Wednesday, 28 July 2010 23:17

Perfect Match

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Certain things roll off the tongue in one breath – chalk and cheese, black and white, night and day. Food and wine is another of those indispensable pairs, and, when entertaining, an integral player in making your evening a success. Michaela Skilney speaks with renowned food and wine expert Lyndey Milan about Milan’s latest books and finding just the right balance between your glass and your plate.


When it comes to matching food with wine, there would be few who are as versed in the subject as Australian food and wine identity Lyndey Milan. A best selling cookbook author and award winning food and wine writer, Milan has developed recipes for newspapers, magazines, TV and radio, as well as wine companies and food producers.

As a Food Director at the iconic Australian Women’s Weekly, which she has been contributing to for over nine years, Milan appears regularly on Mornings with Kerri-Anne and was the host of Fresh for more than eight years. Her no–nonsense approach and ability to communicate with viewers and readers have seen her awarded such prestigious accolades as the Food Media Club of Australia award for Best Overall Contribution to food media in 1999 and 2008, the only person to have received the award twice.

A background in advertising and hospitality has made Milan a keen observer of food, wine, dining and eating trends. In her role as Royal Agricultural Society of NSW board member, she’s developed a particular interest in regional producers. Travelling overseas regularly, Milan is a keen observer of all aspects of food, wine and culture, allowing her to stay abreast of world trends long before they become popular here.

Apart from her media commitments and published works, Milan also runs a successful consultancy business where she partakes in celebrity appearances, cooking demonstrations and wine appreciation classes – sounds like there’s a lot on her plate! Milan took time out from her busy schedule to chat to Melbourne Kitchen + Bathroom Design about what she knows best – food and wine matching.

MS How did you develop your palate and knowledge of matching food with wine?
LM I had a catering business for 12 years and eventually people started asking me about supplying wines as well. I did a wine appreciation course and just through going there and meeting people, I ended up teaching food and wine matching. When you’re a caterer, or when you’re entertaining at home, you want to make sure that your guests have the best possible experience. You can’t leave anything to chance, so I just got really interested in how wine worked with food. I guess I’ve become good at it because I’m both a food writer and a wine writer, and not many people are both. You’ve certainly much more high profile wine writers and food writers than me but there’s no one else who really does them both.

MS Your expertise and knowledge of matching food and wine culminated in the successful book Balance – Matching Food & Wine, What Works & Why. Tell me how that all came about and what urged you to put that book together?
LM I absolutely love the Australian wine industry. I get so cross when people say, ‘oh you can only drink beer with spicy food’, and that was one of the motivating factors with this book. First of not all spices are hot; I mean vanilla is a spice! Wine is fantastic with spicy food whether it’s chilli or something more subtle. The combination is so important because if you drink the wrong wine with something you’ll think ‘oh, I don’t like that wine’, but it’s not the wine, it’s probably the combination. So for example, if you have a wooded chardonnay with something with chilli in it it’s horrible, it tastes metallic. But if you’re eating Moroccan flavours with no chilli in it chardonnay can be fine. As soon as you throw the chilli in you need something stronger.

MS Were you surprised at its highly praised response from both readers and those in the industry? I know that it was reprinted due to popular demand and won the Best Food + Wine Writing award at the Vittoria Food Media Awards in 2006.
LM No I’m not surprised by the response because it was designed to be a timeless book. There are no vintages in it and no brands in there. What we were trying to do was teach people to become their own expert, trying to empower people to do it themselves. Because just saying this recipe goes with that wine, well what if you wanted to have a different recipe or drink a different wine? That wouldn’t have been very helpful so it’s much better to talk in terms of styles.


MS Balance covers so much in regards to how we view and consume wine with food, from matching cheese and wine to specific recipes to team with certain wines, plus the characteristics of particular wines. What, if you can surmise it, is your key advice for readers about how to match food with wine?
LM What you’ve got to do is find a link between the two, you have to match the weight, flavour, texture or intensity of the food with the weight, flavour, texture or intensity of the wine. If you’re not sure how to do that, start with either the food or the wine and talk to yourself about it. Let’s talk about a ripe brie. It’s fat, rich, it’s smooth, so ask yourself ‘what wine is rich, fat and smooth? Hey, how about a wooded chardonnay?’ Well guess what? They go together. Let’s talk about a dish that’s spicy and peppery, for example a rich steak. ‘Ok, it’s peppery. What wine is peppery? Oh ok, a cool climate shiraz.’ Well guess what? They’re going to go together.

