My former Boss Michael asked for a favor, which happened often. He was the manager of Sales at a luxury hotel and I used to be his catering manager. “I left because I wanted time off. I seem to be working for you just as much, only I don’t have the corporate benefits,” I said only half-jokingly.
“You can always come back. I have clients booking meetings but their dinners are never the same without Sylvia Sterling. These guys are from the south and they want some down home cooking with an elegant touch. I don’t just want to throw them a bucket of fried chicken and a six pack of beer, which will happen if assign this event to anyone other than you.”
“You have to start using your own resources Michael because hiring a freelance caterer won’t go over well with your boss. I’ll help out and I do plan to serve fried chicken but we won’t be cracking open beer bottles. I’ll shoot you a preliminary menu and you can give it your stamp of approval.”
I was familiar with the group having dinner. When they were hosting company dinners they wanted to impress but not overwhelm. Showing their southern pride and not appearing as hillbillies while putting a shine on the evening were their goals. Making fried chicken appear elegant was easy if the wine pairing was just right.
Traveling to Savanah and enjoying fine food and carriage rides, I had many dinners of delicately fried chicken paired with white Riesling, which is the pairing I would rely on. The wine was to the lemonade that I drank as a child on my Aunt Ruby’s porch in Mineral Springs Georgia. Somehow, I thought my guests would prefer wine to lemonade. A few days before the dinner, I went shopping for the Riesling and ingredients while reserving my spot at the commercial kitchen located conveniently next to the hotel. Fresh heirloom tomatoes and arugula would serve as the salad course; potato slaw and collards would go with the chicken.
I chose Marcel Deiss white Riesling from the Alsace region of France and picked up a case. I bought a dozen bottles, as it was a good way to keep my wine cellar stocked. If there were leftovers, which was often, I’d add it to my stash. A 2007 vintage would only get better in the next ten years but it was excellent today as well. It was an off dry white with a bit of sugar without having an in your face sweetness. It had a light touch, which complimented the delicate crunch and salt of the chicken. I did my prep work, which included soaking the organic in buttermilk overnight and then dusting it. I poured the flour, cornmeal and spices into a paper bag, which was a nod to my Aunt’s recipe.
Peeking into the room, I was delighted that it was people I had served before and the clients they were trying to impress. I would allow the Mr. Wilkins to taste the Riesling first. He would likely taste and allow his guest to do the same, which was his routine. The menu including the wine had been approved so I didn’t worry too much. Mr. Wilkins had a massive cellar of his own in Buckhead GA and he knew wine well. I appeared with the first bottle with three other bottles open and ready to pour.
“Sylvia Sterling. You never disappoint and I was thrilled to see fried chicken on the menu.” Mr. Wilkins had a red nose, indicating he had indulged in several cocktails already.
I allowed him to gaze the label and he nodded his approval. I poured him a taste and he gestured to his guest to invite him in the tasting.
“More aromatic than I expected but good, I approve. If you have a few bottles when we’re finished; let’s talk.” Mr. Wilkins winked. He knew I always purchased more than necessary. “What do you think Sweeney?” It was apparent Sweeney was then man he wanted to impress. I held the bottle tight as I waited for a response.
“It’s nice but not outstanding. I’m getting the citrus and a bit of green apple but I would have gone with a Gewürztraminer. It’s more floral and little less sour than the Riesling. I assume Wilkins approved the choice so let’s go with it.
I looked at Mr. Wilkins who was flustered by his guest’s comment on the wine and he wished he had picked a Gewurztraminer. He rarely missed the mark when it came to wine pairings. I tried to save the day.
“Mr. Wilkins prepared me for an opinion such as yours and I have a bottle or two of Villa Bellangelo Gewurztraminer from the Finger Lakes.” Mr. Wilkins shot me a look and mouthed the words thank you.
Sweeney smiled and from that point, forward the dinner went off without a hitch. My Aunt’s chicken recipe came in handy. Crunching through the light and salty coating was comforting and put everyone in a happy mood.
After dinner I was packing up when Mr. Wilkins peeked his head into the kitchen.
“You saved me Sylvia. I stand by our wine pairing but Sweeney thought otherwise. He’s an ass but we need his business, which I think we have. I thought the Riesling went fantastic with the chicken. It had a soft touch but it wasn’t cloying as some cheaper Rieslings tend to be.”
“No need to butter me up Wilkins.” I laughed. “I set aside a couple of bottles for you and I tucked in my chicken recipe as well.”
“Thanks Syl. You’ll hear from me next time we blow into town.”