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Wine and Food Wednesday
Making Food Match The Wine

A Book Review by Stephen Eliot

It not a new book, but Lessons in Wine Service from Charlie Trotter is a book that should be better known. Written by veteran journalist Edmund O. Lawler who teaches at DePaul University, this no-nonsense little volume is a concise summary of the philosophy and practice of wine service as practiced in Mr. Trotter’s eponymously named, highly regarded restaurant in Chicago, and it came to mind this past week as I gave an impromptu presentation of the ways in which food and wine work together to a gathering of professional chef instructors. It is ostensibly written for professionals and should be required reading for anyone who works in the world of food and fine wine, but its insightful “lessons” will prove a boon to food and wine lovers of every stripe, from novices to long-time connoisseurs.

Drawn from extensive interviews with master sommeliers, chefs, restaurant staff and patrons, Lawler addresses what success means at the highest level and the kind of planning, hard work and attention to detail that are needed to achieve it. This is not a book about simple basics, and it does not offer simple answers. It not about rustic cuisine and bistro wines quaffed from carafes, but it explores those things that go into making an evening at restaurants such as Charlie Trotter’s, the French Laundy, Gary Danko, Cyrus an unforgettable experience. At the same time, however, its discussions about precise service, the ability to pay attention to the patron and pursue excellence at every level are as applicable to simple bistro dining as to the rare, high-ticket splurge.

Given that we here at CGCW are a bit oenocentric, I was particularly impressed by Trotter’s ceaseless striving to alter recipes to better align a specific dish with a particular wine. More than ready willingness to do so, Trotter and his staff seem to believe that such “tweaking” is a wholly necessary part of real excellence, as is attested by simple ideas such as “the wine is fixed, whereas the food is variable” and “that chefs need to be flexible…even the great chefs must be willing to compromise elements of their signature dishes to optimize wine pairing.” The book abounds with such useful insights.

A good many years ago, I remember winemaker Randall Graham, having just returned from Chicago, urged me in an excited, almost demanding voice that I simply must eat at Charlie Trotter’s…that the food would make me feel good. Time, as it so often does, passes quickly, and sadly I still have not heeded his plea. I have, on the other hand, been lucky enough to occasionally sit at special tables and know just what he meant. Great wine played a part in the very best of those times. Whether you are a chef or a diner, if you are one cares what those moments are made of, you will find no better explication of the topic than this significant little book.

Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, California 2008. 176 pages. $24.95

  • ISBN-10: 1580089054
  • ISBN-13: 978-1580089050


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