MS I’m not all that confident in my knowledge of what will go with what, I suppose you could say I’m your white wine with white meat and red wine with red meat girl. How do you suggest I slowly work my way into being a bit more experimental?
LM It’s about finding commonalities. Sometimes you can use a wine to cleanse the palate, but usually there’s a commonality. Think about parmesan cheese, it’s got those little calcium deposits that burst in your mouth. Well hey, a sparkling wine has little bubbles that burst in your mouth as well. So it is mostly about finding a commonality between the food and the wine.

MS You do quite a lot of demonstrations and appreciation classes, so what are the main things you hope to teach people through them?
LM I want people to have the best time possible and just empower them. Everything I do with cooking is to empower people to be able to look after themselves and get a great outcome. I don’t want people to make mistakes, I want them to really enjoy food and wine. Because the more they enjoy food and wine, the more they’re going to buy produce and cook it, and buy wine and drink it.

MS One thing I’ve learnt recently from your latest book release, Spice, is just how similar the language is when referring to wine as it is when you talk about spices. How did the book collaboration come about between you and Ian Hemphill?
LM No one’s done anything like this before, it’s a cause that’s close to our hearts and as we have a lot of professional respect for each other, we thought ‘why don’t we do it?’ It’s been the easiest collaboration, it’s been fantastic. This one has taken two years to put together. They’re all original recipes which we had to come up with. Herbie Hemphill did the spice notes, I did the wine and beer notes, and we split the recipes.

MS It seems, as with Balance, that the book demystifies spices just as Balance demystified wine. Do you think people are unsure about how to use spices when they’re cooking as they are about how to match food with wine?
LM I certainly think people are unsure about how to use spices. I think people have a few stuck up the back of the cupboard and a few favourites, but they don’t really know how to use them. That’s what we really wanted to do with this book, was to help people transform their normal repertoire just by adding spices.

MS Spice shows how simple herbs and spices can really bring a savoury dish to life. But what I was most surprised about was how to mix spices in sweet dishes. Was that a specific area you wanted to educate readers about?
LM We wanted it to be a complete book and you can’t not have dessert. And you know what? Those desserts are just stunning! The panna cotta and the crème brulee, they’re just gorgeous.


MS The book has a really thorough group of spice notes and how to start your very own spice collection. But what, if you can narrow it down, is your main advice for people cooking at home who want to enhance their meals with spices?
LM Start with the most popular ones. Cumin and coriander are right up there. The book tells you the most popular ones, so start with those. Then we want people to start to know how they can make their own spice blends, so that’s what we’ve done. Just start, add a little at first and then if you like it, add more.

MS You seem to be quite down to earth in that you want to create meals and literature that people can really use at home. I think that really translated on your recipes for Fresh, Mornings with Kerri-Anne and in the Australian Women’s Weekly. Is that your philosophy, to keep cooking simple and fun?
LM Absolutely, to demystify cooking is what drives me. It’s food, it’s not esoteric. You can eat fast food on occasion, but we have a national anthem that says ‘Australians all, let us rejoice, for we are young and free’, and if we all just buy takeaway or go to a restaurant because we can’t cook, then you’re giving up all your rights to packaged goods manufacturers and that’s not being free. I just want people to know how easy it is to cook, and how much pleasure they can have with it.

MS Your work with the Australian Women’s Weekly has been unique in that all your recipe developments are kitchen tested. Do you think that’s the key to cooking at home, using tried and tested recipes?
LM Use tried and tested recipes if you’re starting out, it’s important to use recipes from someone that you trust.

MS What other tips do you have for readers when it comes to entertaining at home?
LM The first thing when entertaining is to remember that the worst homemade disaster is better than the best shop bought anything. The thing to do is plan and keep it within your comfort zone. It’s about the hospitality of the table, it’s not about trying to compete with the local restaurant. And people say never try something new! Cook a couple of things that you know you’re happy with and later on, when you’re more confident, you can become a little bit more adventurous. To learn more about food and wine matching, and how to combine wine with spices, pick up Milan’s latest cookbooks – sure to become your kitchen bibles.

just add spice
By Lyndey Milan and Ian Hemphill
Published by Lantern, $49.95

Balance – Matching Food & Wine, What Works & Why
By Lyndey Milan and Colin Corney
Published by Hachette Australia, $35

Read 155251 times Last modified on Tuesday, 14 October 2014 01:09