Now in its fourth year, the Gosset Matchmakers competition is fully established as a top event in the calendar for young sommeliers and chefs. Open to anyone who has been in hospitality for less than five years, the pair must work together to come up with an inspiring, imaginative and successful match for Gosset champagne.
The actual champagne to be matched changes every year. A couple of years ago, for instance, it was the Gosset Blanc de Blancs; last year the competitors could choose anything from the portfolio. But this year it was the turn of the recently launched 2012 Gosset Grand Millésime, a typically elegant expression of a vintage to delight the heart of champagne purists everywhere.
The Nut Tree, Oxfordshire
Sommelier: Sarah McKenzie
Chef: Maisie Williams
The Ledbury, London
Sommelier: Cristian Padovan
Chef: Federico Ramin
Restaurant Sat Bains, Nottingham
Sommelier: Quentin Loisel
Chef: Alice Hill
Sommelier: Oskars Mickans
Chef: Piero Italiano
The wine, from a cooler year with a beautiful balance of fruit and acidity, is described by Gosset’s export director Bertrand Verduzier as classical.
This year’s competitors had been introduced to the wine at a brunch at Tredwells in London earlier this year by none other than winemaker Odilon de Varine. It was a competition, he explained, where the Gosset team was looking for creativity and imagination, rather than the tried and tested. Its judges wanted to see chef and sommelier working together to create great things.
This year, for the first time, they also had to think on their feet. In the second round, each team was given an on-trend plantbased ‘mystery box’ of ingredients, plus access to Cordon Bleu’s extensive range of spices, nuts, seeds, vinegars and dry goods. With all this, they had to create a dish to match Gosset’s Petit Douceur rosé, a highly food-friendly extra dry with 17g/l sugar.
Jean-Pierre Cointreau, Champagne Gosset
Jan Konetzki, Four Seasons Ten Trinity Square
Matthieu Longuère MS, Cordon Bleu
Chris Losh, freelance journalist
Will Oatley, Louis Latour Agencies
Marcus Wareing, Marcus Wareing Restaurants
Melody Wong, Midsummer House
‘It’s a sweeter style, but not too sweet,’ said Jean-Pierre Cointreau, chairman of Champagne Gosset. ‘It’s extra dry , not a demi-sec. It’s a gastronomic champagne,’ agreed Cordon Bleu’s Matthieu Longuère MS. ‘This mystery box round is a chance for the teams to prove that extra-dry can work with food. It’s very good with sweet and sour, for instance. I’d definitely use citrus to balance the sweetness.’
So how much did they take on from de Varine’s words of wisdom? Were they thinking along the same lines as Longuère? And what did they all come up with from the mystery box? Read on to find out…
The Nut Tree, Oxfordshire
Chef Maisie Williams and sommelier Sarah McKenzie were the youngest competitors. It was, in fact, William’s ﬁrst visit to London.
Despite having to deal with a split container, which saw them carrying their garnishing cherries in a Costa Coffee cup, they were cheerful throughout and worked happily together as a team, earning praise from the judges for their unfailingly positive attitude.
Their main course was roasted veal sweetbreads with almonds and cherries. ‘The sweetbreads are quite fatty, so the champagne cleans the palate,’ explained McKenzie. ‘It’s also quite nutty, so we included nuts in the dish to bring that out. The cherries are there to add sweetness and spice.’
For the mystery box, they went for a squash risotto, using the whole squash and breaking it into diﬀerent elements, adding grapefruit for a citrus lift and pumpkin seeds for texture. The dishes and the thinking behind them were deemed sound by the judges, but perhaps a bit too down-home for a product with the panache of Gosset Grand Millésime.
‘It didn’t oﬀend,’ said judge Jan Konetzki of Four Seasons Ten Trinity Square, ‘but it was all quite simple, and their presentation was a little lacking in panache. You have to set a scene for the guest.’ ‘Their analysis was simple,’ agreed Longuère, ‘but that can work well, sometimes we can overthink things.’
The Ledbury, London
Chef Federico Ramin certainly made an impression on our judges in the kitchen.
His ﬁrst action was to slap a live lobster on the counter top, chop it in half and pull the brains out of its head. This, it transpired, was to make the quinto-quarto sauce that was to accompany the lobster.
And there was a reason they’d chosen the dish they did. ‘We were thinking about Pierre Gosset and how his wines were served at the table of kings like Henri III, Henri IV and Louis XIII,’ explained sommelier Cristian Padovan. ‘That’s when bouillabaisse sauce was born. Interestingly, lobster, at that time, was a food for poor people, whereas now it’s a dish for a king.’ Flavour-wise, they liked the way that ‘the smokiness goes with the tertiary characters in the champagne’.
