A Deliciously Crazy Idea

By George Mavrothalassitis
Wednesday - September 20, 2006
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Ready to cook: (from left): Nolan West, Matthew Tomita, Kevin Chong, James Murray, Nick Erker, Hiromi Okura and Chef Mavro
Ready to cook: (from left): Nolan West, Matthew Tomita, Kevin Chong,
James Murray, Nick Erker, Hiromi Okura and Chef Mavro

A food and wine story: I came to the States 21 years ago. Fresh from France, my secret mission was to save this country from eating only burgers and hot dogs and drinking Coca Cola. I could see myself as a French superman, flying above the country in my uniform armed with a towel in one hand and a wooden spoon in the other.

My surprise was big when I noticed that nobody in the dining scene was waiting for me. At this time, the economy was booming, restaurants were packed and the food in general - delicious! I didn’t even know that Americans were producing drinkable wines. My first wine tasting in California included a cabernet sauvignon from Jordan and a chardonnay from Chateau Montelena - wow.

I was about to go back home when I found a place where maybe I could make a contribution. I heard many people say “don’t worry about the food, drink the wine you like.” Did that mean that merlot goes with fresh oysters and sauvignon blanc with lamb, red wine with Japanese food and any kind of wine with Chinese food? I don’t think so. To me, food and wine is a love story, a marriage. Food and wine call for each other. For the most part, I don’t eat without wine and don’t drink wine without food. Each matters too much to me.

I always asked myself, “When am I going to open a restaurant with food and wine pairings, no wine list?” And crazy me, I did it. On Dec. 19, 1998, I opened Chef Mavro restaurant - with no wine list. Only wines by the glass carefully selected to enhance the flavors of each recipe. At that time food and wine pairing was not the familiar term it is today.

Well! I can still hear the first customers “You call your restaurant fine dining and you don’t have a wine list?” and “What, no California chardonnay, no California cabernet sauvignon, even no merlot on this menu?” I realized that everybody was talking about sauvignon blanc and pinot noir, but they were drinking chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. I was miserable. This time I was ready to swim back to my native Provence. But deep inside of me I knew I was right. My father always told me to do the right thing and they will come.

Well, now they come. Today most of our guests are in my dining room to experience our wine pairings. In fact, it is what we are all about. My way is to create new recipes first in my mind. Even at this stage I have to imagine and smell the wine that I am going to drink with the recipe. If I don’t, usually I don’t go further and the recipe never surfaces.

The most important thing for me is my team of talented young cooks who share my passion for flavors, innovation and, of course, food and wine pairing. We have enough ideas to fill several lifetimes! So for every season we call our local farmer friends about new ingredients, apply cutting-edge cooking techniques, and roll out a new menu.

Our wine pairings are selected in a very democratic way. There are no preferred wholesalers, no favorite country of origin, no prejudged ideas, just the best combination. Just the one that makes you say “Wow!”

You know a good pairing is a trip to heaven and I reached mine. I was thinking that I had done everything I wanted to do when I found another place where maybe I can contribute. Food and wine pairings do not have to be reserved for fine dining, so I may have another crazy idea in me ...

Next Week:Wendy Burkholder, Executive Director Consumer Credit Counseling Service Hawaii

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