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Warm Nights, Hot Grills and Perfect Pairings

etoile Restaurant Chef Perry Hoffman is on a roll. Fresh of etoile earning its first Michelin star late last year, Perry was recently named a San Franciso Chronicle Rising Star Chef - one of only five chefs to receive this honor. Grateful for recognition of the unique, wine-centric culinary experience he’s creating, Perry’s now turning his attention to grilled dishes of the warm summer months.

etoile Restaurant Chef Perry Hoffman is on a roll. Fresh of etoile earning its first Michelin star late last year, Perry was recently named a San Franciso Chronicle Rising Star Chef - one of only five chefs to receive this honor.

Grateful for recognition of the unique, wine-centric culinary experience he’s creating, Perry’s now turning his attention to grilled dishes of the warm summer months. Tucked away in the hills of Yountville—with a sprawling edible garden at his doorstep and the full portfolio of Chandon wines to inspire his palate—Perry has al fresco dining on his mind.

“Any chef who spends his or her life indoors loves getting outside and cooking. I don’t think there’s anything better than, any day of the week, enjoying sunshine and the smell when you first heat up a grill. Nothing’s on the grill yet, just the essence of what you cooked last time, but it smells so good.”

We can all appreciate the simple pleasures of a backyard barbecue with family and friends, but how to truly make your grill sing? Perry offers some expert advice:

The secret to great meat is the heat.

“First, clean the grill. Brush everything down, and then season it with a little olive oil on a rag, and make sure all those bars are coated—in the restaurant, we prefer to use duck fat.

“That barbecue should really be hot, hot, hot when you first put your proteins on, and then you can turn it down to slow cook if you want. Think of it like you’re cooking in a pan on a stove. You want a hot pan to get that initial sear, and then you drop the temperature down afterward.”

Pair outside the box.

Oftentimes, the at-home chef assumes heavy meat dishes need to be paired with similarly hearty wines. Not so, says Perry, who adds that sparkling wine is an under-appreciated food-pairing option.

"With sparkling, for us, it's really hard to find something with which is doesn't pair well. Chandon has such a great portfolio of sparkling wines, there's one that fits every category.

“For example, say you have a bottle of Brut Classic. The acidity is pretty good. It’s bright, crisp apple, and there’s a bit of ginger going on, so think about that. Do I really want this crisp wine to go with a crisp grilled dish? [Instead] you want the acidity in the wine to help break through, say, a grilled, marinated short rib or rack of rib.

“For me, it’s the overall balance of having a great, heavy piece of grilled meat and this crisp, sparkling wine to cut right through it. It leaves you balanced at the end of the meal, instead of having a big old heavy piece of meat with a big old heavy glass of red wine.

“Or, take the Blanc de Blanc. [It pairs well with] grilled asparagus—the green flavor and minerality work together. Another thing we love to pair is duck with a Pinot Meunier or Pinot Noir. The natural flavor of duck pairs great with those varietals. Grilled duck is such a summertime thing for me, but I think it gets overlooked. You have to be careful because duck has those big layers of fat, but just go really slow on the side of the grill, not over direct flame.”

Eat your vegetables.

“Any type of protein is always great, but some of the best things to do on the grill are vegetables. Hands down, my favorite way to do corn is to just rub it down with olive oil, salt and pepper, and a little bit of lime zest, and throw it right on the grill. Not to where it’s burned, but really browned—it’s just so sweet.

“Another trick a lot of people don’t think to do is to take potatoes and let them marinate in garlic, thyme and olive oil, and just grill really slowly on a mesquite grill. You get this smoky flavor and it’s soft and tender, but crispy on the outside.”

In Perry’s estimation, summer grilling isn’t only about summer dining. One of his family’s favorite winter traditions is actually begun in the summer.

“At the end of the summer when we have all these extra tomatoes in the backyard, my family has always put them on the grill and charred them, and then made this great, homemade, grilled tomato sauce, and canned it. It takes on that smoky, grilled flavor, and it’s just so good over roast chicken on that first rainy day in November. It’s like, ‘Oh yeah, I remember summer. That was nice.’”