For the mystery box, the pair created a dish of baked quince with a baked slice of beetroot, chickpea mayonnaise and roasted girolle mushrooms. ‘We needed some sweetness and earthiness in this dish, the Petit Douceur is absolutely a food wine,’ added Padovan.
The judges liked the thinking behind both dishes, and the rosé matched the mystery dish well – ‘the best match’ according to Konetzki. They also enjoyed that the pair had introduced an element of Gosset’s history to their thinking, but alas their lobster dish failed to convince the judges.
Chef Marcus Wareing felt that the bouillabaisse needed more concentration, but the big problem in wine-match terms was largely down to one rogue element. ‘That chicory kills this dish,’ said Midsummer House’s Melody Wong, while Longuère felt it ‘made everything smoky’.
Heritage Restaurant, London
The team from this London restaurant had to overcome an act of God – or at least of French air-traﬃc control – when their ﬁrst-choice sommelier was stranded in France. But Oskars Mickans stepped manfully into the fray, and chef Piero Italiano was able to present his big idea.
‘I had a picture in my mind of a vineyard by the sea and I wanted to recreate it,’ he explained. ‘It’s about matching ingredients from the sea and the land.’ His dish, aptly titled ‘Where the Land Meets the Sea’, comprised turbot wrapped in vine leaves and steamed in wine, with a beurre-blanc sauce ﬁnished with mussels, clams and caviar. It was fairly traditional, but very nicely put together, and there were some creative touches like adding pickled grapes and topping it oﬀ with salty samphire.
All appreciated by Wareing. ‘I love the balance of sweet and sour and acid ﬂ avours,’ he said. ‘They were looking for that and it really worked. As a team they worked well together, too.’
‘This is a beautiful match with the wine,’ added Losh. ‘Neither overpowers the other, and they intertwine with a light-footed sinuousness. It’s like watching good ballet.’
Their mystery box – a pumpkin puree with pumpkin seeds and beetroot crisps – was something of a panel-splitter when it came to the match, but even so, more judges liked it than didn’t. ‘I enjoyed that combination of sweetness and earthiness,’ said Konetzki. ‘With the champagne those ﬂ avours stuck out well.’
Restaurant Sat Bains, Nottingham
There was no lack of ambition from this duo, sommelier Quentin Loisel and chef Alice Hill, from Nottingham’s Michelin-starred Restaurant Sat Bains.
Containing no less than 78 ingredients, the description of the ﬁrst dish alone took up half a page, but can be abbreviated to ‘matcha-infused white chocolate Aero, coconut and jasmine ice cream with lime and lemon verbena jelly and crème de cassis granita’.
Yes, it was a dessert, and no, this was not the normal hunting ground for a vintage champagne with just 8g/l dosage. So, a big challenge for both competitors. And, indeed, the Gosset Grand Millésime itself.
The mystery-box dish was based on a pumpkin and beetroot tartlet and was vindication of the amount of thought that went into its conception before chef Alice Hill had even picked up a knife in earnest.
The quality of food in both dishes was impressive – and there were neat touches, too. The dessert for instance referenced the colours of the Gosset label, and was presented on a bottle-shape outline.
Gosset’s Jean-Pierre Cointreau felt it was ‘the best idea of all the groups’. Unfortunately, even though it was – Hill pointed out that – it was still too sweet for the wine. The Petit Douceur was better with the mystery box, but still not perfect. Ironically, each wine went rather better with the other dish. ‘These are two fantastic dishes and glasses of champagne, but not together,’ as Wareing neatly summed it up. ‘I’ve never had to send the best food out of a competition before, but it’s not a cooking competition – it’s a food and wine matching one.’
And the winners are...
Oskars Mickans and Piero Italiano of Heritage, London
Oskars Mickans and Piero Italiano won this year’s competition because they never lost sight of the fact that this is a wine-matching competition, not purely a cooking one.
Their concept was wine-related and they had clearly done their homework on the champagne. The ﬂavours of their food were sensitive rather than showy and worked beautifully with the Gosset Grande Millésime as a result. ‘The key is not to over complicate it, to keep the ﬂavours in balance and make sure that the food doesn’t overpower the champagne,’ said Wareing before judging started. The entry from the pair at Heritage Restaurant hit that brief beautifully.