer was cold.

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When were were contacted about a virtual cooking program featuring Chef Nini Nguyen (of BRAVO Top Chef fame) and Portuguese wine Silk & Spice, I immediately signed on. In my mind I pictured myself sipping a luscious glass of red wine while the Green Dragon (yes, that’s my wife) prepared the meal. I was in for a bit of surprise.

As the time approached, I asked if there was anything I could do. I was informed that I was going to be doing the cooking. Truthfully, during these crazy COVID times, I’ve upped my cooking game. During the pre-pandemic days, I would pick out a nice restaurant when it was time for me to handle the meal. Now I try to pitch in by occasionally preparing elegant and cool (in my opinion!) meals.

Silk & Spice BasketUnpacking Silk & Spice

There is many a slip twixt the cup and the lip, as they say, and so I was curious how this whole cooking event was going to unfold. Several days beforehand a package arrived filled with instructions and ingredients plus a gift card to purchase items (like boneless chicken thighs) that couldn’t be shipped.

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Included in the box were what I considered the three key ingredients: Red Boat fish sauce, the recipe for Vietnamese Ginger-Braised Chicken by Chef Nini Nguyen, and a beautiful bottle of 2018 Silk & Spice wine.

Rattling Pots And Pans

As hinted at previously, often for many of our sumptuous wine dinners, my preparation has been uncorking bottles of wine. This time we received some excellent coaching in advance.

Virtual cooking with Chef NiniInstructions for our cozy cabin virtual culinary adventure helped set the stage beautifully for a great evening of cooking. We were told to open the bottle of wine about 30 minutes before the start of the program and put a slight chill on the bottle, which we like to do with our reds.

The “golden nugget” takeaway was the French phrase mise en place, which means everything in its place. In the kitchen, this refers to organizing the ingredients in a way that makes cooking the meal seamless. So we organized all our cooking utensils and equipment and cut, peeled, sliced, grated, and measured all our ingredients. This is a much more civilized concept than our past method of “getting stuff ready.”

The Featured Wine: Silk & Spice

Silk & Spice with Vietnamese Ginger-Braised ChickenThe pairing of food and wine is one of our joys. We’re always thrilled when we discover an excellent food-friendly wine. Silk & Spice is certainly meant to be discovered!

The Spice Route was created by Portuguese explorers in the 15th century to bring exotic spices like clove and nutmeg to the Western world. This wine aims evokes the mystery and flavors of that famed trading route.A Portuguese wine, Silk & Spice is a blend of indigenous grapes: 40% Touriga Nacional, 30% Alicante Bouchet, and 30% Baga.

"Portuguese wines are extremely gastronomic and work with everything from poultry and red meats to seafood," said Anita Musi, fine wine specialist for Evanton. "They are incredibly versatile, easy-drinking, and enjoyable with mostly anything."

If you haven’t tried Silk & Spice, or Portuguese wine for that matter, you may be in for a surprise. When we first tasted this wine, we had expected a rather faint, light-bodied wine. Not so! This wine is indeed silky with soft tannins and deep flavors. Raspberry and leather notes circulate with accents of vanilla. Not only is it a great food wine, but it is also delightful by itself. You can find this wine online or at the store for less than $15.

Chef Nini And The Dish

Chef Nini Nguyen is a New York City based chef, instructor, recipe developer, and recent contestant on Bravo’s Top Chef All Stars.  A New Orleans native, Chef Nini combines her Vietnamese heritage with Creole influences into her cuisine. She also has a knack for teaching and mentoring other cooks.

"I really like Vietnamese cuisine because it's my comfort food," said Chef Nini. "It's what ties me to my family's traditions, my heritage, and most of the fond memories I have from childhood. From a technical standpoint, I love Vietnamese cuisine because of the way in which the same staple ingredients can be used in a wide array of dishes. The rich umami of fish sauce with bright, fresh herbs is a balance that guides me through dishes both Vietnamese and otherwise."

As you may know by this stage of our pandemic isolation, it’s easy for a Zoom meeting with 50 people to go sideways. Ah, but Chef Nini is no novice. She guided us through the cooking process and made it a fun, stress-free experience.

While Chef Nini kept our cooking on track (and explained the wonders of Vietnamese fish sauce and how to properly cook rice), sommelier Anita answered questions and provided insight on the wine. Soon our kitchen was filled with the wonderful aroma of sizzling chicken and caramelized onion and ginger sauce.

The Taste Of Victory

Once the food was cooked, the program ended, and photos snapped, we sat down to savor our meal. Through Chef Nini’s guidance, the rice was finished at the same time as the chicken, a welcome synchronicity. The dish was sumptuous. The melding of spice, umami, and savory flavors paired with the wine spectacularly.

"The most important thing to remember when planning a meal like this is to be patient," said Chef Nini. "Set it and almost forget it! Let the braise work its magic on the chicken and don't keep poking and prodding at it. A dish like this is pretty hard to overcook so trust that you'll know when it's time to turn off the heat."

We continue to be impressed with Silk & Spice wine and recommend this as a wonderful value. It also offers a different flavor profile than your typical red wine, something sure to appeal to adventurous souls. Chef Nini has also earned two new fans as well. Until I’m featured on a cooking show (very improbable) we’ll be following the cooking exploits of Chef Nini.

Full disclosure: The wine and food were provided as marketing samples.

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