Though a mandatory component of most high-end restaurant menus and the frequent focus of winemaker dinners, pairing food with specific wines is actually a rather difficult affair, with every heroic hit running into just as many mediocre misses. So whether attempting to do so at home or enjoying a pairing menu at a restaurant, I always prefer to consider the quest for combined excellence as the point rather than the results themselves.
But then there’s a rare event like the upcoming food-and-wine pairing hosted by Inside Wine Santa Barbara at the Museum of Natural History. With some of the region’s top chefs teaming up with some of the region’s best winemakers, there’s bound to be pieces of epicurean gold that will suit every type of taste bud.
One such vintner is Coby Parker-Garcia. The San Luis Obispo native and Cal Poly grad worked his first harvest in 2002 for Claiborne & Churchill (C&C), the Edna Valley–based producer of pinot noirs and Alsatian white wines such as riesling and gewürztraminer. After a brief stint selling broccoli and cauliflower in Santa Maria, he returned to C&C in 2004 to be assistant winemaker and rose to the top job three years later. In 2013, he and his wife, Katie Noonan, started their own brand, El Lugar, with a focus on single-vineyard pinot noirs, including a white wine made from the red grape.
“The cool thing about wine pairing is that sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t,” said Parker-Garcia, who will be pouring C&C’s riesling and gewürztraminer and two El Lugar pinots. “Everyone’s palate is a little different, so what does work for some doesn’t work for others.”
His teammate is Chef Mossin Sugich from the Santa Barbara Yacht Club, who will prepare a foie gras mousse with rhubarb compote and vadouvan curried pistachio on brioche, as well as a brûléed scallop with English pea purée, pickled ramps, and freeze-dried white balsamic vinegar. “The foie gras is going to be cool with the gewürz, but that rhubarb compote will go pretty good with the pinot, as well,” said Parker-Garcia. “Pinot is one of those wines that can go both ways. It’s the gateway to the red wine world.”
Sugich is also a Central Coast kid, raised in Santa Barbara as well as in England and the Middle East with his travel-writing father. “After high school, I decided to go to culinary school,” explained Sugich, who got a taste for the industry due to a relative who ran the TGI Fridays chain in England. “My grandma’s dying wish was that I would do something with my life.”
His first job in town was at the Four Seasons Biltmore, and then he helped open Elements across from the S.B. County Courthouse , was sous chef at San Ysidro Ranch, and next worked for Mark Lawrence to open Blush and manage The Savoy nightclub on State Street. After reopening El Encanto as executive sous chef, Sugich “wanted to see my children” three years ago, so signed on for more regular hours as head chef at the Yacht Club.
Aware of the perils, Sugich takes food-and-wine pairing very seriously. “I want to know where the wine is from and what else grows in that region, whether it be France or Italy or California,” he explained. “My approach is definitely seasonal and atmospherical.”
For this pairing, the rhubarb has been very plentiful in recent weeks at the farmers’ market, so that was an easy choice to pair with foie gras, a common companion for pinot and Alsatian wines. He’s buying the scallops from the S.B. Fish Market, just doors away from his club, using the umami-rich pea purée to symbolize spring, and he will be sprinkling the zesty bits of freeze-dried balsamic on top “for a little bit of pop.”
Sugich and Parker-Garcia are joining 11 other pairing teams. That includes stalwarts such as Chef Michael Hutchings and Richard Sanford’s Alma Rosa and Via Maestra 42 with Brander Vineyard as well as more adventurous combos like Grassini and Nimita’s Cuisine, Sagebrush Annie’s with Le Sorelle Italian spreads, and Stacked Stone with Los Arroyos.
“People will be able to hear about the wine as they taste the food,” said Sugich. “It’s going to a very casual and fun atmosphere.”
411 The Inside Wine S.B. tasting group celebrates its fifth anniversary with a food-and-wine-pairing event at the S.B. Museum of Natural History (2559 Puesta Del Sol) on Saturday, April 8, 2-5 p.m. All proceeds of the $47 tickets (available for advance purchase only) will go to the museum’s science programs. See meetup.com/inside-wine-santa-barbara.