Complementing Food: Teaching winemaking to young chefs

For the past four years, I have been heading up the Catering department for Skidmore College Dining Services, located in Saratoga Springs, New York. As part of our culinary enrichment program, our chefs participate in culinary conferences and competitions that are sanctioned by the ACF (The American Culinary Federation). While personally attending these conferences, I have experienced many workshops and demonstrations on all matters related to the food industry. Surprisingly, I have only attended one wine seminar and that was on industry trends.

Recently I approached my Director, Mark Miller, with the idea of doing a workshop designed around making wine from kits and fresh juices for our next upcoming ACF Sanctioned Culinary Competition, which was slotted for early January, 2019. I don’t think I need to explain it to this crowd, but wine and food go hand-in-hand and most chefs want to have control of every component of the meals they create. So it seemed appropriate for young chefs to get a “taste” of what making wine involves and introduce the concept of making some on their own. The Director and I agreed it was a perfect match for our 8th annual culinary conference and competition.

I have been making wine for over five years now and I have created 30 very memorable wines, so I was eager to get started right away with the presentation and the format. The presentation opened with a short introduction on the thrill and enjoyment of creating your own wine, which covered start-up costs to hobby winemaking and a cost comparison of making your own wines versus buying bottles at retail.

So it seemed appropriate for young chefs to get a “taste” of what making wine involves and introduce the concept of making some on their own.

I then moved on to a time lapsed video that I created demonstrating the winemaking process and procedures. The wines that were made in the video were prepared eight months before the presentation. I had made a Merlot, a Gewürztraminer, and an Australian Shiraz, which for the conference we paired with cheeses presented by Cabot Creamery, a farm-owned cooperative based in Waterbury, Vermont. We finished the presentation with the participants bottling, corking, and sleeving their own bottle of Shiraz that I had prepared specially for the event.

Later in the day, after the presentation at our welcoming reception dinner, I was able to meet with the chefs that had attended the presentation. I was overwhelmed with the response I received. A large number of the chefs realized the added value of being able to create wonderful culinary experiences for their guests and then to have the ability to pair their creations with wines crafted from their own hands made perfect sense to all. The experience of being exposed to the winemaking process opened up a whole new world of skills and creativity for these young culinarians. Several of the chefs came to me with ideas they had already imagined for themed dinners and special events centered on their own wine creations.

For everyone at Skidmore who was involved in our wine presentation it was very gratifying to see the unbridled enthusiasm in these young artisans. We already have plans to expand winemaking workshops in our future ACF events. So, as we speak of trends in the wine industry, my hope is that we will be seeing a lot more chefs creating and pairing their own wine creations to offer to their guests. And so it begins: My mission of bringing the art of winemaking to many aspiring chefs in this world.