Saturday Kitchen 17.6.11

(by peter)

Something of a controversial Saturday Kitchen this one, which had me leaping around on the sofa on Saturday morning.

But let’s start at the beginning. Earlier in the week, we’d had a great day’s filming in Sittingbourne in Kent.

I got to ride on a narrow-gauge steam train which had been built in Leeds in 1912 but plied its trade in the sugar plantations in Mozambique. It was subsequently restored by a group of enthusiasts and now plies a picturesque track just outside Sittingbourne – for more details click here.

(The ride was made all the more enjoyable by the contrast with the high speed SouthEastern train I’d taken to Sittingbourne from St Pancras. Apparently these trains were built in Japan and are some of the fastest in the UK, taking advantage of the Eurostar line.)

I was choosing wines to go with dishes by Will Holland of la Bécasse in Shropshire and Silvena Rowe of the newly opened Quince in London.

Silvena was cooking up the most wonderful dish of belly pork glazed in blueberry molasses with whipped feta, yoghurt and cumin salad.

It’s one of those rare dishes that sounds quite cheffy and elaborate, but is actually relatively straightforward to make (or so Susie informs me) and is absolutely sensational to eat. We were so moved when we cooked it up to try with the wines that we wrote to Silvena to say as much – and made a date to visit Quince. (You can find the recipe on the BBC website.)

To match this bravura cooking, I went for the Ravenswood Vintner’s Blend Zinfandel (from £7.66 – widely available but we were in Asda).

This got a big thumbs up in studio. ‘I absolutely love it,’ enthused Silvena. ‘He has a great sense of my food; it’s not an easy dish to match because of the sweetness, but I love it.’

James and Will agreed, while studio guest Ben pronounced the match ‘phenomenal’.

All of which made quite a contrast with the way my second wine went down.

Will was cooking a red wine soufflé with berries and crème fraiche; I paired this with the Taste the Difference Brachetto d’Acqui 2010 (currently on offer at £4.49, Sainsbury’s).

I belaboured the point that this was a very inexpensive wine and it needed to be considered in the context of the dish rather than on its own…but this seemed to fall on deaf ears. Despite Will describing the flavour of his soufflé as a ‘hot red wine marshmallow’, he seemed to think that this ‘sweet’ wine didn’t work.

All of which is fine by me, of course. This wine is a bit confected and hardly the most complex (but then I’d argue that’s reflected in its price, and it improves by being paired with the dish). Furthermore, everyone has different taste and it’s important that the chefs on the programme interact with the wine properly and express their own opinion – otherwise it’s a dull and pointless exercise getting the wine in there. The wine still sells through off the back of the recommendation either way.

The only thing we ask, however, is for properly informed debate.

In this sense, James clearly doesn’t take rosé wine seriously, rejecting it routinely out of hand without treating as he should, ie a food professional.

He’s made a bit of a joke out of it, which is fine – we’re all for presenters injecting a bit of character into a show, and keeping the tone light. But after the umpteenth time, the same joke does tend to wear a bit thin…

The vast majority of the wine drinking public enjoy rosé, and it is a very useful style for those who like a wine to go with the kind of food we eat in this country these days.

By disregarding rosé on the basis of its appearance alone, James not only betrays his own lack of gastronomic vision, he also does the viewers of Saturday Kitchen a disservice. To turn the tables, it would be like me dismissing all puddings as ‘girly food’ – something which James, a notable dessert specialist, would doubtless think laughable.

We, the wine experts on Saturday Kitchen, have a budget limit of £8-9 (increasingly difficult in this era of food and drink inflation) and only certain stores to choose from. This is not to complain; it’s important to set the context for the parameters in which we work. And it would be a great shame if the wine experts shied away from recommending decent value rosé because it was guaranteed to get a poor reception in studio…

We cooked Will’s dish to try with various wines and this was the style that worked best for us. We don’t expect the chefs to like all the wines we recommend – sometimes it’s great if they point out why they would have preferred something different, because this gives the viewers options – but few chefs are sufficiently confident around wine to do this – or to challenge James about his stance on rosé.

That’s why I for one will keep recommending rosé on Saturday Kitchen, as elsewhere. It’s a great wine style, one that pairs very well with food – and our obligation is to the viewers, not the studio. Even if it can mean a chilly reception from time to time…

It was gratifying to read some of the tweets following the show.

‘I take my hat off to the Braccheto d’Aqui food & wine pairing’ wrote @Angus_Macnab. ‘A fav of mine when working as a sommelier!’

‘You are usually spot on and a pink wine was never going to win JM over’ commented @orangemartini.

Moving on, Jodie Kidd’s food heaven was dover sole with chorizo, gnocchi and artichoke stew. This I matched with the Stork’s Tower Tempranillo Shiraz rosé (Tesco, £4.99).

James’ comment? ‘Ignore the colour’.

As ever, the show is available for the next week via BBC iplayer. Wine bits at 15:40 and 57:20, with archive material from Rick Stein, Keith Floyd, Anjum Anand and Nigel Slater.