by Ben Miller
Food and wine/alcohol are a natural pairing. The flavors in a good glass of wine can really enhance a dish, and the usage of alcohol in cooking can play an important role in creating good marinades (such as this Food and Wine flank steak recipe) or cool restaurant effects.*
As this New York Times article notes, however, abstaining from or avoiding alcohol can be a difficult challenge for many chefs. For one, it’s a high pressure profession, and alcohol is usually readily available in a restaurant (or as we’ve seen repeatedly, the Top Chef stew room). Second, as mentioned above, knowing how to pair food and wine is an important part of a fine dining experience. In fact, its viewed as so crucial that the Culinary Institute of America actually has a required three-week course on wine tasting. As the article notes, this has created a difficult situation for at least one student who is a recovering alcoholic.
But while having strong knowledge of wine, alcohol, and food can be a very useful tool for a chef, there’s no reason it should be a deal breaker. Chefs that own a restaurant need a solid knowledge of wine to put together a good list and cellar, but I’d imagine they could hire the services of a sommelier for this purpose. The fanciest individuals already use one for suggesting food pairings anyway.
Now I will admit that avoiding alcohol could become complicated is if chefs won’t taste anything that had alcohol in the cooking. Especially for less experienced chefs who don’t already have a strong palate and feel for seasoning.
Is it possible to avoid alcohol and still be a top notch chef? I’d say so. But what do you think?
*Clearly the alcohol in saganaki serves other purposes as well, but it is pretty cool to order.