I like scotch neat, with a glass of water on the side, several friends of mine add some water to their scotch saying that they feel a bit of water opens up the flavor. I learned at the Mirror Lake Inn's Adirondack Festival of Food and Wine that neither approach is the best way to drink scotch, straight scotch in our case, or good bourbon for that matter, but both had elements of the right approach.
The best way is to serve it neat, have water on the side, but to take a sip of water first and then a sip of the scotch. Water does open up the flavor, however we tend to over water the scotch and once you put water into the scotch you can never adjust the amount. When you sip water first, a certain amount of water is left in your mouth, which when followed by a sip of scotch, is the right amount to fully open up the flavors and aroma of the scotch. Try it. I think you will be impressed by the difference it makes.
The thrust of this festival was like that; it was all about getting to the basics going to the heart of appreciating good food and good wine.
My first stop, well actually my third stop after the first wine tasting and learning about scotch, was taking on salt and pepper.
"People salting, or adding pepper to food before they even taste it, is a pet peeve of mine," said chef Sarah Langan. "Less the pepper, but definitely the salt."
"Salt and pepper are very used and abused," said chef Paul Sorgle, the inspiration and guiding energy behind the Festival, a former head chef of the Mirror Lake Inn and instructor at both Paul Smiths and the New England Culinary Institute.
"The word salary comes from the word salt, as salt was once used as currency," said Langan. "Salt is the only rock we eat. Salt is essential. We need salt to live. It is our basic taste, when we first taste food we say it is too salty, or not salty enough."
My awareness about salt was regular iodized salt, sea salt, Kosher salt, and Fleur de del, a sea salt harvested in France. My knowledge turned about to be the tip of the saltberg so to speak. Langan introduced us to sea salt flakes, recommending Maldon as the supplier of choice, grey sea salt, Himalayan pink, celery (which had slipped my mind), Cyprus, Murray River and several others.
To help us appreciate the taste of salt and pepper, she had laid out for each of us a row of small boiled potatoes, sliced in half, the first plain, then with some Maldon added, then pepper to that, then bacon and so on. It was one of those a hah moments. Another was learning that iodized salt (salt mixed with a minute amount of iodine) is as a treatment against a preventable form of mental retardation and to prevent endemic goitre. I also learned that salt brings aromas up to your nose quicker, and thus brings out the flavor of food.
Then we went into pepper and there seemed to be twice as many forms of pepper as salt. We were taught three different recipes, such as proscuitto wrapped asparagus in peppered phyllo and learning how to prepare salted cod. All were easy to make and simply delicious.
"I came to this sessions with no expectations whatsoever," said Dieter Pfisterer. "Salt and pepper, how basic is that. I got to see what salt and pepper does to food, for example to potatoes."
"I was amazed by all the different salts," said Linda Rivelli. "We went to a black tie dinner before coming here and told our friends that we were going a session on salt and pepper."
"They could not imagine what we could learn," said Dieter, "turns out a lot. I am so glad I passed up breakfast to attend this."
The whole festival was like that, back to back seminars filled with opportunities to taste, demonstrations on how to prepare a wide array of foods, and lots of information presented in a very engaging manner by people who were not only really great chefs, but great communicators and highly accessible. They also provided terrific handouts. At the end of the weekend you walked away with truly memorable cookbook of sorts. We also learned that several were very fine musicians, and all were great raconteurs.
The festival was not all about food. Wine was a very big part. My new favorite white is Treana, and equal blend of Viognier and Marsanne, two varieties indigenous to the Rhone Valley in France that have taken to California's central coast. Chuck Stewart introduced me to the wine. What can I say, he really represents a lot of good wines and he always gets your attention at such functions.
I also had a really good Circles Riesling from Red Newt Cellars. A true find though was local sledding wonder Caleb Smith who now divides his time between coaching the Italian Olympic skeleton team, though Caleb will take anything down the ice, and representing wine. He is a bit of an emerging Chuck Stewart, a person passionate about his wine, a good educator, and gets his hands on good wine. He had an array of Italian reds; it was like tasting the country from Sicily through Abruzzo to Tuscany.
For Kim Comisky her dream come true was joining chefs John Barton and Sarah Langan as judges of the Great Adirondack Cook-off, and intense one hour from raw ingredients to plating two different appetizers and two different entrees from a limited set of ingredients with a surprise ingredient tossed in about 15 minutes into the cook off, that being a start fruit this time. Added to the tension was that Mirror Lake Inn Chef Kirk Fiore, and his partner Zack McCormick, was pitted against two of his former New England Culinary Institute instructors Louise Duhamel and Curtiss Hemm
The Mirror Lake Inn lost, but by the narrowest sliced onion.
"I was a very tight competition," said Chef Barton.
"I was so impressed to see how they pulled everything together in an hour," said Comisky. What is truly impressive is all that was brought together over the weekend; brilliant chefs, great food and wine, impeccable hospitality that the guests raved about continuously, and a marvelous sense of fellowship. Don't miss next year's festival.