Behind the scenes at the Copa Jerez
On a sweltering summer’s day in Jerez, Gianni Ferlito, head sommelier of The Ritz London, manages to keep his cool despite being dressed in a tailcoat. Keen to keep up appearances, the immaculately attired and impeccably mannered Italian extols the virtues of Sherry to a panel of five judges including Josep ‘Pitu’ Roca, head sommelier of the twice voted ‘world’s best restaurant’, El Celler de Can Roca, and Andoni Aduriz, head chef of the two star Mugaritz in the Basque country, during the first round of the Copa Jerez.
Now in its seventh year, this year’s competition drew chef and sommelier teams from seven countries around the world who gathered in Jerez to try and woo the judges with a three-course meal paired with cherry picked Sherries. Keen to recreate The Ritz London experience in Jerez, which is riding high on a new Michelin star, Ferlito flew over three cases full of kit including the restaurant’s distinctive desert plates with cappuccino-coloured swirls.
I serve Sherry every day by the glass at the restaurant and I believe it’s the ultimate food pairing wine. One of my favourite pairings is a PX with a crumbly English blue cheese like Stilton and a dried fig chutney – most people pair blue cheese with Port but I think PX works better, Ferlito told the judges
Among the competing teams were an eccentric pair from Humphrey restaurant in Belgium – bowler hat wearing, moustachioed head chef Robin Alexander Leypoldt and nattily dressed sommelier Glen Ramaekers, who both appeared to be enjoying the competition rather than feeling the heat. With the word ‘rock’ inked on his right arm, to keep the crowd entertained while the judges deliberated and codjetated, Leypoldt busted out his best Frank Sinatra renditions as Ramaekers worked the room offering members of the press a taste of grated reindeer heart, which was used in their main course.
Also competing were Flannery Klette-Kolton and Kerin Auth-Bembery, a dynamic duo from New York pop-up En Rama in the West Village. Softly spoken and petite in stature, Klette-Kolton served up some of the most powerful and thought provoking flavour combinations of the competition, from silky scallops with coconut sand, Seville orange and sea foam, to a magnificent main of kombucha and kaffir braised short ribs with an espresso rub and brûléed carrot soufflé.
Presenting in perfect Spanish, Auth-Bembery charmed the audience with her anecdotes of discovering Sherry while living in Seville and dating a Jerezano.
I fell in love with somebody from Jerez and drank a lot of Sherry with him. Spain is my first passion – at the feria in Seville I’d drink manzanilla from ice baths in the middle of the street, she said.
While The Ritz relied quite heavily on local ingredients, other teams brought almost everything with them. Brawny blue-eyed maverick Leon Mazairac, head chef of Podium Onder de Dom in The Netherlands and his chiselled cheekboned, floppy blond-haired wingman Goos van der Berg, believed that to give them the best shot of winning they needed to ship their ingredients out to Jerez. “A guy who competed in a previous Copa Jerez told me to take everything with me – the more you can bring the better prepared you are,” Mazairac told me during the awards ceremony after the competition.
The atmosphere in the tiny kitchen was tense, with each of the teams given just 55 minutes to cook and plate up each dish. Among the most successful pairings was a simple starter devised by the Spanish team from the two Michelin-starred Casa Marcial in Asturias. Formed of a tiny tortellini stuffed with tender, delicately spiced pheasant and salty seaweed, the sweetness of the meat and its Middle Eastern spices paired seamlessly with a nutty Amontillado from Bodegas Delgado Zuleta.
In the end, practice and preparation paid off for the team from Podium Onder de Dom in Utrecht, who emerged victorious with head chef Leon Mazairac scooping the best chef award to boot. Their menu began with an oyster with green olive gelée, sardine cream and Ibérico ham sauce paired with Bodegas Delgado Zuleta Manzanilla Pasada. The main event was Dutch rabbit crépinette with masala spices, and carrot and orange cream married to Bodegas Callejula Oloroso.
The menu ended with a quirky play on sweet and savoury involving caramel and porcini ‘flor’ ice cream with a Sherry brandy reduction and aged Oudwijker cheese from Utrecht paired with Medium Mons Urium from Bodegas Urium.
We wanted to be as prepared as possible so were practising pouring and presenting the wines with the chambermaids the night before the competition, Mazairac revealed with the cocksure swagger of a young Gordon Ramsay.
About the author:
Lucy Shaw is managing editor of the drinks business. Her special interest areas include Spain, Champagne, South America and the London on-trade. During her time at db she has interviewed Hollywood actors Sam Neill and Dan Aykroyd about their wine projects in New Zealand and Canada respectively. As passionate about food she is about wine, she edits the magazine’s Eat.Drink reports that take the temperature of London’s ever-evolving restaurant scene. With ambitions to be the next Fay Maschler, she can often be found moonlighting after hours as a food critic at some of the captial’s latest openings. Prior to the drinks business, she spent three years as editorial assistant at Decanter magazine, where she interviewed everyone from Sir Trevor McDonald and Phillip Schofield to singer Julio Iglesias, actor Julian Sands and celebrated chef Ferran Adrià about their passion for wine. In addition to her duties at db, she occasionally freelances for Marie Claire, Newsweek, GQ and online luxury lifestyle magazine The Arbuturian on food, wine and travel. Her other interests include film, photography, literature, music and art. She has been nominated for the Louis Roederer Emerging Wine Writer of the Year award four times. This year she was nominated for the Louis Roederer Food & Wine Writer of the Year award.
Follow Lucy on Twitter @LucyLondon