Cooking At The Creek: Interview with Chef Veronica Zahra
Wine Pairing and Recipe Tips From the Chef at Jacob's Creek
Veronica had an interest in food from a young age, cooking Mediterranean before it ever became popular in restaurants. She even remembers being at school and other students wanting to swap her “exotic” tomato paste and olive oil sandwich for their plain jam sandwich.
Today, as Executive Chef at Orlando Wines (the winery that makes Jacob’s Creek) Veronica’s responsible for hosting the VIPs that visit the brand’s heritage site in the Barossa from all over the world, be they consumer competition winners, wine buyers, journalists or dignitaries.
Given the global scope of Jacob’s Creek, Veronica enjoys learning and applying international food styles and techniques in her fusion style of cooking, with a particular emphasis on regional Chinese food. And because she’s chef at a winery, Veronica is regularly caught up in deep discussion with the winemakers, exploring the nuances of each dish to ensure it matches perfectly with a particular Jacob’s Creek wine for a menu she is preparing.
1. From a chef's perspective, what is the most exciting thing happening with Australian wine today?
That matching wine with food has really become part of popular culture. It’s at the forefront of a lot of people’s minds when they choose wine, and there’s greater awareness of the way different wine styles suit different foods. As a result there are more wine styles available that are food friendly. Australian winemakers are playing more with Spanish and Italian varieties such as Tempranillo and Sangiovese to make wines that really suit oily foods and strong, salty flavors.
There‘s also a continued pursuit of dry Australian Rieslings which I think is one of the most food-friendly wines. It suits a lot of Asian foods, such as the hot, sour and spicy flavours of Thai and Vietnamese cuisine.
2. When pairing food and wine, what are your main considerations when it comes to wines that can be similar, say, Cabernet vs. Shiraz?
The key consideration is the protein of the dish – how strong is its flavor, how fatty is it, what texture [does it have] in the mouth and how that goes with the wine. In general, I like to serve beef with Shiraz and lamb with Cabernet Sauvignon. Lamb is a sweeter and generally fattier meat but also has a very strong flavor. Where Shiraz can be overwhelmed by lamb, Cabernet has the backbone to stand up to it. The complex astringency and acidity cuts through the fattiness of lamb beautifully, and the persistence of Cabernet Sauvignon on the palate means it lingers as long as the flavor of the lamb. Another critical consideration is the sauce, as this really determines whether the flavor of the food is harmonious with or in contrast to the wine.
With Shiraz I like to serve the Beef with sauces such as simple ‘jus,’ which matches the Shiraz in richness and silky texture, while the juiciness of Shiraz clears the palate of any lingering cloying aftertaste of the jus. Shiraz is actually very versatile and goes with many different sauces: earthy mushroom sauces, sweeter fruit sauces like plum, etc.
With Cabernet I often serve the meat with herbs either in the stuffing or as a crust, or with pesto as I like the way it harmonizes with the herbaceous notes of Cabernet Sauvignon.