Thursday, April 15, 2010

James Beard's Onion Sandwich + "Thinking, Eating and Drinking" Part 1

About a month ago, I attended a wine class at the beautiful new Lafayette Library. The class was taught by Chad Arnold and special guest Suzanne Drexhage. Chad has been in the restaurant and wine business for twenty five years along with teaching wine courses at UC Berkeley Extension since 2004. He contributes to wine magazines and teaches at St. Mary’s College. Suzanne too has extensive experience in the restaurant and wine business. Currently she works in the kitchen at Chez Panisse and is involved in various projects around the Bay Area related to the food and wine industry.

The class had a unique perspective that I had not experienced prior, which intrigued me to take the six week course they promoted during our class. The six week course is titled, “Thinking, Eating and Drinking”. You are probably wondering what type of “thinking” really happens when eating and drinking wine – you might be surprised.

Here is a snip it from the course description: “The central focus of this course is the application of language to experience – and here, in this course, we will do this through food and wine! We will talk about the connections between wine and food and art and life. To support our ideas of a complete meal, we will read poems and look at paintings too! This will be an amazing course, and it will be challenging and stimulating – and most of all it will be a lot of fun!”

The Tuesday night was class number one of six. Everyone introduced themselves and shared their food and wine experience and what they hoped to gain from attending the class. Each person had unique perspectives, which I think will lend to a remarkable journey for everyone. The class was designed around onions, yes I said onions. Let me clarify a bit for you. Suzanne brought a large basket of various varieties from the onion family including, shallots, spring onions, green garlic, leeks and sweet red onions. She prepared the food we tasted with these ingredients and Chad chose interesting wines to taste and pair with the food. Along the way, we had discussions around the elements within the food and wine. For any foodie, this class seemed to be designed especially for them.

So you are probably wondering what was served, well I was not disappointed by any of the selections. We began with a blind tasting of Allan Scott, Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand that embodied the flavor profiles of grapefruit, lemongrass and a hint of minerality. It paired beautifully with the Leek, Green Garlic and Goat Cheese Frittata. This classic pairing of goat cheese and sauvignon blanc is like a marriage made in heaven.

Now onto the second wine, a 2008 Berger Gruner Veltliner from Austria. The very best Gruner Veltliner wines have distinctive, pungent aromatics, an exotic array of fruit, herb and spice flavors, attractive mineral undertones along with mouth puckering acidity. We enjoyed the most incredible Onion Tart that simply melted in your mouth with a light buttery flakey crust and sweet caramelized onions.

A little bubbly was next on list.  We enjoyed Domaine J. Laurens Cremant de Limoux. This wallet-friendly French 'Blanc de Blancs' is a hidden gem. It drinks like an expensive French Champagne with a rich yeasty nose and body to match. It's called 'Cremant de Limoux', the official name for a sparkling wine from Limoux in the southern region of France. This wine has a creamy mousse and delightful yeasty and toasty flavors which dance on the palate.

You are probably thinking, are they having more wine, but of course. We now are moving into the solo red for the evening, Chateau De Vaugelas Corbieres, Le Prieure. Château de Vaugelas has a commanding, ripe, flattering nose of black fruit and spices and is warm and velvety on the palate while being exuberant and at the same time elegant. This was paired with a very surprising treat – The James Beard Onion Sandwich. The match between the wine and onion sandwich mellowed each other. I remember growing up that my Mom would enjoy making onion sandwiches for a late night snack - I guess they have been in "vogue" for a while. Someone in the class did not even like onions and was now a convert. They were both amazing and the recipe for the sandwich is included.

The evening’s journey is coming to a conclusion with our last wine, Chateau Bergin Rousette de Savoie Altesse. Rousette de Savoie wines have a structure not unlike a light Chardonnay. They should be dry, light to medium weight, and a very few are oak fermented or matured. Aromas can include yellow stone fruit with a delicate floral character. We enjoyed this wine with two hand selected cheeses – Tome de savoie, a cows milk cheese and Chevrot, a goats cheese with artisan breads. One word - Perfect.

Great conversation and knowledge was shared during the evening. Not to mention the food and wine were amazing.  I can hardly wait to attend week number two and share with all of you my journey.


James Beard’s Onion Sandwich

Good White Bread
Mayonnaise, preferably homemade or artisan
Spring onions, sliced thin or chopped
Fleur de Sel
Flat leaf parsley, chopped fine

Apply mayonnaise generously to one side of the two slices of bread and then the other. Lay flat on a cutting board. Add the onions to one side, sprinkle a bit of fleur de sel and then place the other slice on top. Carefully cut the crusts off and then cut into four triangles. Spread a bit more mayonnaise on the edges of each little sandwich and lightly dip the edges into the chopped parsley.


  1. Love the blog, Lisa! Your photos are great, and your enthusiasm really brings people along with you on your travels through the world of food and wine. Thanks for letting us come along for the ride.

  2. I saw this week's post in this series and have started from the beginning. What a wonderful class. As I have been riding along on my own food and wine adventure I have realized that expressing it to and with others is absolutely essential for connecting with it and having completed experiences. I'm jealous!


  3. I wish we had a couse like this out my way. I would sign up in a heart-beat! I really enjoy wine but not comfortable writing about it. Really nice blog. Thanks for sharing your experiences about the Thinking, Eating and Drinking course.


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