Aug 18 2009

Civilize your Summer Soiree

by Maggie Smith

Raised a Midwestern girl, I have never had a problem with your average weekend BBQ fare: grilling out, burgers and brats. But this past Saturday, as I was hosting a party for a number of area wine connoisseurs and noted foodies, I decided to “civilize” my soiree a bit.  Here’s how:

I hired Jaime Canete, Sous Chef at Terzo Piano (Spiaggia’s second creation in the modern wing of the Art Institute),  to prepare a menu for me, giving him a theme (“fresh summer cuisine on a hot August day”), and I would pair the food with a selection of wines.  By hiring a chef, I would have cuisine that I could not possibly think up or prepare myself, and since I was spending more on the food, my challenge was to pair less expensive wines with his phenomenal creations.

Being a “Top Chef” junkie, seeing him prep, cook and garnish in my home was unbelievable. Not only was it wonderful for my guests to watch him in action, but they were also asking him a lot of questions and getting him to demystify some ingredients that I had never heard of… and couldn’t pronounce! He purchased most of his ingredients at the Green City Market in downtown Chicago, so everything was fresh, local, and had the most intense and precise flavors.

As a hostess, one of the greatest benefits of having him cook in my home was being able to enjoy my guests instead of being stuck in the kitchen cooking, serving and cleaning.

Among the multiple courses of fresh summer cuisine, there were two dishes that some guests called “life-changing.” I mean, how happy does it make a girl to have these types of compliments at my very first attempt at a civilized soiree? I’m going to share these two dishes and the corresponding wine pairings so you can “civilize” your BBQ this summer as well.

The Steak Tartare was made with Prime Dry Aged Strip Loin (Beef) finely diced, then mixed with minced tarragon, minced shallots, lemon zest, lemon juice, sea salt & whole grain Dijon mustard.  It was served on individual spoons, but could also be done on crostinis.  I would give you the measurements on each ingredient, but—of course—true chefs simply add a pinch then taste till it’s right. The delicate style of the Tartare with the fresh herbs and citrus flavors went amazingly with the Quivira Sauvignon Blanc from Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, California.  Quivira has a fuller body, since it was aged on its lees, but also it’s more delicate in flavor so it really complimented the Tartare and did not interrupt or overpower any of the flavors in dish or the wine. Both were better because of the pairing.

The second favorite dish of the day was the Hamachi (yellowtail, Japanese Amberjack family) which was thinly sliced raw, plated with avocado slices, Fresno chile, lemon, lime and orange juices, and sea salt.  See why I felt like I had Top Chef in my house? This dish paired beautifully with the Massena “Surly Muse” Viognier from Barossa Valley, Australia.  This Viognier is much different from most warm climate Viogniers; somehow they made this wine with a more restrained personality, which is difficult to do in the Barossa. It only whispers honeysuckle, white peach and pineapple instead of yelling it at you like a lot of the California Viogniers I’ve had recently. It was, again, a wonderful pairing. The subtle tropical fruit really complimented the fresh citrus in the dish and the decadent texture of the raw fish.  If you would like any information on having Jaime Canete “civilize” your summer soiree, contact him at or

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